After an impressive first issue, Black Road #2 felt off to me. The debut issue, written by Brian Wood, set up a compelling central character in Magnus the Black, a lethal hulk of a Norse warrior living in the times of Christianity’s emergence in Norway. Magnus has been hired to accompany Cardinal Farina up the violent Black Road. That first issue merged interesting themes about the clashes of religions and cultures alongside a compelling narrative that climaxed in Magnus failing the Cardinal before agreeing to resume the journey with Farina’s daughter Julia.
This issue’s problem stems from the fact that really, not a tremendous amount happens to advance the plot. We find out that Magnus loves battle, that his wife died and that he seems to possess some kind of rough-hewn code. But frankly, we pretty much inferred all of that from the first issue, and it didn’t need to overtly state these things but rather demonstrated them through Magnus’ behavior. We do pick up a bit more about Cardinal Farina’s “daughter”, but only enough to make her a bit more rounded, and there’s a revelation delivered here that is dropped pretty much, but hopefully will be addressed more down the line. The relationship between her and Magnus is sketched in more, which is definitely the bright spot of the issue, and this new partnership seems like it will be the central relationship of the series for awhile, so it’s nice to see it deepened with subtlety and economy.
But in terms of what actually happens in this issue? Well not much does. Magnus tracks down someone who can give them more info, that person does, they move on. As a B-plot, we see Magnus assessing Julia’s ability to survive the journey while flashbacks flesh out Magnus a tiny bit.
The art in Black Road #2 is just a strong as it was in the first issue, however. Garry Brown creates a bleak and windswept world that radiates the harshness of the environment in every panel. It’s the kind of book where you can almost feel the chill in the air and sense the godawful smells of a medieval society. I like how Brown keeps the overall vibe of the book realistic and authentic, but still manages to emphasize his stylistic touches in subtle ways. The way that Magnus is drawn as oversized and slightly disproportioned to accentuate his hulking power, complete with a head that’s definitely too small for the rest of his frame. The way that any moments where Magnus should feel vulnerable or emotional sees his face recede into shadow. A lot of the mood is helped by Dave McCaig’s colors, especially in the bloodier moments of the issue where the palette loses its washed-out feel and goes in for bold degrees of red and orange.
It’s a bit disappointing to get a second issue that doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first, mostly because it feels pretty ordinary, but I don’t want to suggest Black Road #2 is that bad. It’s still an enjoyable read, and it didn’t make me lose interest in the overall story being told. However, it does fly by awfully fast and leave you saying, “that’s it?” just a little bit at its end. Here’s hoping the slightness of the issue is just a blip and it will soon be back to the promise of the first issue. It’s this thinness that leads me to give the book a 6/10.