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Wall Street Conjures Deadly Magic in The Black Monday Murders

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Wall Street Conjures Deadly Magic in <i>The Black Monday Murders</i>

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Tomm Coker
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: August 10, 2016

685919_a98f5aa9737b15b2ac1b92fe5627f20029e4665e.jpg It wouldn’t take much for a film like The Big Short to pivot into outright horror: the idea of intelligent people devising something in their hubris that turns on its creators, becoming dangerously predatory is the vein of many a late-night monster movie. The Black Monday Murders, in which secretive rituals lie at the heart of a financial institution with bloody consequences, feels far less strange than it should. That it’s written by Jonathan Hickman comes as no surprise: he’s shown a fondness for satire since The Nightly News, and secretive groups working to reshape the our reality are a hallmark of his work.

When Hickman is at his best, he blends high concepts with interesting characters to create singular books. It’s a delicate act to balance, however; in some projects, the writer’s big ideas can overwhelm the stories, creating a narrative that may be interesting but lacks human connection. Thankfully, The Black Monday Murders is both huge and relatable. The hook threads a bizarre and long-standing conspiracy into the world of finance, rooted in a visceral supernatural dimension, but a welcome humanity gives that conflict a relatable core.

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The Black Monday Murders Interior Art by Tomm Coker

In 1929, as the stock market collapses, a banker at the Caina Investment Bank begins to spontaneously bleed. “It’s not me, you damned fool…it’s the money,” he tells a concerned subordinate. Soon, a small group of the wealthy holds a secret meeting, in which bargains and ceremonies are mentioned, and an archetypal image of the beginning of the Great Depression—bankers leaping out of windows—is repurposed to horrific ends.

The narrative jumps to the very near future—Halloween 2016, which (note the title) falls on a Monday—to introduce Theodore Dumas, an NYPD detective with a penchant for the mystic, a preternatural sense of evil and an undeniable pragmaticism. After a brief period of administrative leave, he investigates a ritualistic murder that ties to the global financial institution that Caina has since become. Throughout, surreal touches unnerve: a man duplicates money in the middle of a lecture; a mysterious blonde woman lurks in the background of scenes in the past and present, speaking in a mysterious language.

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The Black Monday Murders Interior Art by Tomm Coker

To illustrate this combination of money and magic, the comic uses text and diagrams explaining the complex histories of institutions within institutions, but a good amount of information is left abstract. Some of the pages that present exposition raise more questions than they answer: a family tree offers a few bizarre and menacing milestones on its own. Rus Wooton’s lettering work is particularly notable, with a suitably uncanny look and feel to the strange language used by members of the conspiracy at the heart of the book.

Tomm Coker’s shadowy artwork does a fine job, rooting the book’s surreal horror in a realistic depiction of New York. His work meshes with that of colorist Michael Garland to impressive effect: one image of a car driving over the George Washington Bridge into New York City features a memorably menacing sky, a harbinger of something awful (literally) on the horizon. And he depicts a wide range of bodies and expressions with finesse and style, if perhaps not total realism: one character described in her early 50s is drawn to look significantly younger. Though, given the supernatural component, that may be intentional.

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The Black Monday Murders Interior Art by Tomm Coker

The Black Monday Murders is very clearly a Jonathan Hickman book, with the stylized layout that has become a hallmark of his style. (There’s also a page on which a single line of text rests: “ALL HAIL GOD MAMMON,” which does not seem to be a metaphor here.) But the way in which his dialogue crackles with Coker’s art makes for a strong combination: its reads like something very new, each creator bringing out the strengths of the other. A bizarre mystery pulses at this book’s center, and a host of strange characters with competing agendas orbit it. The Black Monday Murders sets off to a compelling start, with an abundance of upsetting imagery along the way.

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The Black Monday Murders Interior Art by Tomm Coker

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