Hard-Boiled Comics Featuring Billy Blackburn, P.I. #1 - Wertham Would Weep

Steve Earnhart's comic, Hard-Boiled Comics, certainly is hard-boiled. It has enough sketchy behavior that you could imagine many a page from this comic being blown up and shown to Congress during the Wertham days. But in the end, Earnhart has an interesting enough character to make the book fun to follow, although first issue (he's being replaced next issue) artist Harsho Chattoraj's rough inks give the book a bit of an unfinished feel.

First off, nice cover, eh? It's a Bob Lizarraga painting. Nice work. Really captures the feel of the book.

Anyhow, the comic is set in the Los Angeles of 2024, where aliens and mutated humans exist, but otherwise, life goes on as we know it. Our star is down on his luck private eye, Billy Blackburn.

Billy is a former military man who gets caught up in a blackmail case (mainly because he's so disrespectful that he can be hired under the radar) that is (as is par for the course) part of a larger scheme.

The main appeal of the issue is writer (also the series creator and layout artist) Earnhart introducing us to the different outlandish figures of the Los Angeles of the future. 2024 seemed a LITTLE too early for the plot, to be honest, as the difference between a private eye in 1988 and 2006 is not all THAT dramatic, so I would have liked to have seen the date moved forward a bit more than eighteen years. I mean, you got humans walking around with the heads of sharks, for crying out loud! Although I love the touch of the money asked for by the blackmailer is roughly similar to the amount of money offered today, as let's be honest, inflation doesn't change THAT much.

At the end of the book, Earnhart shows us the process Harsho Chattoraj took from pencils to the printed page, and man, his pencils look so much better than the inked work! There is a nice, stylized work in the pencils that seems like it is drowned in some heavy inks. Character do not flow - their movements seem stiff and rough. I'd have loved to have seen a different inker take a crack at Chattoraj's pencils, as the sketches in the back show some real talent. The incoming artist, Ulises Carpintero is not as good of a sketcher as Chattoraj, but I have high hopes that his inks will even out the difference.

Billy Blackburn is a good character, and I especially am impressed by Earnhart's ability to show different sides of Billy and how Billy is quite aware of those different sides. He can be the Marlowe style flirt with the wife of the rich man, but be the brass tacks private eye with the rich man himself.

Of the various characters we meet, Evo is definitely the coolest (and he has a great joke in the comic - best line in the book), but I think the other characters are hamstrung a bit by the art. Especially Billy's bouncer friend, who never looks like an actual person, but rather a constant cariacture of a bad ass bouncer. Some lighter inks would really have helped there.

In any event, there is cannibalism, a dude with a shark head, sex, lots and lots of violence...pretty much everything you would expect in a futuristic Los Angeles. There was one scene where Billy sets a dude on fire for basically being a jerk that I thought was more than a bit over the top (as, if you examine it - Billy comes off as a bit of a sociopath that he kills a guy just for being a dick).

Earnhart's dialogue can be a bit clunky at times, but for the most part, he pulls the vibe off well. This book is really just some looser inks away from being a fine private eye comic book...that would give Wertham fits.

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