A comicbook review! Bear with me, as this needs some set up.
For those who haven’t figured it out, I love me some comics. This is a constant for me; if I ever want to cheer up, get some brain candy, I hit up a few stores and grab some pages of “4 color” fantasy.
My other pop culture tastes are always in flux. Sure I will always love westerns, zombies, iconic heroes, deep space, etc. But I usually obsess over a single genre for weeks on end, with a white hot flame of curiosity until it burns itself out. Otaku am I.
Currently, that obsession is cars. Partly due to our LA move. With no wheels of our own, and in a city where they are a necessary part of life, the hunt begins. And for me hunting is not just about hitting the pavement and crunching the numbers. That’s just nasty reality stuff.
It’s also about the dream. Like renting a Mustang for the first two weeks to see how we like it (another day). Or thinking ”y’know, best nexus of fuel efficiency and performance is a Lotus” (my soul brutha Barrett knows what I am talking about it).
And it’s also about seeing the dreams of others.
Now you got your classic car chase movies like Bullit. I prefer Ronin, as I like the taste of McGuffin in the morning. And I am SUPREMELY pissed I couldn’t find my copy of the stunning BMW funded series The Hire starring Clive Owen from a few years back.
But under the hot LA sun, in the long, boring, maddening hour long lurch that is the morning commute, with gas prices arising and the American dream turning nightmare, it’s the apocalyptic masterpiece that is Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior curls my lips in a sneer of joy.
So when I heard that Larry Young and Jon Proctor’s The Black Diamond was finally being collected, I said “Oh yeah.”
The premise is great. In the near future, America raises a cross-continental mega-highway. Called the Black Diamond, years down the line it’s become a no-man’s land of muscle cars and gangs with their own subcultures, and while the government begins steps to take it back, a young dentist must race from his practice on the West Coast to Washington DC to rescue his kidnapped wife.
Comics + post-apocalyptic car action != fail, right? With a terrific introduction Graeme McMillian of io9.com I tore into it …
… and was left incredibly disappointed.
Upfront, the art is not the best. The style itself is not bad, and the cars are gorgeous (as they have to be, even being traced). But the rendering of people and their faces are a random affair of meh to sloppy work. Funny enough, while some people have criticized the coloring of the book, I think it captures the feel of the 70s movies the creators are trying to evoke. But most sequences give no sense of the action taking place, despite some cool ideas and visuals.
The big crime here is that while the world the story takes place is ripe for exploration, I don’t feel that we see any of it! There’s a lot of talking about the world by characters you never really connect with. Worse, as the story progresses, it (and the artwork) moves from really straightforward primal ideas to a vague, abstract symbolism with no real conclusion.
I don’t want pure symbolism in my apocalyptic car story! I want paint scraping, bone jarring, tire squealing driving! I want DIY mechanical weapon bad-assery! I want to SEE more of the dynamics of this world, not have it TOLD to me!
Some may say there is a fundamental problem in trying to render the dynamic beast that is a car chase in the “static” images of a comicbook. I say bullshit. Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer’s The Last of the Independents and Pirates of Coney Island by Rick Spears and Vasilis Lolos are two personal favorites that come to mind. There is a way to do violent, thumping, end-of-world, vehicle of death action!
The Black Diamond is simply not the right route to take.