The Black Monday Murders is about corporate greed and secret demon worshiping societies. It is also an opportunity for the creative team to use the medium of comics to tell a spectacularly visual story. In my review of issue 8 for Comiconverse I describe it as cinematic, possibly more than once, this is because the scale of the visuals are immense. However, Hickman and Coker are able to manipulate the pace of the narrative and the reader’s perception of the central character by using a very simple comic book technique. They use silent panels expertly throughout this madcap comic.
As I look at issue 8 of The Black Monday Murders I may give away some of the secrets therefore consider this your SPOILER warning. Go read the comic first then come back here.
Issue 8 focuses on Ms Rothschild’s vengeance against the man who killed her bother. She has had him tortured, bound, and basically mistreated but she is about to do much worse to him. A large section of this issue is taken up with The Scale, a magical duel to the death and the depiction of this contains full frontal nudity, violence and a lot of bloodletting. It is not going to be to everybody’s taste. However, it is in the lead up to the duel where Hickman and co use the first silent panel that gives the reader a deeper insight into Ms Rothschild during this issue.
Grigoria Rothschild has thrown down the gauntlet and Viktor has accepted but changed the stakes on her. She accepts but not everybody is on board. Bea believes they are risking too much and dares to implore Grigoria to stop. She is replied to with a look…
On this page the adrenaline is pumping. The stakes were laid out by Grigoria but refused by Viktor and in the first row of panels Viktor’s arrogance sets out an ‘all or nothing’ deal. The confrontational atmosphere is sparking with tension and Grigoria accepts the new stakes unflinchingly; she is showing a cold, hard face to her enemy. Then, when her judgment is questioned she shuts Bea down with a look. That silent panel says so much about Grigoria; there is an element of shock that she has been questioned in this way as if she is not used to it; also there is contempt in her eyes for Bea; and her stance is closed, Bea’s reaching hand is so close to her but at the same time so far away. The position of her arm and look on her face says Grigoria is not to be reached. The strength of her position is so obvious that Bea then turns pleadingly to Viktor; a naked man covered in blood who stole the strength of the Rothschilds by killing one of them. He is not the picture of a reasonable man but more approachable then Grigoria at his point. And all of that was expressed through one, silent panel.
The next moment of silence for Grigoria comes after the duel. The violence has reached its zenith and a stillness has started to descend. Hickman moves the narrative from a full, gory, two page onto a page which slows the pace with each panel. The violence seems to ebb away as Grigoria’s familiar tears the heart from Viktor’s body and passes it serenely to her. The entire page is devoid of speech, apart from two speech bubbles which contain the Hickman Symbolic Writing, however it is the final panel of the page that is the most impressive in this sequence.
For two reasons.
Firstly: the image again tells the reader a lot about this issues central character. With everything that has been going on around her and that has led her to this point where she risked so much, this moment is a slice of total contentment. She cradles the heart in her hands almost lovingly, like it is a child. This sentiment is reflected by her facial expression; a picture of a woman at ease, a weight having been lifted from her shoulders. The reader knows the importance of this moment by the contrast between Grigoria’s face and the remnants of violence that surround her.
The second thing that this panel does is give the narrative a wonderful pause between what has just happened and what is about to happen. It is like the moment in Interview With The Vampire during Armand’s stage show where the French Vampire offers the sacrifice to the ‘actors’ on stage. She lays naked on the stage with the actors surrounding her, all cloaked in black, and for a brief moment there is no movement, no sound. Then they swoop in for the kill, enveloping the woman entirely. This final panel on the page is that moment of stillness before Hickman shocks the reader with the next, full page spread. It creates a specific pause for the reader. After flicking through the action and the magic, the reader slows down on this page and then physically stops at the final panel, takes a breather before being hit with the larger than life full stop on the next page.
Towards the end of the issue Detective Dumas and Grigoria have a conversation about hunches, cover ups and the ‘otherworldly history of man’. The sequence is very speech heavy as the two characters’ dance around each other, each holding onto their secrets but there comes a point where Grigoria challenges what the detective is inferring. This is followed by a contemplative, silent panel with the detective filling only half of the space. Behind him is blackness, emphasising the sudden silence. Hickman has stopped the reader in their tracks, created a moment to think about what is actually happening between the two characters.
This pause also acts as a breaking point for the detective because in the next panel he says what he really wants to say. And this is followed by a further moment of contemplation, this time from Grigoria. This allows the statements from the previous panel to sink in but it’s not a full stop because Grigoria goes on to ask “What else?”
This page has a wonderful beat to it created through silence. First beat “What do you want?”; second beat contemplation; third beat honest reply; fourth beat contemplation. It stands out in this scene because it is such a contrast to the previous pages of dense conversation. This page feels like it’s more important as if this is the bit the reader needs to take notice of. The characters are given moments to think about what is going on and as such, the reader is given that same time.
The Black Monday Murders is a visually stunning comic but it’s not just about how well it has been drawn. The page layouts are meticulously planned to give the reader as much information as possible to read the characters and situations. It emphasises moments that are important by controlling the reading experience. The reader is controlled by Hickman and Coker as much as Detective Dumas is being controlled by Grigoria.
The Black Monday Murders is written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Tomm Coker
Colours by Michael Garland
Letters by Rus Wooton
And is published by Image Comics