Review – Nocterra: Blacktop Bill Special – Before the Dark

Comic Books
Nocterra: Blacktop Bill Special #1 cover, via DC Comics.

Nocterra: Blacktop Bill Special #1 – Scott Snyder, Tony S. Daniel, Writers; Denys Cowan, Penciller; Kent Williams, Inker; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Ray: How do you make a truly great villain? This has been haunting storytellers for years, and a lot of it boils down to presence. That’s something that the mysterious, shadowy Blacktop Bill has in spades. The demented trucker who pursues the heroes of Nocterra has been deliberately keeping us in the dark – pun intended. He’s seemingly had no personal connection to them and no motivation besides wanting to complete the job of hunting them down. It’s made him a very compelling antagonist visually, but it’s also left us with a lot of unanswered questions – that are partially answered here in his own one-shot. The glossy, detailed art of Tony Daniel takes a break between arcs, replaced by a comic book legend.

Denys Cowan is an icon at DC, but this is the first time I can recall him being on an indie property in a very long time. He has a very different style from Daniel, but I think that works here. The distinct scratchy lines of his work add grit and harshness to a story focusing on a truly evil force of nature. Narrated by two characters from the first arc, it takes place partially in the present timeline – but also flashes back to his origins, in the days between the Big PM. Which asks the question – was he normal before the Big PM? Was he a person who was twisted by tragedy and lowered himself to the level of the new, harsher world? Or was he always a monster who found opportunity where everyone else found horror?

The setup of this issue is brilliantly tense, starting with a clever fakeout to what could be a much more conventional origin. But this is the story of a predator, one with a fascinating and very specific MO that becomes much more dangerous after the sun goes out. In another world, Blacktop Bill could have been a fantastic Batman villain, one with a unique MO. But in this world, where he’s the only true apex predator, he may be even scarier. It’s amazing how much Snyder, Daniel, and Cowan do with subtle scenes, such as an interaction at a diner. We’re heading into the second arc of Nocterra soon, and it’s likely that our main villain will be more menacing than ever with this added context. This is how you do a one-shot.

GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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