When Image Comics debuts a new series with some pedigree creators behind the scenes, it usually causes readers to turn some heads. Legions of comic book fans are always looking for a new fantasy series to be the next Saga or some bizarre horror book to take off running like Gideon Falls. The Marked #1 checks a lot of boxes in terms of having some great creators behind it, but sadly, not much else, which is rather frustrating. Co-writer/artist Brian Haberlin (Sonata) and writer David Hine (Witchblade) have done some great work in creator-owned properties. The Marked #1 is not one of them.
The story of The Marked #1 is admittedly pretty interesting. It’s easy to see how a book like this would get some attention from its pitch alone: a young woman gets a mysterious flyer which leads her to a coven of magic-wielding folk who protect the world from dark forces through the powers manifested by (or through?) their tattoos. That sounds kinda rad, right? And from an aesthetic standpoint, it is. Co-writer and artist Brian Haberlin provides some gorgeous illustrations. The manifestations of the magical tattoos our characters bare are bright, beautiful, and wonderful, with Geirrod Van Dyke's lush colors elevating all the bold imagery.
As solid as the art is, the writing is ... well ...
Referring to a piece of fiction as “Harry Potter pastiche” is crass shorthand when writing from a critical point of view, but here we are, looking down the barrel of lazy categorical terminology. But let’s expunge that term from this review from here on out, but let it be known, it is coiled up and tucked away like a rattlesnake in a shoebox. The catharsis of jotting down the aforementioned genre descriptor has been expressed, so let’s move on (but remember it's still slithering down there). When The Marked #1 isn’t vaguely skirting up against one of the most popular series of books ever published (which, to be fair, borrowed heavily from its fair share of influences up the precipice of ripping them off at times), it is shockingly boring.
Make no mistake about it, being boring is a far worse fate for a piece of pop culture than being objectively bad. What one may consider an affront to their artistic preferences in comics might be someone else’s cup of tea, and vice versa (of course, this can be said about what we find entertaining as well). While this reviewer takes umbrage with some of the finer plot details of The Marked #1, at least they are engaging. The same cannot be said for the majority of this debut issue’s 48-page length. This book wants its audience to rely on their own predispositions toward the “awkward kid stumbles upon magical academy” genre more so than the work presented on the actual page. This would be fine if The Marked #1 had a bold and unique setting or was written with sharp dialogue and instantly compelling characters. But Deadly Class, this comic is not.
Let’s talk about the script. The dialogue here feels as if it was written by an algorithm. Look, this reviewer does not claim to be an upper-echelon scribe even in their own field, but some of the lines spoken in The Marked #1 are so flat and predictable, it might as well not even exist. The way the characters speak gives us no insight into their personalities or their plights unless they are simply uttering obvious points to propel the plot forward like a sinking tugboat. Nuance, it would seem, is not The Marked's strongest attribute, unless the script is so idiosyncratic and smart, their reviewer is just too dumb to get it, which is entirely possible. It's doubtful. But not impossible. After all, this isn't some dense screed about chaos magic or Nineteenth-Century Victoria-Era pop culture figures. No, it's a story about young people with magical abilities. The fact it's so simplistic is probably its greatest attribute.
Overall, The Marked #1 is a frustratingly mediocre affair that espouses big ideas and is frequently adorned with lush artwork. Sadly, the narrative buckles under the weight of front-loaded exposition dumps, abysmal pacing, and an all too familiar framing device. There is a lot to like here, to be sure, but even with an extended page count (pound for pound, this comic is a bargain), The Marked #1 drowns in a sea of its own ambition. Hopefully, the series finds its voice in future issues, but as it stands now, this 48-page debut is a bit of a slog.
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