Black Kiss II #1

Story by
Art by
Howard Chaykin
Letters by
Howard Chaykin
Cover by
Image Comics

This comic contains content of an adult nature

"Black Kiss" couldn't be any more mature and still considered mainstream -- it's more layered than "Tarot," but far from Manara. Gratuitously lubing crime noir with erotica and a spurt of horror, "Black Kiss" is Howard Chaykin's definitive mark on all three genres.

The original "Black Kiss" takes violence to the extreme with a secret undertone frequently implied but never confirmed. It's great stuff -- stuff you should keep in-between your mattress so unsuspecting eyes don't find it. "Black Kiss II" has a lot to live up to, and while the original is not required reading for newcomers, this issue gives off strong prequel vibes, taking place roughly 70 years before the original.

Chaykin vividly lays out his world with the exposition as a narrative. The setting is New York City and then later, the sinking Titanic -- both locations are dirty, nasty and populated by the supernatural.

The horror elements were never obvious in Chaykin's first installment, which was a key technique that added a layer of mystery and heightened excitement to the book. Chaykin convinced the reader there had to be more going on between panels, but the questions are never clearly answered. Unfortunately, Chaykin does the opposite here, introducing demons, demon women with forked tails and a winged demon woman with 11 penetrating penises upon the unsuspecting all by the final page. The way Chaykin held nothing back sexually in the original but managed to keep the un-earthly elements of his characters in question to the reader is missed here. If the art wasn't obvious enough, the lettering also changes for the demons, really pounding the point home that they aren't human.

To a similar effect, Chaykin is more in your face with his sex scenes. In this first issue, readers see a woman's legs spread wide and everything in-between plus demonic insertion, not leaving much to the imagination. Make no mistake, the original "Black Kiss" is offensive on every level from womanizing, to child murder, priest rape, necrophilia, sneaky hermaphrodites and everything else under the sun -- yet somehow Chaykin makes it all work in this psycho-sexual setting, pinning each vice and desire squarely on his characters shoulders, giving the reader an outlet for their twistedness -- but here it comes dangerously close to being crass for crass' sake. As for the images, there's no denying Chaykin's art isn't what it once was. His decision to go all digital likely plays a factor in its recent roughness. Even so, what he creates here is far superior to any of his recent Marvel work.

The implied leading man of "Black Kiss II" is so unlike original "Black Kiss" protagonist Cass Pollack, you'd think this series would bomb with him as the lead. Cass, while a total asshole in the original "Kiss," was still a likeable guy in some backwards way. This new guy just seems like an annoying pansy.

Whether or not this prequel volume will live up to the standard set by its predecessor remains to be seen. "Black Kiss" is great on its own and would have remained timeless without a prequel bringing it back into the public eye. While there are things here for readers familiar with "Kiss" to walk away with, someone who has never read the original may feel less inclined to stick around.

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