By Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Derwin Roberson, David Sharpe
Black Af: Widows and Orphans #1 is the first in a spin-off from the Black Mask series’ Black; set in a universe where only black people have superpowers. The premise on its own sells the book, but the story and its characters prove to be fun and intriguing as well. While this issue seems to throw readers unfamiliar with the series into the flames, there are still thrilling moments that are expected from any big two book. Osajyefo and Smith 3 do a good job of establishing the three most important parts of a first issue: character, story, and tone. Everything in the book has purpose, even if it can be confusing at times.
The issue begins with a basic scene, showing the characters and the world at a distance. Thanks to this, readers are gently lead into the Black universe. The creators first show what to expect as well as what the heroes in this world do. Then, as the narrative unravels, we’re naturally introduced to some minor background elements and character traits. Conceptually, it seems flawless, but there are definitely points in the opening half of the issue that feel like part of the universe is missing. That feeling never takes more of a toll on the issue than a moment of distraction, though. Black Af: Widows and Orphans’ main character is too much of a badass to think about those moments too much.
When he first appears, it’s in grand fashion. It’s nostalgic in many ways. Smith 3’s art is energetic, which makes it reminiscent of old animated series. Many scenes feel tonally like the best episodes of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They’re both fun because of their character dynamics and willingness to be over the top. Smith 3’s character designs are consistently one of the best parts of his pages. They’re both functional and, honestly, cool as hell.
Apart from all that, one of the most satisfying parts of this issue is when characters say the phrase “empowered blacks”. There’s a double entendre there that’s packed with meaning. Even though it lacks context for first-time readers to the series, there’s a real sense of power when characters talk about black people with superpowers. It seems that the characters are aware that society is afraid of them. If the classic X-Men had more diverse characters, they would live in this universe.
Despite some occasionally confusing action scenes and a minor shellshock for unfamiliar readers, Black Af: Widows and Orphans #1 is awesome. The tone of the issue smartly comes both from organic character interactions as well as from the creators themselves. They can talk about serious matters or joke with each other without feeling forced, and they can battle unheard of enemies in thrilling ways. This is a series, and an entire universe, to keep an eye on especially for readers hungry for superhero comics outside of the traditional DC or Marvel book.