I took a nap when I got home from work.

*So like I said yesterday, it’s a big week this time out. So big, that I’m forced to compartmentalize my approach just to cope with the enormity of it all. It’s a war on many fronts, and that’s the kind of war you usually lose. Why are we at war with things we’re going to pay money to read? Don’t ask, dear friend. Just pick up your rifle and follow me!


The Black Diamond: On Ramp

The inside front cover of this book sports a weird bit of misdirection. It offers a bit of background on the ‘world’ the main story will be taking place in, a near-future. A gigantic elevated superhighway has been erected, connecting the east and west coasts. We’re told that the presence of this highway is tied to “the post-9/11 world of reactionary conservatism.” One President Fulton is heard harping about making America’s highways safe, of allowing the criminal and thrill-seeking and family-unfriendly elements of society to exist apart from the rest of the nation (or: the good part of the good old US). Upon reading this I had to wonder: an elevated highway? Isn’t that a kind of expensive form of flypaper for the designated undesirables? Have politics grown that acid? Will there be mostly liberals cruising this dangerous new road?! Oh, how my mind began to wander, knowing that this would be a (forgive me) high-octane action book. I saw mighty muscle cars roaring down eight lanes to rescue Social Security from privatization, hard-bitten heroes cockily tossing off one-liners about the necessity of maintaining current taxation levels as their shotguns roared. I couldn’t wait!

Unfortunately, the main story isn’t quite like that. It turns out that the titular superhighway was erected in response to increasing terrorism from the air; the US airline industry has crashed, and a new system of fast transportation is needed. Over time, a thriving subculture grows along this expansive route, with clever gas barons parlaying their quick access to petrol into amazing power and influence among the people of the Black Diamond. The resulting situation is a cute inversion of the usual tiered future society set-up, as seen in film and console role playing games the world over with the rough-and-ready proletariat on the bottom, and the idle rich up top. Here, the active, vigorous forces of the nation roar above, with the rest of the country, the bottom-dwellers, grown so apathetic and content that they hardly mind when the occasional vehicle goes spinning out of one world and crashing down into populated sections of the land below.

I didn’t get any of that information from the story, by the way; I got it from writer/creator/publisher Larry Young’s two-page essay in the back. That’s one of many features in the book, a 32-page pamphlet, featuring AiT/PlanetLar’s first-ever use of interior color. Admirably, Young keeps the price down at the typical Marvel/DC level of $2.95, forgoing the extra dollar that most of the rear of Previews charges for color work these days. Hopefully this’ll hold over for the main spread: Black Diamond is going to be a six-issue miniseries. This book is described by Young as a “teaser,” which is may be selling it a little short. I see the book as comparable to a mid-‘90s issue of Cerebus: a 19-page main story (yeah yeah, I know, Cerebus’ main story ran 20 pages - stick with me here), with a mix of text features and previews of additional works from other creators in the back. So here we get the color Black Diamond preview, that two-page essay by Young, a two-page Young interview taken from Newsarama, a six-page b&w preview of Kirsten Baldock and Fabio Moon’s Smoke and Guns with an additional one-page text intro (by Baldock, I presume), and a one-page b&w introduction to Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders’ Five Fists of Science. All of the non-Black Diamond material is on a flip-side; Moon provides the flip-side cover.

So actually, in terms of sheer content, there’s a decent amount of material here. Maybe it’s good that Young is putting in so much stuff beyond the story; that essay really does give out a lot of info, including profiles of upcoming characters, a sample tag-line and ‘pitch,’ and a whole lot of background material. Young’s excitement for the project is palpable, and his interest in sharing his creative processes with his readers remains obvious. But I sort of wish all of this great info had somehow wandered into the story itself (let alone that inside-cover spiel). We’re introduced to Dr. Don McLaughlin, an archetypical citizen of the ground, a tradition-minded sort who loves a hot breakfast a good sports page to start his morning, every morning. His routine is contrasted with the chaos on the elevated highway, as a pair of killers toss metatextual lines back and forth (“Which one’s this?” “What?” “Which plot?” “You mean in a Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern kinda way?”). Hints are dropped about Dr. McLaughlin’s wife Kate, who’s on a trip down the Black Diamond (which, by the way, also sports a railway). A gasoline mastermind named Dixie is name-checked. And there’s a lot of big panels and loud action. Considering that the cover boasts art in ‘Comicscope,’ you should expect no less.

The art and color is by Jon Proctor, who’s more adept at conveying clear action and movement than providing concise character and background art. Sometimes Proctor’s character designs have soft, wrinkly beauty, especially in close-up, where random squiggles fill up palms and chests. But at other times, in long-shot, his characters look hastily-sketched and malformed. Even his vehicles sometimes seem blocky and squat, especially in those big overhead shorts of the sprawling roadway. But his coloring is decent, bathing almost everything in early-morning hues, scenes on the ground occasionally allowed to turn green or blue, but the highway always a smog-fired gold, save for the paint on the cars themselves. I also like his chunky, expressive sound effects. It’s an uneasy overall visual style, especially the more you stare at it, but it’ll probably do for the action that I’m sure the story plans to deliver.

I do hope it delivers more of that background. You’ll get a shot of action and a basic introduction from the comic, but it’s Young’s text that breaks out the hard-sell, that lays down the potential. We only meet one major character in the comic here, and sounds much more interesting in Young’s pitch. Which is probably why such features are included, though it’d be more heartening to see the comic itself successfully carry more weight of persuasion. The back-up comics are ok. Baldock(?)’s text piece flows nicely into an action-heavy clip of a costumed cigarette girl (wearing an old-style cigarette carton around her neck, just like you see in the speakeasies in the movies) shooting things up. Looks like humorous action, with Moon’s lovely art (love those ink-splatter gunbursts!). The Five Fists of Science bit looks like an actual introductory page from the upcoming book, with Mark Twain disclaiming the upcoming lack of historical accuracy. It’s amusing, but I wouldn’t have a damn clue what the book is about from only reading this page.

As you’ve doubtlessly heard, Young is shipping out a whole lot of extra copies of this book to retailers, so it’ll be easy to find. As an extensive ad, it succeeds in catching your interest, which makes it quite a success. Viewed as a stand-alone 19-page comics story (with bonuses), it’s less successful, less enjoyable, its bonuses largely getting the blood up. But the package might be to your liking. Apparently there’ll be some kind of announcement on Friday pertaining to this book. Maybe we can consider that another additional feature, as we hope that the comic itself incarnates more of its potential.

*And yet, there’s more!


Argosy Quarterly #3: From designer and editorial director James A. Owen, whom you may recognize as writer/artist/publisher behind the seminal ‘90s self-publishing exhibit Starchild (man, I ought to examine that thing, seeing as how I have it all). Now he’s fronting Coppervale International, which puts out the art and design journal International Studio, along with this revival of the classic pulp magazine, which has its origins in the Victorian Era. Now it’s a lavishly-designed (and high-priced - $20) magazine of art and prose, each issue actually two books (a ‘main’ volume and a separate volume devoted to new work by a single author) in a slipcase. Here’s the full specs for this issue. Note feature illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz. The main book is 144 pages, and the back-up book (the first installment of John Grant’s three-part serialized novel The Dragons of Manhattan) is 112 pages. I have issue #1 of this; it’s a gorgeous object, though I haven’t read as far as I’ve liked. Might be worth a peek for big spenders; at 256 pages total, you’ll be getting enough for your money.

*And finally -


Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Have you heard of this? It’s a popular book across the Internets. You should look at it.

AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy: The wide release of the final book in Jeff Brown’s much-loved series of fat little comics about girls and relationships (it was previously released in a limited-edition with hand-drawn individual covers). Buckle up for alternating (almost rhythmic) scenes of tears and cuteness and sex and laffs, if it’s anything like Clumsy and Unlikely, which I expect it will be. If nothing else, compare the art in here to Clumsy and see how far Brown’s visual style has come in a few years. Obviously a must-buy for fans; I suspect even some Brown obsessives missed out on that limited edition.

War’s End: Profiles From Bosnia 1995-96: But maybe some Joe Sacco obsessives have seen these two stories already. Or maybe not. They’re probably easier to find: Christmas With Karadzic appeared in Zero Zero #15, which isn’t scarce. Soba, from D&Q’s Stories From Bosnia (a 1998 Ignatz award nominee, and that’s as much as I can find) is maybe trickier to locate. Well, now they’re both collected into a nice book, and interested parties obviously will want to buy it.

Peculia: It doesn’t indicate anything on Diamond’s list - is this the new graphic-novel sized Evil Eye #14? The all-Peculia issue? Because if it is, you want that too. I want everything this week.

Vimanarama #3 (of 3): Oh man, it’s taken forever to get to the end of this Grant Morrison/Phillip Bond experience, but I’ve got the other two issues sitting out here, just waiting to be re-read. Finally.

Seven Soldiers - Klarion #2 (of 4): On the other hand, this project (now over a quarter finished) has remained entirely on schedule, without fail. Huh.

Conan & the Jewels of Gwahlur #3 (of 3): Russell.

Bigfoot #4 (of 4): Violence.

Frank Miller’s Robocop #8 (of 9): Violence which I have already reviewed.

Cocaine Comix #1-2: Just saving the best for last. Classic underground good times, edited by Leonardo DiCaprio’s dad George, and featuring the talents of Zap vets Robert Williams and S. Clay Wilson. So don’t blow it folks - buy these books.