Comic Book Review: The Black Monday Murders #1

If you’re sitting down to read Jonathan Hickman’s brand-new series The Black Monday Murders, a warning: you may need to read it twice to get the full effect. Issue #1 of the East West writer’s latest throws a shit-ton of information at you in the first go-round, albeit in the darkest, most portentous, yet aesthetically pleasing fashion possible.

The plot is a heady–and relevant–one indeed: In a timeline spanning from the Great Wall Street Crash of 1929 (specifically, Black Thursday) to the present, financial institutions governed by powerful schools of magic collectively attempt to facilitate massive financial collapse in order to rise to power (talk about a new meaning for the term “financial wizardry”). The “murder” portion of the story primarily takes place in the present, where we meet a renegade detective relieved from desk duty to investigate the bizarre murder of an investment bank’s managing partner in the financial district.

That’s the general idea, anyway; to explain all that takes place in the first issue alone would be to write my own book. True to his reputation as a meticulous and purposeful storyteller, Hickman packs the pages of this first issue with a million puzzle pieces in the form not only of straightforward narrative, but also in [also typically Hickmanesque] stylized pages of supplemental material such as Snopes.com-type webpage clips, family trees, institution board rosters, flow charts and dossiers (think David Fincher/opening credits of Se7en, stylistically speaking). At first read I found this a bit distracting from the actual story, but after going back and studying these pages a bit more closely I found much of the information vital to its foundation, even that which raised more questions than yielded answers. For example, a few of these pages feature appropriate nods to the “god Mammon,” a deity synonymous with greed, according to theologian Peter Binsfield’s 1589 classification of demons based on the Seven Deadly Sins (another Se7en nod, it would appear). Hickman teases us with these little tidbits throughout, leaving it to the reader to speculate how all of these elements relate, but in a way that is fascinating and fosters curiosity and hunger for more, not frustration or lack of fulfillment.

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Artist Tomm Coker, known for his awesomely shadowy work for Wolverine and Daredevil: Noir, is a great match for this series; his keen eye for detail (underscored by Michael Garland’s subtly rich color work) serves Hickman’s involved, multi-layered storytelling to a T, outlining every subtlety in each character’s face, making every last object and expression rendered seem like a meaningful clue, another step towards solving the various mysteries seemingly presented at every turn of the page.

All in all, Hickman and Coker have succeeded here, combining fantasy, style and crime-story noir with a slightly surreal, Christopher Nolan edge. Sometimes there are those comics that make you work a bit harder for the story and dig a bit deeper for clues rather than spoon-feed everything to you; this is such a comic, and the payoff to come so far seems quite promising.

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