Let’s talk about backstory

Publisher: Image Comics
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Meredith McClaren
Letters by Becca Carey

Throughout Black Cloak the primary driving force has been Phaedra’s past. Even the central mystery of who killed Fray is directly linked into Phaedra’s backstory since she and Frey had history. As the murder mystery has played out and leads have been followed more of Phaedra’s backstory has been revealed, and it has played into the current mystery through many of the twists and turns as the mystery has deepened. Black Cloak has woven the backstory into all the issues so far but this issue really feels like it digs into the core of things – why Phaedra didn’t marry Frey.

We’ve had hints throughout the previous three issues. We’ve had flashbacks before. The art sets them apart from the main narrative, helping give them a sense of memory. We’ve seen the early days of the relationship but here we finally see the end of it. There’s something to be said of the fact that this relationship hits so hard. We’ve only known Frey as an alive being through flashbacks, but those flashbacks have really built him up. The further we go into the mystery of who killed him the more real he becomes. It retrospectively makes his death all the more sad.

That’s also true of the mermaids. Here we get some wonderful art as Phaedra and Pax have to try and get some answers. It’s a dangerous undertaking but worth it in the end. It also fleshes out the mermaids themselves. Let’s not forget that the first issue opened with the death of a mermaid. The first death we saw was a mermaid. Sure they eat people but one was a victim too. The alien nature of the mermaids would make them difficult to empathise with but time is taken to give them some history and backstory as well.

Really though the main focus is on Phaedra’s backstory. We have worked a few things out prior to the reveal here. Hints of Phaedra’s parenthood being less than acceptable have been sprinkled throughout several issues up to this point. We could make some logical assumptions about what it is. I like that it isn’t front and centre, that it is something we the reader can work out through the information we’re given.

What I also like is that clearly Phaedra did love Frey. That she would have married him had things been different. That this is the case does not in any way detract from her current love and relationship. Her past love is in the past and she has been lucky enough to find a strong relationship in her present. It doesn’t matter that her present love is female it’s just as valid as her relationship with Frey. There was history between her and Frey, they grew up together and though it was not chosen there was affection there. In the present though she has made a choice and is happy, she managed to find something good after making a heartbreaking choice.

This is why backstory can be so interesting and useful. It can illuminate the present in different ways. We see Phaedra’s present relationship having beeen aware of her past history. It adds some emotional tension and depth we might not have had otherwise. It is a well written relationship anyway but the backstory gives it another dimension from Phaedra’s side. We can see how different this present relationship is to her past. The ghosts of the past are there even though this relationship carries the weight of being a free choice. External forces are used in fiction to give tension to relationships but this feels like a more unique way of doing it.

Of course there’s more going on than simply backstory but this was a great example of how to use the backstory in the main plot and how to use it to add to the emotional core. It feels like we’re still no closer to the actual murder being solved but it does feel like we are further along with understanding Phaedra. Her backstory has been key and it does feel as if might be the key to solving the crime. This issue reall shows how important that backstory is.

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