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Comics that take place in a bizarre future populated by aliens and men with shark heads that star 1940s-era private eyes should be good!

by  in Comic News Comment
Comics that take place in a bizarre future populated by aliens and men with shark heads that star 1940s-era private eyes should be good!

Like our Dread Lord and Master, Steve Earnhart also sent me a copy of Hard-Boiled Comics Featuring Billy Blackburn, P.I. in the mail, for which I thank him.  Cronin already reviewed it, but we know that in the reviewing world, I’m like the Beatles while he is like the Starland Vocal Band, so I figured I’d step up and let you know my thoughts on the book.  If you really want to trust “Afternoon Delight” instead of “The White Album,” be my guest!

First, the story.  Let’s count the cliches!  Billy Blackburn is a down-on-his-luck private eye (1) who gets a new case under somewhat mysterious circumstances that promises quick cash (2).  The client, Mr. Torchsong, is married to a femme fatale (3) who engages in some acerbic verbal foreplay with our hero (4).  Mr. Torchsong is being blackmailed (5) by parties unknown, who have a DVD of his daughter doing some crazy and ultimately illegal things (6).  Meanwhile, the photographer who shot the footage is killed (7) by a killer clown (?!) and the bad guys hire a thug with the head of a hammerhead shark (named, appropriately enough, Hammerhead) to find Billy and beat the crap out of him (8).  Hammerhead, of course, has history with Billy (9).

Wow!  That’s a lot of cliches!  However, they don’t bog the story down at all.  I’ll explain.  Earnhart is working with the stock story of hard-boiled noir private eyes, so he has to use some of the stereotypes that we expect from the story.  In these kind of genre books, it’s not the use of the cliches, but how the writer tweaks those cliches and makes the story more original even within the framework of the story.  Earnhart does this well, beginning with setting the story in 2024.  I’m with Cronin in that 18 years in the future seems like too short a time, but let’s just say it takes place in “the near future” and leave the actual year out of it.  Setting it in the future allows Earnhart to stick to the genre while introducing a bit of strangeness into the story, like Hammerhead, who presumably is some kind of genetic experiment gone horribly wrong (or horribly right, depending on your view of it).  Billy’s friend Ovo, who owns the club at which Crystal Torchsong got busy, is an alien – not an illegal one, but an actual one from outer space (with the stereotypical egg-shaped alien head, hence the name, perhaps?).  However, the story is grounded by Blackburn, who turns out to be an interesting character with more than one level – when he talks to Mr. Torchsong, he’s all business (he even explains his mood shift in a voiceover) and remarkably efficient.  The artifice of being a hard-boiled private eye seems to be important to him, but we can see just a bit of something else in his persona, which makes him a much more interesting character.  The issue is heavy with exposition, and occasionally the words threaten to overwhelm the art (I’ll make that clearer below), but the narration and dialogue, although drenched with noir-isms, doesn’t slow us down or even trip us up that much.  As I mentioned, it feels like artifice, and although Billy does plenty of tough guy stuff, and his bouncer friend does plenty of tough guy stuff, we always get the sense that there is more to Billy, at least (not Knuckles the bouncer, though, because he’s just muscle), and that allows us to view his actions with a more … sympathetic, maybe? eye.

The art is rather nice, because Harsho Chattoraj (who, as Cronin mentioned, will not be around for issue #2) has a talent for faces, and much of this is close-ups of the characters.  Each person in the book has a distinctive look, and the rough inks and black-and-white give Los Angeles of the future a nice sleazy edge to it, despite the sci-fi weirdness in some parts of the book.  Where the art falters is when Chattoraj focuses more on the actions of the characters, as perspective breaks down a bit (which could be, conceivably, because there are a lot of words in this book and the panels are sometimes too small, which is Earnhart’s fault – he did the layouts) and limbs seem strangely posed occasionally (which, again, could be because of the panel arrangement).  For me, at least, it’s a minor complaint – as you know, I’m much more of a word guy than an art guy, so as long as the art is not horrible, it’s fine with me, and here the art is far from horrible.  The sketches in the back of the book by new artist Ulises Carpintero look cleaner than those of Chattoraj, which is fine, but I hope the book doesn’t lose its rough edge.  We’ll see.

All in all, it’s a good little book.  It has a familiar feel to it, but Earnhart has enough wit to twist the cliches enough and make the characters feel real.  According to Earnhart, it will be solicited in the August edition of Previews, so look for it then.  You can also go to the web site to check things out there.  It’s only $2.95, people, and you don’t have to spend your money on Teen Titans, you know!

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