In 1979 New York City, a group of supernaturally gifted strangers unite to face an ancient evil threatening to destroy all existence. There’s Mercy, a soul-sucking gunslinger; Laura, a blind woman with a magical daemon protector; and Jadoo, a young stage magician discovering he can perform real spells. Brought together by a mysterious wizard, they’re the latest members of the Hidden Society, an unimaginatively named group of sorcerers tasked with protecting the world. Written by Rafael Scavone with art by Rafael Albuquerque, colorist Marcelo Costa, and letterer Bernardo Brice, Dark Horse Comics’ Hidden Society is a well drawn, swiftly paced action-adventure debut, but this first issue lacks the strong hook needed to set it apart from similarly grounded fantasy yarns.
Scavone and Albuquerque have collaborated on multiple projects in the past, and there’s a definite ease to the storytelling in Hidden Society #1 (Dark Horse). That relaxed tone makes it easy to enter the world of these characters, but it also impacts the stakes, dulling the reveal of forthcoming doom in the final pages. The script draws readers in with something more casual and atmospheric, but then it ends up back on a very familiar track with the wizard assembling a team to save the world. As of this first issue, the threat is completely impersonal and undefined. There’s a development involving the disappearance of the Brooklyn Bridge that puts a big target on Jadoo, and the stakes there feel much bigger than whatever is going on with this greater evil.
Specificity is the biggest problem with this debut, and a lot of the characterizations and conflicts in this issue will be familiar to fans of the genre. There’s the deadly woman who preys on the lust of men, the young magician haunted by his family’s legacy, the wizard who appears in a puff of smoke with a desperate plea. This first issue doesn’t do much to establish individual character motivations, and Jadoo is the only one who really gains any dimension, thanks to his Brooklyn Bridge stunt taking such a disastrous turn.
Albuquerque’s artwork does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to establishing personalities—giving Mercy a brooding intensity, Laura a cheerful, compassionate disposition, and making Jadoo adorably naive. Laura’s daemon is the Genie from Aladdin by way of Hercules’ Philoctetes, a surly, cigar-chomping sprite that functions as both muscle and comic relief. Costa’s coloring sells the gritty look of late-’70s NYC with speckled textures, which are replaced with softer, more vibrant colors when the action moves away from the streets and into the magically charged locales. This is a creative team that understands how to make attractive, inviting comics, and now that they’ve laid the basic groundwork for Hidden Society, hopefully they’ll build something with a more distinct point of view.