The world is full of vigilante superheroes, and they’re here to stay. Recognizing this, the U.S. Government decides to use them to their advantage by attempting to harvest their DNA to advance medical science with the feds secretly hiring unsavory covert operatives to help make this happen. With this canvas, writer Frank J. Barbiere paints the story of two brothers in “Black Market” #2, drawn by Victor Santos: Denny, former crook turned covert operative, and Ray, the “smart” one Denny recruits despite his trying to stay on the straight and narrow while caring for his sick wife. The strength of Barbiere’s story is the focus on Ray’s moral struggles, but it’s convoluted somewhat by repeated transitions from past to present day and back again.
The issue kicks off with a flashback to Ray’s days as a medical examiner, but then mentions happier times before the “supes,” (which may or may not be another flashback) before jumping forward to present day, where Ray now works at a funeral home while trying to help his brother on the sly. Taking place within the first six pages, these transitions add seemingly unnecessary complexity to Barbiere’s relatively simple and otherwise accessible story. Thankfully, the story doesn’t skip around so much after this point and the remainder of the issue focuses on what made last issue so strong: the emotional turmoil Ray endures as he’s dragged into seedy bars and shady dark alleys all in the name of helping his brother and wife, done with a bit of a comical bent.
Santos keeps it light, as well. His abstract style, which uses a lot of blocky shapes and heavy lines, wouldn’t really be well-suited if this were a straight out superhero comic, but it works OK here. Ray and Denny’s encounter with an Electro-type supe is the closest the issue comes to a superhero throwdown, and it’s aptly conveyed by Santos. Santos portrays the conflict with the same kind of comedic angle that matches Barbiere’s vibe, as the encounter takes an unexpected direction and has a surprising resolution. Santos doesn’t give the super-powered character much of a definitive look other than as a vague-looking figure surrounded by lightning, but it’s largely irrelevant as the character’s appearance isn’t really much of an issue.
Santos’ cover captures the essence of the general background behind Barbiere’s story; a group of unknown heroes soar into a sun-drenched sky, capturing the wonder such characters can evoke, but the image is cropped within the shape of a hand that wields a scalpel dripping with blood, conveying the opportunistic nature of the story itself. Set against a stark white backdrop, the cover is most definitely a standout.
“Black Market” #2 remains a fun story about how superheroes can change the world in ways they probably never thought of, despite the bumpy chronological path it takes.