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Comic Book / Blackbird (2018)

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Blackbird is a comic book written by Sam Humphries and illustrated by Jen Bartel, published by Image Comics. The series started in 2018, and the first TP was published in 2019.

Nina Rodriguez discovered magic was real after the big earthquake ten years ago, but no one has ever believed her about it except for what she's read online. Then one night, while she and her sister Marisa are arguing, a giant otherworldly beast kidnaps Marisa. When Nina sets out to rescue her sister, she has to confront the ruthless magical cabals of Los Angeles and confront her past, and she finds out that her life wasn't what she thought it was.


  • Afterlife Antechamber: The Grand Oasis Diner that Nina visits the night of the earthquake. She actually died that night, and her maternal grandparents had to bring her back and partially initiate her on her mother's request.
  • The Ageless: It is not clear whether Paragons are truly ageless. However, it is clear that paragonhood drastically slows the aging process. Apart from their own personal glamour fields making them look like the best possible versions of themselves, nearly all paragons look like they are in their very early twenties. The only exceptions are Gloria, who might be considered a stunningly beautiful woman anywhere between thirty and her mid-forties (assuming Nina's sister Marisa was born when she was 18, Gloria could not plausibly be less than 42), Gloria's parents (who do admittedly look late-middle aged), and Carter, who also appears to be in his late thirties or early forties. However, based on Detective Alexis' research, Carter became a paragon in 1983 — meaning he is at least in his mid-fifties and possibly sixties. Clint himself became a paragon in 1999, meaning he is probably in his late thirties or even early forties... but he looks like a teenager. This is even with his glamour field suppressed to display his burn scars.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance: Wikipedia describes iridium as "A very hard, brittle, silvery-white transition [metal]". This is a perfect description of what Gloria has become, in both temperment and physical appearance, in the ten years since she was forced to abandon her family to become head of the Iridium cabal.
  • The Beautiful Elite: All paragons are glamorous, elaborately-dressed magicians. This is why Clint has to keep his scars hidden.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The large, spacious nightclub Clint takes Nina to after the fight at the gas station is apparently hidden inside a taco truck.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Nina's nickname amongst her family is "Crazy Baby". But it probably should be "Crazy Girl", which is, appropriately enough, "Loca Niña".
  • Clothing Reflects Personality: To an extraordinary degree. Because paragon clothing is directly generated and maintained by the same glamour field that makes them look like perfect, idealized versions of themselves, a paragon will always be dressed in a manner that perfectly expresses their inner self — unless and to the extent that they wish to modify their appearance. When Nina finally becomes a full paragon at the end of the first TPB, her clothing is transformed into a reflection of her newly enhanced magical nature, complete with boots and accessories.
    • However, paragon clothing does appear to have certain motiffs that are limited to the cabals to which they belong, and enable reasonably easy identification. It is likely that, had Nina managed to become a paragon of Iridium Cabal instead of Zon, her new outfit would have shared her mother and sister's motifs.
  • Compulsive Liar: The curse Gloria put on Sharpie makes him into this.
  • Death-Activated Superpower: This is how paragons become paragons and gain their power.
  • Deconstruction: Of secret magical societies and The Masquerade in particular. The driving theme of Blackbird is that a society which maintains itself apart from the larger world around it and enforces that separation irrespective of the wishes of its individual members, by its very nature rests on a foundation of exploitation and cruelty. No matter how wonderous the abilities of the paragons, they do not use them for the benefit of others, only themselves, and are actively forbidden from doing otherwise. As a consequence, most paragons are contemptuous of "civilians" or "normies", and are habitually cold and distant at best, ruthless or even psychopathic at worst. On the other hand, If you are, say, a genuinely warm and caring paragon mother and you wish to maintain a relationship with your little non-paragon daughters... you will be forced to fake your own death and never be allowed to see them again.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The more Nina learns about the Paragon cabals, the more they sound like warring Mexican drug cartels. A superficially glamourous, heavily secretive world of warring cliques that treats everyone not a part of it with utter contempt, hoards power for itself, and runs through the distribution of a heavily guarded, crystalline substance that requires an unknown (but hinted to be ghastly) process to accumulate. According to the police detective, these cabals are responsible for more than four hundred innocent deaths in the past year alone (it is all but stated that if you belong to this society, sooner or later you will become a murderer) — and ten years of it has turned Nina's warm, caring mother into a cold, ruthlessly unemotional figure who seems to think that constantly gaslighting her daughter — obviously ruining her life in the process and setting her up to die without a family, homeless and alone — somehow constitutes protecting her, and that letting her daughter in on the paragons' existence would actually be far worse. (And she may even be right!) Basically, there are no good guys in this world, and the longer you are a part of it the worse you become. The contrast between Nina's memories of her mother and how she acts in person are, to say the least, jarring.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Nina's family became this way starting after the earthquake, when her mom discovered that her dad was cheating on her. Although their grandmother did her best, Gloria's death only made things worse. When Nina discovers that her mother was alive the whole time and had abandoned them after becoming a paragon for what she claims was their own good, she is not happy.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Nina's family calls her "crazy baby", particularly because of her obsession with magic, which none of them believe in. When she finds out that her mother knew about magic all along, and kidnapped her sister to initiate her as a paragon, she snaps at both of them about how they no longer have any right to call her that.
  • Extra Eyes: Sharpie the cat-demon has a third eye in the middle of his forehead.
  • Fake Memories: Nina, her sister, her paternal grandmother and her father were given altered memories of the night of the earthquake so none of them remembered that Nina had actually died under a chunk of overpass, and Nina's mother had called on her paragon parents to bring Nina back to life.
  • Faking the Dead: It turns out that Nina's mother's death in the car crash was this. Gloria did not die in the wreck. Nina died in the earthquake, and Gloria insisted that she be brought back to life in a partial version of the paragon ritual. In return for this, Gloria's own death was faked in her place, and all memory of Nina's actual death was erased. Gloria was initiated as a paragon and promptly abandoned her family, which she claims was for their own good to keep them away from magic.
    • Note: As dying is necessary to become a paragon, Gloria would have to have died at some point herself to become a paragon. However, it is unclear whether that took place years before and she resumed her status, or if she took part in the ritual to become a paragon after Nina was revived. In the afterlife waystation of the Grand Oasis Diner, Nina's soul encounters a much younger version of her mother, indicating that it was probably the former.
  • Foreshadowing: Sharpie's apparently nonsensical dialogue, particularly when he rants about how he hates telling the truth, indicate that he's been cursed to be unable to speak the truth and is deeply frustrated about it prior to the reveal. And if you find his claim that Nina's mom was a "normal mom" seems suspicious and awfully specific, you're right.
  • Going by the Matchbook: When she wakes up in her backyard the morning after the earthquake, Nina is wondering about that "dream" of the Grand Oasis Diner, only to find a matchbook from there in her pocket.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Gloria's parents, who are also Nina's maternal grandparents. They forced Gloria to agree to abandon her family as a precondition to resurrecting Nina from the dead (a Faustian bargain if ever there was one), and despite Gloria currently being the head of the Iridium Cabal, their influence is apparently still strong enough after ten years to hold her to the terms of the bargain. Gloria herself describes her life under the cabals as "hell", and frankly refers to her parents as murderers... who have managed to turn her into one, as well.
    • To fully understand just how bad they are: they had the nerve to claim — while Gloria was cradling Nina's dead body in her arms, no less — that Nina's death was proof that the real world was no place for paragons, yet they also directly conditioned reviving Nina on forcing Gloria to abandon her children forever. Their primary concern was always Iridium Cabal, NOT their daughter or her family.
  • Invisible to Normals:
    • All of the paragon buildings are like this, as are a good chunk of the magical creatures, notably the Great Beast.
    • The paragons themselves are also like this, although they can suppress the effect if they wish to do so — or reinforce it if the need arises. This is in addition to and separate from their ability to easily modify memories so no one remembers encountering them.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: There's magic that can do this, mainly used to maintain the masquerade. For some reason, it doesn't work on Nina: she remembers there were paragons present the night of the earthquake although not the full details, and when her mother tries to put a forgetting spell on her at Griffith Observatory, she wakes up the next morning in her sister's apartment remembering everything.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Nina discovers that her mother knew about the world of paragons, when she encounters her sister as a paragon and discovers her mother is alive and the head of the Iridium Cabal. She is not happy because of the years she's spent having her stories of magic dismissed, as well as being called "crazy baby". When they still call her this out of habit while they are standing right in front of her as living embodiments of the world they hid from her for all those years, Nina becomes utterly livid. In fact, it is one of the big reasons she joins a cabal that opposes her mother's.
  • Masquerade: The paragons hide to avoid potential trouble and/or persecution. Clint wonders what they could be capable of if they didn't have to. They haven't gone completely unnoticed, however: there's information about them on the Internet which appears to be fairly accurate, and at least one member of the LAPD is investigating them.
  • Mind over Manners: Averted, hard. Memory wipes and spell-based behavior modification appear to be standard operating procedure in paragon society, even among family members. Nina's ability to overcome this was a necessary precondition to both finding her mother and getting to remember that she did so — in response to which Gloria tried to enlist Zon Cabal as a Memory-Wiping Crew to make it stick. It is just one example of how contemptuous paragons are of those around them that do not share their powers.
  • Missing Mom: Nina's mother died in a car accident not long after the earthquake. It turns out their mother is alive, a paragon, and the leader of the Iridium Cabal.
  • Mommy Had A Good Reason For Abandoning You: Subverted and played with. While Nina's mother did actually have the best possible reason for abandoning her and faking her own death (she was forced to agree to it as a precondition for having Nina literally resurrected from the dead), the total collapse of Nina's family as a consequence, as well as her family's habitual mockery of Nina for her (entirely accurate) insistance on believing that something happened on the night of the earthquake and that magic was real utterly ruined Nina's life. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and an early grave were the most likely outcomes of the life she condemned Nina to live — a fact which does not seem to have registered with her or made her reconsider her post-resurrection conduct toward Nina in the slightest. Even worse, when Nina discovers the existence of the paragons completely by accident, which immediately initiates a chain of events that leads to the intended-to-be permanent disappearance of Nina's own sister, whom Nina now relied upon to survive thanks to being reduced to such a lonely, isolated wreck, Nina's mother tries to erase Nina's memory of her sister's very existence. For all intents and purposes, Nina's mother is the big bad of the series, because she absolutely refuses to acknowledge that her (admittedly selfless) deal has led to catastrophic consequences that can no longer be avoided, and that continuing to gaslight her daughter for the sake of protecting her is instead destroying her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Nina's mother, Gloria, died in a car accident while driving away from her husband, Enrique, because he was having an affair. Except no, she didn't. Nina died in an earthquake and Gloria had her resurrected in a deal in which Gloria faked her own death in the car accident, leaving Enrique with the guilt of having indirectly gotten a member of his family killed. If Nina had died in that accident, it might be a fair exchange (Enrique has not been portrayed in anything like a positive light so far), but Nina was actually killed by falling masonry whilst huddling under a freeway overpass during an earthquake. Enrique had nothing to do with it, one way or the other. Gloria's parting shot, while probably more an act of supreme negligence rather than deliberate malice, left him with a decade of undeserved guilt over causing her death, greatly contributing to him being a bitter, alcoholic, absentee father — which effectively left Nina and her sister with neither parent. And Nina is becoming an alcoholic herself.
    • Gloria is hell-bent on preventing Nina from becoming a full paragon, forseeing disaster of some unspecified form if this happens. Fair enough. If she had responded to Nina's tearful embrace by welcoming her with open arms, letting her back into her life, and simply having a long talk with her about why paragonhood was not what it was cracked up to be, she might have convinced a grateful Nina to go along with it. Instead, she refused to even acknowledge her daughter's presence as her daughter was hugging her and weeping in pain and confusion, and dismissed Nina with a spell meant to erase Nina's memory of finding Gloria, and of her kidnapped sister's very existence, from Nina's mind. This was roughly the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a bull, provoking a furious Nina (who, despite her mother's spell, remembered everything) into raiding and accidentally destroying one of Iridium Cabal's crystal depositories, and directly led to Nina becoming a paragon... in the thrall of her mother's rivals.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The preferred term is "paragon", not magician.
  • One-Word Title: "Blackbird" means a paragon who is a loner and not part of a greater cabal.
  • Panthera Awesome: The Great Beast, the most dangerous demon in the LA area, takes the form of a gigantic turquoise tiger.
  • Parental Favouritism: Nina's mother favoured her older sister Marisa over her. It turns out that Nina was always the favourite child, and her mother tried to keep her in the dark about the magical world to protect her. In fact, when Gloria's parents imposed the condition that one of her daughters would be forcibly initiated as a paragon the moment either of them became aware of the paragons' existence, Gloria chose Marisa specifically to keep Nina out of it. Nina retorts that she would have preferred to have her mother present instead.
  • Power Crystal: Spells are done using specialized crystals worn in jewellery called "cirques".
  • Scars Are Forever: Clint's death and initiation happened when he was in a fiery car accident, resulting in heavy, permanent scarring along the right side of his head that he normally uses magic to cover up. He describes it as the initiation having gone wrong somehow.
  • Shout-Out: The Polaris Cabal is described as "rejects from The Vampire Diaries".
  • Shovel Strike: Nina uses a shovel when she steals crystals from her mother's depository.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The curse Sharpie is under at the beginning prevents him from telling the truth, turning all of his dialogue prior to its removal into this.
  • Tongue-Tied: Sharpie was cursed by Gloria to never be able to speak the truth so he couldn't help Nina, as part of her attempts to keep Nina out of the magical world.
  • Truce Zone: The Hollywood treaty zone, formerly the territory of a cabal that collapsed. Every other cabal has designs on annexing the territory, but no one's yet made a move.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: Since paragon powers are a Death-Activated Superpower, there are a good number of them who have issues with this. Clint officially died in a car accident in 1999, and he pays for his very expensive Monarch sneakers in cash. The LAPD detective investigating the paragons and the cabals refers to it as her "zombie file".
  • Unwitting Pawn: The end of the first volume reveals that the Polaris Cabal manipulated some of the events of the story specifically to drive a rift between the Zon and Iridium Cabals using an unwitting Nina as part of their plans to claim the Hollywood truce zone.
  • Urban Fantasy: In which our heroine enters the secret magical society of Los Angeles.
  • Vancian Magic: An entire society run on the stuff. Spells are encapsulated into crystals, which are handed out like a cross between street drugs and currency under the supervision of Nina's mother. They are loaded up into a bracelet called a "cirque", and fired off like bullets from a gun. each crystal has a limited degree of power, and loses its color as it is drained. And cirques can apparently become outmoded and replaced.
    • However, there do seem to be additional factors. The strength of the spell seems directly dependent upon the personal skill and innate power of the gem wielder, and simply wearing a cirque is not enough — you have to actually be a paragon first. In addition, there are clearly some magical qualities that are not derived solely from crystals. The standard paragon glamour field that makes them all look perfect appears to be completely innate, as is Nina's occasional ability to tell whether someone is lying and to see through illusions. Both she and Gloria seem to be capable of having prophetic dreams to some degree, too.
  • Villains Out Shopping: While scanning the patrons of a paragon night club, Nina and Clint spy an ordinary member of Polaris Cabal, which had just attacked her... just standing around and doing nothing in particular. This helps reinforce that the cabals are not just magical gangs. They are social groups, whose members run the gamut from militant to (relatively) harmless civilians. When the ones who did attack her storm in, it is obvious they are not Polaris' rank-and-file.
    • Further reinforcing the difference — Polaris' theme of dress is apparently feathers. None of Nina's attackers are wearing them.
  • Wainscot Society: Textbook example, maintained (of course) by The Masquerade. Each Cabal maintains a territory within Los Angeles, consisting of invisible buildings connected to each other by portal gates visible only to paragons, who are themselves normally invisible to muggles. Walking from point A to point B across territories is not allowed without leave from the other Cabals, who WILL note your presence unless you take deliberate steps to conceal yourself from detection (when Nina attempts to walk into her mother's territory, she finds herself abruptly teleported to her mother's throne room).

Alternative Title(s): Blackbird