Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

July 24, 2007

CR Review: The Black Diamond #1

imageCreators: Larry Young, Jon Proctor, Dennis Culver
Publishing Information: AiT/Planet Lar, comic book, 32 pages, 2007, $2.95
Ordering Numbers:

It struck me as I put it down that the new six-issue mini-series The Black Diamond would have been a fine addition to the Roger Corman's Cosmic Comics line. Run by Dark Horse and Fantagraphics veteran Robert Boyd for a brief period in the middle 1990s, RCCC boasted a number of titles based on or even serving as upgrades on some of the more popular Corman movies: Burial of the Rats, Caged Heat 3000, Death Race 2020, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Welcome to the Little Shop of Horrors. In fact, coming from Corman himself as a substitute for movies and potential breeding ground for sequels in other media, you could argue the company in significant ways contributed the "Season X" model that's proving popular right now. You probably wouldn't win the argument, but you could hang in there a while.

A standard comic book with color art and a movie tear-sheet style front cover, The Black Diamond copies the Corman company's comic book model of a B-movie plot serialized from issue to issue with a rotating cast of set-in-the-world-of back-ups filling out the page count (this issue's is by Dennis Culver). All The Black Diamond lacks is a movie for it to be based on, although a reader who cared to could probably fool someone that one exists. The plot of The Black Diamond involves a super-super highway built across the country that has become a kind of no-man's-land not just for aggressive drivers and car builders but for all sorts of crazy folks, as well as potentially acting as a haven for folks maybe not so crazy and merely out of step with the country's increasing conservatism. It's the kind of plot that makes for run-on sentences in reviews and an easy 10-minutes of forced exposition in your standard John Carpenter film or 1970s Andy Griffith TV movie. By this first issue's conclusion, we have a taste of the status quo and learn how our ostensible hero becomes personally motivated to leave the safer world and enter the wilder one. We don't get very far along in this first issue, which is sort of humorous given the speeding cars motif. Then again, these kinds of films usually built slowly as well.

Despite a love for action movies' way of looking at the world so deep and abiding he would happily give one a ride to the airport at 3:30 in the morning, Young showed in his Astronauts in Trouble work that he has the structure gene that a lot of mainstream American comic book writers would kill for. Everything he does feels sturdy, even when, as in this issue, he plays a bit around the edges of form and is dealing almost exclusively in cliches. Artist Jon Proctor offers up a style that's either photo referenced or apes the surface appearance of such art. It feels appropriately futuristic in a bleached, antiseptic way early on, and shows off the hardware to fine effect. It's not exactly a subtle set of tools when it comes to showing nuances of emotion, and some of the panels end up looking like outtakes from Our Gang shorts where Cuba Gooding Jr. is playing all the parts. The real problem becomes how those panels break the flow of the narrative. Comics panels that feel like stills from film can work if used smartly; comics that start to feel as these do like panels from another, better, comic book with more pages to let the story flow, those almost always fail. Although it's impossible to know how the series will progress, all the reader can see in the first issue of The Black Diamond are its limitations. We know what it's not. It could be a long drive.
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