When I picked up “Blackout” #1, it was because I liked the story starring Blackout that ran last year in “Dark Horse Presents.” While Frank Barbiere and Colin Lorimer do a nice job of moving forward with the story of a hero whose suit can shunt him into a strange darkness dimension, his thunder ended up getting stolen by a backup feature. Then again, that backup feature features the long-awaited return of King Tiger.
It’s not that “Blackout” #1 is bad — it’s not — but rather it doesn’t feel as fresh and fun as a #1 should. This needs to grab the reader right off the bat, and instead watching Scott Travers’s nightmares followed by workplace drama — well, it’s hardly “I must find out what happens next” level of engagement. I liked the “Blackout” stories in “Dark Horse Presents” enough that I’ll stick around to read more, but without that I’m not so sure I’d be interested. Even the big “to be continued” closing page doesn’t have quite the punch that it’s clearly aiming for. This might have worked as a “Blackout” #15, but as a #1 I’m not sure what the hook is for a brand-new reader. This is very muted, with little standing out. Lorimer’s art is perfectly fine, handling the story well (and I like the washed out effect of Blackout moving through the world via darkness), but it doesn’t balance out the quiet script for Barbiere to also be a big “buy the next issue” selling point.
As for King Tiger — considering that after the character’s debut in the original “Comics’ Greatest World” launch event his only title role was in a “King Tiger & Motorhead” mini-series, it’s all the more impressive on how much of a quiet cult following he’s had. To be fair, he popped up in places like the original “Ghost” series as well as “Will to Power” but still, this is hardly an A-list character. But Randy Stradley jumps in with both feet here, and while we barely see King Tiger himself, his way of telling the story by starting with the supporting cast and then flipping our expectations around a bit works perfectly. I’m psyched to see the return of the arrow-shooting mystic.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Doug Wheatley is drawing the backup. I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen a comic by Wheatley but I’m glad he’s drawing something that I’m reading once more. He’s got a gift in being able to draw very fine, thin, lines that make the pages look almost photo-realistic, but without making his character look stiff or posed. The switching back and forth between Milo in present day Nevada and the decade-ago Afghanistan looks great, with Wheatley and colorist Rain Beredo able to create two very different looking dry and dusty settings. Likewise, the contrast between the unkempt Milo and the clean-cut Steve is perfect, a nice match for what’s to come as they get closer to King Tiger’s home.
In the end, I suspect more people will buy “Blackout” #2 for King Tiger than Blackout himself. Hopefully that will change after the second issue. I know Barbiere has something more attention grabbing in him — I remembered liking the character’s earlier outing — but this has got to pick up the pace. When your backup feature is outshining the title character, that’s a little worrisome.