Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s “Black Magick” #4 opens with a standard police procedural scene: the autopsy. Rucka’s salty dialogue draws the reader in, and Scott pulls off a tricky overhead shot with deft use of perspective and shading. Her background details also make the scene even more three-dimensional, especially the pattern on the floor and the draping of clothing. Scott and Arena’s unusual, sparing use of color is still a success in directing the reader’s attention to objects touched by magick, but — even without the color cue — Rowan’s reaction to the discovery of three stones inside Bruce Dunridge’s stomach is reason enough to take notice.
Rowan’s partner on the force, Detective Morgan Chaffey, is still a flat character. He seems like a good man and a good officer, but there’s not much else to him besides his folksy manner and periodic “Are you sure you’re okay?” cluck-clucking over Rowan’s mental wellbeing. Rowan doesn’t seem to have family members nearby, and so Morgan primarily serves as a reminder of Rowan’s double life and non-magickal social support.
So far, all the scenes featuring coven leader Alex Grey have been fascinating, and the strongest scenes in this issue also focus on her. She’s a scene stealer. At this point, her character is better developed than even Rowan, primarily because Rucka takes pains to make the non-magick parts of Alex’s life so incongruously wholesome. In the scene in which Alex’s day job is revealed, Scott’s facial expressions and body language are wonderfully expressive. The eager faces and happy energy in the scene indirectly deepen Alex’s characterization and show she is respected, kind, patient, gentle and indulgent. As Rowan and Alex talk, Scott’s expressions and bodies quickly shift in tone to reinforce the teasing and easy camaraderie of Rucka’s dialogue. This, in turn, raises the stakes on what is to come.
Two pages are devoted to Stepan Hahn, the agent of the Aira who was dispatched to Portsmouth. The purely visual information conveyed by the close-up of his passport is a nice touch. However, the unexpected full frontal nudity is a successful combination of nonchalant delivery and startling effect, but it doesn’t serve the story and thus feels gimmicky. A check-in with Stepan is almost required by the convergent plot structure, but his scenes in “Black Magick” #4 have the least going on in them. The investigation scene in the Belles’ house that follows is far more powerful. Jodi Wynne’s letter work is outstanding here. Without her text size changes and word balloon shapes to convey changes in volume and rhythms of speech, Rucka’s script wouldn’t be as effective.
The Aira are better served by the back matter, which continues the prose account of Gilles Robert du Pont-l’Ã‰vÃªque. His journal entries humanize the Aria and show that they work with admirable self-awareness, aiming to be motivated by neither power nor fear. The irony, considering Rowan’s profession, is that the Aira see themselves as keepers of moral and physical order.
The events of “Black Magick” have been civilized and sedate after the sweat and fire of the first issue. Scott’s dramatic talents have been employed mostly in facial expressions and body language, but the ending of “Black Magick” #4 requires a return to action. The last panel’s linework is muscular and aggressive. Scott’s low perspective and the downward diagonal in the composition hits the reader with exceptional force. The cliffhanger is a delicious shock and caps off an issue with unusual narrative complexity and emotional breadth.