31st Jul2015

‘The Blacklist #1′ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Nicole Philips | Art by Beni Lobel | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp

Blacklist-1-Art-Cover-A

I approached The Blacklist #1 with some nervousness, being both not a watcher of the television series on which it is based (though I hear good things, and who doesn’t love James Spader?) and not in general a fan of comic book adaptations of films/ TV shows (or as I like to call them, cheap cash-ins). On the positive front, I noticed it was being developed by the team who oversee the actual show, not farmed out to cheap and cheerful third parties, and that it had art by Beni Lobel, who I am familiar with from his good work on DC Comics books.

Before launching into the main review, first a big thumbs up for the text introduction at the beginning, something too many books do not bother with. It gives a quick bio of the main character ‘Red’ Reddington (played in the show by James Spader), his background, and where the comic will slot into The Blacklist TV timeline. This gives existing fans context, which is always appreciated, and newbie’s like me some background before I dive in. That’s the good news….

…which then gets partly undone by the fact Nicole Phillips, who mainly writes TV scripts, then launches into a very complex, very wordy story that barely introduces ‘Red’ and his supporting cast. Being reasonably intelligent I picked up things as I went along, but the book came across as slightly hard work right from the start. Essentially the main character, ‘Red’, was a naval officer who seemingly went bad and started a new career as a criminal information and power broker. After becoming very powerful, he then (seemingly) gave himself up to the FBI, but only on the condition that he works solely with a FBI agent called Elizabeth Keen who he will help to bring down the criminal underworld.

Yes, it is a first issue and the characters all need a little exposure to bed in, and yes some potential plot points were dangled before us, but we had to wade through a lot of word balloons to try and work out who was doing what with who, what sort of relationship ‘Red’ has with Keen and so on. To be as kind as I can, it was over-written. A lot. Television script writing clearly does not translate well to the printed page. Nicole Phillips has to learn to delegate some of the story more to the artist, let the visuals carry the story as much as the writing. I felt, as a reader, I was being force fed dialogue and story. It wasn’t a terrible story, just poorly delivered. I also felt some dialogue a little ‘wrong’, just didn’t feel right. As I don’t know the characters as well as watchers of the show do, the dialogue may well deliberately be in that style. Could be just me.

As I said earlier, I know Beni Lobel from his DC Comics work, which is usually very good. After reading the first issue here, I would say that licensed comics perhaps aren’t his strongest genre. The art was not bad, the likenesses pretty accurate, but just too many panels squeezed on to each page. To be fair to Lobel, I would imagine this was in large part due to a very wordy script that demanded a lot from him visually. It was just too busy to be enjoyable.

I generally dislike writing overly negative reviews, and tend to look for the positives, but am struggling a little this time round. There is nothing wrong here quality wise; you have a top TV script writer and a solid comic book artist. The problem we have is with delivery; over-written, too much dialogue, art restricted by that same over-writing.

I suspect if we can give Nicole Phillips a few issues to get her feet under the table her writing for this medium will improve, and Lobel’s art will also improve as he gets more freedom. The problem for me is, nothing here made me feel as though I wanted to stick around for several more issues. Neither character(s) nor premise seemed strong enough to bring back any but the most die-hard fan. Sorry James Spader….

** 2/5 (barely)

The Blacklist #1 is out now from Titan Comics.

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