with colors by Angel/Michi DeSantiago.
This is a really fun graphic novel that I almost bounced off of in the first few pages because it’s so darn dark. And I don’t mean in mood: I mean that it’s so visually murky that my brain was refusing to engage with the images on the page. I’d had that problem before when my husband gave me a physical copy of Kill Six Billion Demons for Christmas: it looked way better on my PC than on the page. So I went to check out Codex Black’s origins on Tapas and was pretty surprised by the choice to drag down the beautiful clean lines and graphic pops of color of the original webcomic with the saturated blacks of the physical book’s first few pages.
Fortunately, the book soon switches back to the webcomic’s aesthetics, tho I have to concede that the digital art actually does look much more impressive via digital medium. But I, of all, people, cannot complain: physical comics are way easier for me to read in general. It’s just easy to tell when something was originally created for a different platform, as it doesn’t have quite the same flow as a story written for print.
But enough of my quibbling! You should read this book because it’s a really fun story that showcases an under-explored genre in English-speaking literature. In Codex Black, two unlikely young heroes with supernatural powers get together to unravel a personal mystery that promises to have consequences for the entirety of 15th century Mesoamerica.
Donaji is a headstrong fifteen year-old who is determined to leave her mountain home in order to track down her missing father. In this she’s aided by Chicahualizteotl, the God of Fortitude and Health, who inhabits the poncho she inherited from her dad, imbuing her with his gifts when she’s wearing it. Not long into her journey, she takes a wrong turn and stumbles across Itzcacalotl, a seventeen year-old Mexica warrior who was separated from his convoy. His ensuing ordeal gifted him raven wings that allow him to fly. Donaji and Itzcacalotl agree to travel together, since they’re both going in the same direction. Encounters with strange beasts and supernatural thieves soon have them heading back to Donaji’s home with the few clues they’ve gleaned, where Itzcacalotl learns surprising things that may help them in their ongoing quest.
Once this book got started, it really had me in its grip. The characters are endearing and the setting and mythology compelling. I was also completely charmed by the little sound effects written into the panels. The manga-influenced art is perfectly suited to the material, despite the choice to have dark, detail-obscuring backgrounds in certain panels.
I really enjoyed spending time with Donaji, Itzcacalotl and Chicahualizteotl (their last battle with a monster was especially chilling) and am looking forward to spending more. Not online tho: digital comics are difficult for my old eyes to handle. I just hope the next physical adaptation avoids murkiness and leans into the vibrancy of the original.
Codex Black Vol 1: A Fire Among Clouds by Camilo Moncada Lozano was published April 4 2023 by IDW Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including