To the uninitiated, the goings-on in world financial markets look like so much wizardry. The data sets and jargon flung around on Wall Street seem arcane, charting how money magically moves from one place to another. In a new Image Comics series, it actually is magic that makes the super-rich more affluent every day.
Written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Tomm Coker, Michael Garland, and Rus Wooton and released last month, the first issue of The Black Monday Murders opens during the New York Stock Exchange Crash of 1929 that kicked off the Great Depression. The initial sequence shows how the chaos of that troubling Thursday has a troubling effect on fatcat Charles Ackermann, head of Caina Investment Bank.
The origins of Ackermann’s quickly evaporating success lie in the occult and, with financial collapse imminent, the blood sacrifice required to balance the books becomes much steeper. Hickman deftly plays a narrative shell game with truth, paranoia, and debunkery, calling 1929 reports of bankers jumping to their deaths a myth while also showing that they were thrown from Caina’s windows.
The present-day descendants of Ackermann and his cohort operate in a merged mega-conglomerate that has its appointed executive board shaken up by the bondage murder of Daniel Rothschild. The shift in power necessitates the return of his sister Grigoria, who soon encounters NYPD officer Theodore Dumas, an occult-curious detective who’s come back on active duty after a controversial shooting.
As tends to be the case with much of Hickman’s work, The Black Monday Murders hints an opaque ruleset that governs its fiction, one that slowly becomes translucent as the plot unfolds. The secret architecture we learn about in these first two issues is especially chilling and seductive because it invokes anger and fears that the 99% have about the way wealth and power accumulate.
Here, a well-fed executive making money appear from nowhere and telling students that laws and morality meant to be flouted. There, a portal that brings Cold War-era functionaries to Hell, so they can confer with Western counterparts about coming economic downturns.
Coker’s artwork and layouts wonderfully foreboding and seductive, wielding scratchy-smooth texture and ink-drenched negative space to create charm and dread. Hickman hails from a graphic design background and this series breathes with its own unique aesthetic. The second issue came out last week, and it already feels like the entire creative team has conjured up a comic book drafted on ancient parchment and reprinted on yellowing newsprint, an artifact that should’ve stayed lost because of the terrible truths it tells.
Despite knowing that its infernally empowered financial malfeasance is fiction, your blood will boil reading Black Monday Murders. The work here gets at something primal, assembling a lore of lost antiquarian languages, warring occult economic schools of thought and tying it to the raw-wound wealth-disparity angst of 2016.
The evils of the market go back further and deeper than we ever knew. And the common folks? They’re screwed.