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The first issue of The Black Monday Murders was the opening shot of writer Jonathan Hickman‘s latest crusade against “the powers that be”, specifically the world of high finance.
While the high-concept nature of the book may make it seem impenetrable at first, Hickman’s ability to couch biting commentary in a solidly interesting detective-noir narrative makes it a darkly compelling read.
The first issue of the series was classic noir. It ably bounced back and forth between the steampunk beginnings of the Great Depression to present day. The second issue is techno-noir, moving from the Bond-esque technology of the 60s to the world we live in today. The primary plot of detective Theodore Dumas investigating the murder of a member of the financial elite is interwoven with a deepening of the history of the world Hickman is building. He devotes a fair amount of time to detailing the way in which the fiscal magic at play in the series is utilized by what he refers to as the Eastern School. Simply put: its time to see how the Russians handle the blood magic of money.
There is a conflict between the Eastern and Western philosophies as construed by Hickman via-a-via their approach to human sacrifice. Though they both practice it, each approaches the acquisition of the humans they sacrifice differently. The Russians appear to view humans as fuel to be expended, a highly utilitarian view which is in line with their tactical approach in major global conflicts. What sort of person only matters insomuch as their consumption produces slightly different results. You do not care for fuel.
In contrast, there is an implication that the western school looks at the plebe class as resources to be cultivated and then exploited when necessary. The idea that people will be more available and willing to be sacrificed when they are well-cared for is an intriguing one. The two represent the difference between outright totalitarianism and “wage slavery.”
The issue is split between exploring that difference and fleshing out the character of Grigoria Rothschild, a fictional member of one of the real world’s elite bloodlines. It’s unclear whether Hickman is establishing her as the series’ antagonist or as a potential ally for Detective Dumas. We learn enough about her to potentially support her, but not so much that her motivations are in any way clear. There is a certain directness about Grigoria which makes her appealing, but she doesn’t shed the sense of dangerous power with which Hickman has imbued her.
In regards to the series’ super-arc, the second issue doesn’t provide a great deal of forward movement. It’s apparent that Hickman chose to devote much of the issue’s epic fifty-two page space to world-building and expanding upon the larger themes he is playing with. That said, with the two sides of the East/West divide now firmly established and all the major characters reasonably well-established, the story should start picking up steam.
Visually, artist Tomm Coker‘s aesthetic manages to perfectly tread the line between the retro and contemporary noir styles built into the narrative. The present-day scenes with Grigoria employ shades of Blade Runner which suggest the level of technology available to the world’s ultra-wealthy elite. Simultaneously, the blue/gray palette employed by colorist Michael Garland bring a sense of cold history to the scenes set in the past, while the washed-out oranges and blacks he uses in the present enhance the sci-fi aesthetic at play in those scenes.
Overall, this was a mixed issue. It treads water from a narrative perspective, but offers some much-needed character development. It remains packed with supplementary matter and Hickman’s trademark info-graphics, all of which lend the story a sense of skewers reality.
Despite its slow pace, the second issue of The Black Monday Murders remains a darkly compelling story which both educates and entertains. It is Hickman doing what he does best: shining a light into the dark corners of society and revealing the entrenched power structures which control it. The combination of depth and it’s perfectly crafted artistic sensibility are enough to earn this month’s issue a solid 8/10.