The Black Mage is a comic that opens with the one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen! It’s 1852 and Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are engaged in a sorcery battle with the Ku Klux Klan (who are literal wizards in this alternate history) and, just when things look dire, John Henry shows up wielding a magic hammer to help kick some Klan butt! I think that should give you a taste of what this comic is all about. Written by Daniel Barnes and illustrated by D.J. Kirkland, The Black Mage delivers a magical adventure that’s exciting and unapologetically over-the-top. So, basically, it’s totally rad!
St. Ivory Academy of Spellcraft and Sorcery is a prestigious school that has an unfortunate history of exclusively admitting white students, but all of that’s about to change thanks to the Headmaster’s new Magical Minority Initiative! Tom Token is the first mage of colour to be admitted to St. Ivory’s and, while his student liaison Lindsay Whitethorn is over the moon to be witness to such an historic event, he is less than impressed with having to deal with the casual racism and occasional outright hostility directed towards him by the students and faculty alike. Then Tom discovers a discarded student I.D. that appears to indicate that he’s not actually the first black mage to attend the school! Tom starts a search for answers and, with some help from Lindsay and the ghosts of a few famous people, he stumbles upon a dangerous conspiracy and St. Ivory’s darkest secret!
It’s fairly common for fantasy or sci fi stories to wrestle with the topics of racism or discrimination but, in my experience, they will usually askew tackling the issues directly and will use fantasy races or aliens as a way to address the topic while separating it from the context of real life events. The Black Mage doesn’t bother with any of that, opting to instead incorporate actual historical figures and groups into its fantasy setting. It also doesn’t spend any time worrying about subtlety, as evidenced by the use of names like Tom Token and St. Ivory’s. Rather than beating around the bush with its subject matter, the comic focuses on delivering a fast paced action story that’s full of frenetic fight scenes, humorous one-liners and tons of geeky references to things like Harry Potter, Dungeon & Dragons, video games and magical girl anime. This is a wild ride of a read and I enjoyed the colourful, manga-inspired art work and its lighthearted, yet pull-no-punches, approach to its themes.
My one complaint about the book is that, while the lightning-quick pace of the narrative ensures that there’s never a dull moment, it, unfortunately, doesn’t allow a lot of time for character development. Lindsay receives a small character arc, where she comes to accept that her society hasn’t made as much social progress as she would have liked to believe, but I didn’t feel like I got a great sense of who Tom was as a character. It would have been nice if we’d had the chance to learn a bit more about his background or why he’d even wanted to come to St. Ivory’s in the first place. But, while the characters didn’t get as much focus as I would have liked, this is an action orientated story and, on that front, the comic delivered in spades, so I’m not complaining too much.
All in all, The Black Mage is a fun and crazy read that’s sure to entertain children who are fans of fantasy novels or video games, and it might even inspire them to learn a bit more about American history. I’d say it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason then to see the ghost of Harriet Tubman battling a skeleton army of confederate soldiers with a flaming sword!
Final Score: 7 out of 10
For more information on this comic, visit Oni Press’ website: https://onipress.com/products/the-black-mage-softcover?_pos=1&_sid=8ff14b6fb&_ss=r
What did you think of this comic? What other Black historical figures do you think would have made great additions to the cast? Let me know in the comments!