Swift review while I charge up for the 4th...

*I have to build up my energy for all that sleeping I'm gonna do on Wednesday.

*Speaking of which, I'll do the upcoming comics thing on Wednesday instead of tomorrow this week, since a lot of stores aren't going to be getting their new stuff in until later on anyway.

The Black Diamond #1-2 (of 6)

(EDIT 7/5/07 7:35 PM: Hot Reviewing Tip #372 - Try to look at the actual credits box in the backup story for the credits instead of the authors' bio page that you'll only misread since you're incapable of correctly processing prose. Also, learn to spell.)

This is a new pamphlet-format miniseries, in color, from AiT/Planet Lar, an outfit not generally known for extensive use of color or the pamphlet format. Issue #1 is already out, and issue #2 should be waiting whenever the new comics arrive this week.

I'm kind of glad I have two issues of this in front of me, because it's turning out to be slightly odder project than anticipated, one that benefits from having lots of content around to pour over. You'd think from creator/writer/publisher Larry Young's characteristically snappy (and deeply goofy) concept, concerning a giant elevated transcontinental highway that's been built over the United States to provide a segregated zone for maniacs and gearheads, with a 'respectable' man on a mission to cross it at top speed in a race against time, that you'd be in for some sort of killer kick-ass over-the-top non-stop-action comic. And since I took those last ten words straight off the cover blurb for issue #2, it's safe to say that AiT/Planet Lar isn't exactly against the notion spreading.

So, it's all the more intriguing that The Black Diamond has avoided any semblance of slam-bang 'action' in its first two issues, without so much as a prologue explosion to hook the reader (although there was some exploding in the '#0' issue from back in 2005, The Black Diamond: On Ramp - I'm sure the trade is still being eyed). Indeed, the series appears to be devoting most of its energy to eccentrically clipped conversations and mood-heavy page designs, layering broad political satire atop swaggering discussions of 'freedom' and 'invention,' with just a bit of metatextual tomfoolery added. Typical Act I scene-setting? In a way, but there's not so much attention paid to plotting or background-filling as there is to ideas and philosophies being exchanged - the 'meat' of the story is kept at a distance.

Although maybe that shouldn't be too surprising - just as AiT/Planet Lar itself has published a wider range of titles than its reputation for slick, high concept genre pieces might suggest, Larry Young the writer has proven himself to be a compellingly layered craftsman. And there's a twitching thing inside my belly that makes me yearn for this whole series to hatch into a subversively cerebral anti-action comic, festooned with all the decoration of a high-speed epic yet interested in only the implications of a mad, chase-frenzy world.

Something else tells me that Young is actually going for the ol' slow build, working his way toward an eruption of gasoline and rubber by building up the narrative/thematic pressure.

Regardless, we've got two issues of chat, and it probably works more often than it doesn't, although sometimes the book's oddness threatens greater distraction than attraction. Artist Jon Proctor works with stiffly posed characters and antiseptic scenery, drenched in alternating sickly and baking hues. This approach sometimes imbues Young's script with added depth - an issue #1 meeting between smooth Dr. Don McLaughlin (the book's standup hero) and a young patient emphasizes the sterility of the square workday world through queasy lime saturation and the marionette smiles of both party's faces.

But in other parts of the issue, like when Dr. Don discovers that his wife -- daughter of the designer of the titular highway itself -- has been kidnapped for use as a pawn in a broiling conflict between the military and rebel residents of the Black Diamond, Proctor's character art seems merely stiff and overacted as Our Hero snags an illegal muscle car and hits the highway. Tiny bits of aesthetic flair vary in impact - while I liked the characters' odd tendency to have each of their eyeballs point in a different direction in moments of confusion, there's often too much extraneous detail at work (at times it seems Dr. Don's dress shirt is made of cellophane). And most curiously, Proctor never quite expresses a sense of speed in the double-page driving splashes that end each issue - but then, maybe this fits in with Young's script so far.

Issue #2 is loaded with conversation, with the aforementioned captive wife playing punny word games with her captors, themselves prone to reflecting on their places as narrative devices in a larger story ("Naw, me, I'm arch, right? Self-aware. I told you. Post-modern metafiction, by way of Chaucer and Cervantes. Lost in the Funhouse. Like that."). Elsewhere, powerful men acting as good ol' boys hunt store-bought quails while alluding to Hemingway and the Apocalypse, one page curving into half a bullseye as a crucial deal is cut. Bikers sit at a bar and discuss the innovation that comes from lawless fun, linking air travel to computers to the comic's own future road travel, all while a woman quits her job to accidentally meet with the last issue's errant workman hero. The dialogue does carry some sameness of character, but the roasting art fills it with itchy swelter.

It's the kind of series where the flaws, while evident, are easy to forgive. You'll want to see what's coming up next. Each issue also features bonus essays (most of them written in response to that 2005 On Ramp release, all of them laudatory in tone), and back-up shorts - I probably liked Ken Lowery's and Benjamin & Marlena Hall's cute issue #2 sketch of religion and individualism on the road a little more than Dennis Culver's issue #1 slice of comedic mayhem, if only because the latter seems ironically out of place with the rest of the series. Lots of curves in a new road.