Codex Black Vol. 1: A Fire Among Clouds TP
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Release Date: April 5, 2023
Price: $16.99
Creator: Camilo Moncada Lozano
Format: 320 pgs., Full-Color, 6"x9", Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-6840-5959-1
Age Rating: 13-17
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

This graphic novel needed to exist. It's a fantasy adventure story set in late 15th century Mesoamerica, making it shortly before the Spanish invaded and destroyed things.  The story is made more interesting by this fairly uncommon setting, and the two main characters, seemingly teens, are both good characters.  The only serious weakness to the story is the style of the art.  Not the quality, which is high throughout, but the style, which seems to be based on the way humorous manga get drawn in Japan.  That seemed awkward, because this is not primarily a light or humorous story.

Donaji, the central female character, is searching for her father, who disappeared eleven years earlier, and her only real aid is a “magical” poncho that he left behind.  Technically, it's a holy poncho, as it’s the link between the human world and one of the gods, who can choose to grant strength to the wearer, under certain conditions.  Her male companion on this quest is on the run from his own people, and has his own supernatural help.  We would call his people Aztecs, but at that point in time they were still a growing empire based on an alliance between three large city-states.

Where the artwork is distracting is that at almost every turn, death and supernatural threats come forward.  Think of Lord of the Rings for a moment.  Now, envision the story being told with artwork styled to be cute and silly.  The result is the reader constantly having to reset the story into the world of the words, rather than the world of the art.  Does this ruin the graphic novel?  No, but it may serve to confuse readers who pick it up based on the art.  There are a couple of supernatural entities based on Mesoamerican culture who are pretty creepy, both in appearance and habits, and the mixture of that with cutesy art is jarring.

The story is aimed at teens, and if they're used to reading a lot of manga, the visual tropes will be familiar, even if the names are not.  This is the start of a story of unknown length; the main quest barely begins in this story.

--Nick Smith