“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy, there is but one rule: hunt or be hunted”: it is with this quote from Frank Underwood that you can grasp the essence of this comic book. Ruthless, intimidating and hungry-for-power characters give life to a tale Hickman orchestrates flawlessly, following a rhythm that keeps you craving for more and more with every single page you turn.
The world is ruled by various investment banks, each with their own set of rules and sphere of influence, all serving Mammon, a God that gives them the power they need to rule the markets. At the centre of The Black Monday Murders are the events surrounding Caina Investment Bank, the major American Western School, and its history from 1929 to 2016. On October 31, 2016 Daniel Rothshild, Caina managing partner, is found dead in a hotel room, with a strange symbol on its chest. A few hours later, at Teterboro airport, Grigoria Rothshild arrives to take her brother’s place at Caina. We follow detective Dumas in his investigations, trying to find the answer to the peculiarly staged murder, and through him the reader starts deciphering, piece by piece, what led to Daniel Rothshild’s death and what Caina really is about. But Dumas’ isn’t the only point of view highlighted during the story, whose focus shifts mainly to Grigoria. She is returning from a long exile after the merger of Caina with Kankrin, an Eastern School, in the 80’s.
These are the premises from which the story develops in mystical and very crude ways. Hickman said that "this is a book about schools of magic. The only difference being that instead of schools of magic, it's financial institutions. Power is accumulated through wealth. It's about a bunch of guys, a bunch of schools, that gathered together and generated a financial collapse in order to attain power".
A parallel I find quite fitting is “House of Cards”: a series that shows us an array of determined, power-craving characters acting in order to manipulate others and achieve their goals. Of course, The Black Monday Murders switches politics with economics and adds the magical element to it, but never in an over the top way, say as in Harry Potter. Another analogy that can be found between the Netflix show and TBMM, is the dialogue, which carries a lot of weight (as in most of Hickman’s work). It’s crafted with precision and it’s able to move the story forward in a very engaging way. Every line is tailor made for the character delivering it and it expresses their anger, their wisdom and the raw power they hold within. Together with high quality interactions, Hickman likes to use other media through which deliver information about the overall “big picture”: emails, maps, police reports and transcripts, diaries, journals, newspapers and explanatory panels, all of these are used to describe, for example, how the rotating chair system within Caina-Kankrin works, how transaction of power operates, or are used to report certain conversations revealing crucial details.
Tomm Cocker and Michael Garland bless us with what I feel is one of the best art and colours combination in comics. The drawings depict faces, gestures, expressions in a way that makes you think you’re looking at actors, and very good ones at that. They speak even without words and most of the time just a single look can make the reader feel horror or fear. When violence is used, the pages turn gruesome and vivid, giving off a sense of pain and darkness, piercing through your soul.
This magnificent art is supported by perfectly calibrated colour schemes: numerous conversations take place and Garland makes sure to give each setting its own shadows and atmosphere.
The most used colour patterns are white-light brown-orange-brown and white-powder blue-grey-scarlet red, both of them using black, sometimes more prominently than others. Examples of the first pattern are shown in the Caina Investment building and in the funeral scene, which presents a striking contrast between the words uttered on the altar by Grigoria and the overall mild and peacful colours and lighting.
The second colour scheme can be seen at the interrogation of Viktor Eresko (a representative of Kankrin, questioned for the murder of Daniel Rothshild) and whenever God Mammon or the mystic arts come into play. Red stands out predominantly, highlighting the moments when magic is performed, when supernatural elements take place and last but not least: blood, rivers of blood.
The story is engaging, dynamic, and unlike anything you have ever read before. The use of timestamps aids you in keeping track of the plot, which is presented within a non-linear narrative. At first it can be confusing, but when you get the hang of it, it becomes almost as if you're putting together a very entertaining and satisfying puzzle made of scenes not in chronological order, files, emails and more.
The characters are interesting to watch while they talk and prepare their moves in this convoluted chess game they're playing in order to gain as much power as they can, either for revenge or glory.
Should you read this comic book? Yes, of course, it’s Hickman, and whenever he’s involved you know you’re in for something very complex, unique and high quality. Unlike his famous work on the Avengers and Fantastic Four, this story is a self-contained one, making it easily accessible, and it’s been collected in two volumes. However, the writer currently residing in South Carolina has left us on a cliff-hanger on the last pages, teasing a continuation of the series.