Sunday, June 17, 2007

Review - The Black Diamond Detective Agency

By Eddie Campbell
Based on a screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell
Published by First Second, $16.95

A fellow blogger picked up BLACK DIAMOND here at Heart HQ and gave it a flip recently. “It’s a good explosion,” she said. It sure is!

(From Publishers Weekly's 13-page preview)

Eddie Campbell’s artwork is gorgeous throughout. It’s a story of 19th Century America, which returns Eddie to the time period of FROM HELL -- but even though some of the mustaches might bring back memories of his seminal collaboration with Alan Moore, BLACK DIAMOND is a whole other creature. Instead of relying on a standard nine-panel grid, Eddie’s page layouts are more varied and inventive, and the use of color throughout paints (ha!) a more dynamic view of the world than the black and white sooty oppressiveness of his Jack the Ripper examination.

And while the internets tell us that Eddie took liberties with BLACK DIAMOND’S basis, a screenplay by Charles Gaby Mitchell, its plotting and pacing and scripting aren’t on the same level as FROM HELL. The book is essentially a mystery, and as Eddie says in the above-linked CBR interview, “I thought the mystery ought to be more complicated, being a long time reader of the greatest detective mystery writer Raymond Chandler. I believe that a book can bear more of that kind of complexity than a movie, because the reader is more at liberty to back a few pages to resolve difficulties, while a movie moves relentlessly forward.” The mystery is suitably complex, but it doesn’t possess the graceful efficiency of a movie like BRICK, which takes a complex mystery, drives it relentlessly forward, and yet still offers the viewer -- whether a first-timer or someone coming back for more -- a satisfactory experience. BLACK DIAMOND can be confusing for the sheer number of characters -- detectives and secret service agents -- that people its pages. I think some of them even died, but it was honestly hard to tell.

The dialogue tried to do a lot of expository work, but not always to the best result. We get a villain’s recap of his plan at the end, and his statement that his revelations are possibly “out of sour grapes” doesn’t lessen the fact that it’s a terrible cliché. On the other hand, there are also a lot of moments of pure dialogical bliss -- “You don’t know a goddamn thing about a goddamn thing” was a simple thing that made me smile, and of course “Up yours, modern times!” might as well be engraved on a plaque and hung in Mr. Campbell’s home.

Spending time with BLACK DIAMOND is a lot like Eddie’s Batman one-shot from a few years ago, BATMAN: THE ORDER OF THE BEAST. It’s fun to see him work in color, and an interesting Campbellian aside into the worlds of Batmen or American gangsters, respectively. But what I’m really looking forward to is THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MR. LEOTARD, his promised next book, and one that springs, presumably, in its entirety from Eddie Campbell’s mind.

Tell me more: Eddie Campbell, First Second Books.

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