BLACK DIAMOND #1-2

THE BLACK DIAMOND #1-2
Written by Larry Young and Drawn by Jon Proctor
Published by AiT/PlanetLar

Reviewed by Marc Mason

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

In the year 2016, in an effort to curb bad driving on the nation’s traditional highways, the government built The Black Diamond, a coast-to-coast superhighway with no rules except one: step on the gas and go. Hard. But now, five years later, the government’s feelings have changed, and they’ve decided to send in the Army and clean up the Diamond… maybe even shut it down. But the lawless culture that sprung up on the Diamond over the years isn’t having that- at all. So they decide to take a hostage, a woman named Kate Maddox. Kate’s the daughter of the Diamond’s designer, giving her some value. However, the Army doesn’t give a shit about collateral damage, which means her husband, Dr. Don McLaughlin DDS, is going to have to brave the Diamond himself, crossing the country in record time in the hopes of saving the love of his life. No plan, no talent for fighting, and no special love of driving fast… the Diamond isn’t something he can give a root canal. It looks like Kate’s kinda screwed.

THE BLACK DIAMOND ON-RAMP shipped nearly two years ago, so saying this book was long in the making would be an understatement. Fortunately, it’s solidly worth the wait. The setup is pure pulp: this is a 70s exploitation flick brought to life. Fast cars, lawless madmen, uncaring government… we’ve seen these pieces before, and we like them. This is exactly the kind of story that Rodriguez and Tarantino were homaging in GRINDHOUSE. Young offers just enough exposition to give you the gist of things, and then steps back and lets Proctor take over, a wise move. Proctor’s stuff reminds me very much of Tony Harris’ early work, which, for those uninitiated, means it’s damned easy on the eyes.

Issue one is all Don and exposition, but issue two gets to the heart of things. We meet Kate and her captors, get introduced to the man who is truly behind the move to clean up the Diamond, and get introduced into a secondary plot that looks like it will provide Don with a traveling companion. Even with new-father Young falling a little too much in love with his dialogue, the pacing and interest level jacks up immensely, and demonstrates quite well that the next four issues hold a lot of promise.

There’s also a back-up story in issue one by Dennis Culver (whose mini-comic work I’m very familiar with) and one in issue two from Ken Lowery and Benjamin and Marlena Hall, each telling an amusing tale of life above on the Diamond. In short, a strong effort that I look forward to reading more of.

THE LAST SANE COWBOY

THE LAST SANE COWBOY AND OTHER STORIES
Written and Drawn by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey
Published by AiT/PlanetLar

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

I had the privilege of reading most of this material when it first appeared in Goodbrey’s award-winning minicomics, and I’ll say the same thing now as I did then: if you’re a fan of mind-challenging surrealism, or just like discovering new talent, then you must buy this book. Yesterday. It’s just that good.

While many creative talents like to believe that they are producing surrealist works, a good chunk are deluding themselves; they’re just producing drivel. Goodbrey has it figured out; his work is still penetrable as long as you can match your mind level to his and understand that there’s a genuine idea at the core of his stories.

For instance, take “The House That Wasn’t Her,” which finds a young man coming home and realizing that his home has been replaced by an exact duplicate. As he challenges whatever entity he believes has shifted this part of his existence, you believe him to be mad until suddenly he is proven quite right and is thrust into a place where he can confront his new “demons.” None of it feels even remotely “right”, but it does feel real and lives at peace within its own logic.

Goodbrey’s art is delicious in stark black and white, and his use of photo reference only heightens the reality within his odd ideas. He has also added some “director’s commentary” at the end of the book, explaining some of his choices and the origins of some of his tales. This is AiT’s best release since ROCK BOTTOM, and one I recommend very highly.

Marc Mason

DUGOUT

DUGOUT
Written by Adam Beechen and Drawn by Manny Bello
Published by
Ai/PlanetLar

Cookie Palisetti might just be the worst manager in major league baseball. Stuck at the helm of the Los Angeles Pioneers, the worst team in the league, he isn’t going to get any better, either. In fact, thanks to his escalating debts to a local bookie, he may not have time to do anything but settle into a shallow grave. Life and limb on the line, though, he has an epiphany: everything went south for the team when star pitching prospect Billy Luther murdered his parents. If only he could get Billy out of prison, the team (and Cookie) could turn things around. But how to do it? Asking politely doesn’t help… so he’s going to have to break the kid out. And an exhibition game against the prison’s squad will provide just that opportunity…

AiT honcho Larry Young posed the question to me himself: “What’s more American that busting your sweetheart’s brother out of prison? Nothing!” And Beechen and Bello, the creative team behind one of the publisher’s best efforts ever (HENCH) come back strong with DUGOUT. The plot moves along at a zippy pace, the characters have just enough to them to keep them from shallowing out (excepting the love interest/sister) and the story covers enough classic ground from both literature and screen (It’s a prison movie! It’s a baseball movie! It’s film noir!) that it feels fresh. That’s a helluva feat considering everything that could have gone wrong.

It’s been a long time since HENCH hit shelves, and the duo has gone on to do many other things, but I’m glad to see them returning to the creator-owned arena. There’s an earnestness and delight in DUGOUT that you only get from an indy effort, the kind of emotion that doing work-for-hire tends to beat out of creators. I got caught up very quickly in DUGOUT, riding along with it at every turn. You will, too.

Marc Mason

THE BLACK DIAMOND

THE BLACK DIAMOND
Written by Larry Young and Drawn by Jon Proctor
Published by
AiT-PlanetLar

In 2016, the U.S. President suggested his own way of alleviating some of the issues with air traffic and highway traffic: the Black Diamond, a superhighway 150 above the ground, stretching from one coast to the other. No rules, no speed limits, no problem. But now the government has decided to crack down on the random fiefdoms that have taken control of the Diamond, bringing about one odd form of protest: the kidnapping of Kate Maddox, daughter of the Diamond’s designer. Now, Dr. Don McLaughlin (who is quite content with his dental practice on the ground) must take to the highway in an illegal car, because no one is going to help rescue his wife. No one except him. It’s a cross-country race for love, but the question is whether or not that particular emotion remains strong to survive when you’re being set on fire or skidding down the asphalt on your back.

Writer Larry Young’s love of pulp entertainment certainly doesn’t hide from anyone; this book is a direct throwback to 70s exploitation films with a bit more of a romantic heart. Don is your classic everyman, enjoying a traditional suburban existence, thrown into a situation where he has no foundation or control and given a singular goal. That is certainly what gives THE BLACK DIAMOND its story appeal. But what draws you in once you’re inside is Proctor’s art. It’s amazing stuff, cinematic in a way that surprises. It isn’t the “widescreen” approach favored by a guy like Bryan Hitch, but a mixture of astonishing panel composition and eye-popping applications of color that are as important as any other element on the page (including the dialogue). You can lose yourself in some of these pages.

And that’s good… because the ending lands with a thud. It comes on very suddenly and feels rushed and incomplete. There’s a romantic element to it, but it gets a bit overwhelmed by your bewilderment – “That’s it?” Yep, that’s it. Still, 85% of a good book is still awfully damned good. I’ll take it. Will you?

Marc Mason

ACES CURSE OF THE RED BARON

ACES: CURSE OF THE RED BARON
Written by Shannon Denton and G. Willow Wilson and Drawn by Curtis Square-Briggs
Published by
AiT/PlanetLar

A Yank and a Brit walk into a bar… No, that’s not the setup for a punchline, it’s the setup for ACES, a graphic novel collecting the material previously serialized in NEGATIVE BURN. It all starts nicely enough for the pair- they have a simple dispute over which one of them shot down the infamous Red Baron. But the argument takes a back seat to the map they found on the Baron’s body- the Nazi pilot was rumored to have amassed a secret fortune, and the two want it- badly. But to get it, they’re going to have to steal one of their own planes, cross behind enemy lines, and avoid court martial. Not to mention a horde of bad guys with an agenda far beyond Hitler’s imagination.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in ACES, and the creative team certainly works hard to draw in the reader and give them a lark. Multiple aerial dogfights, bar brawls, a sexy villainess, a dashing legendary villain in the Baron, wacky superiors, hidden islands… it’s a pulp paradise when you crack the book open. Full credit for that.

On the flip side, the story doesn’t hold together at all, something I thought might be improved by a collected version rather than the serialized edition, but not so. The preposterousness of what the pair find themselves involved in stretches past your ability to buy into it. Indeed, the third act twist reads like it came from a different story altogether.

It looks pretty, and the dialogue is zippy, but the final act just doesn’t, well, fly. Your mileage may vary, of course, and if so (or if you just love WW2 books) this book will work perfectly for you. If not, you may want to give it a miss.

Marc Mason

HOLMES

HOLMES
Written and Drawn by Omaha Perez
Published by
AiT/PlanetLar

What if Sherlock Holmes was less “great detective” and more “batshitinsane drug addict”? That’s the question that Omaha Perez’ seriocomic look at the legendary resident of 221B Baker Street asks in HOLMES, a wildly amusing take on a literary legend. Aided and abetted by his best friend Dr. Watson, we once again see the man on the trail of the villainous Moriarty, though that quest is also tempered by the hunt for the skull of the legendary composer Haydn. Oh, and a brief stop for a little bit of whoring and drug abuse.

It can be risky, applying the conventions of parody and satire to a public domain icon, but Perez does a really terrific job of it here. He takes on the central conceit of the character’s “seven percent solution” drug use and then carries it out to an extreme. Here Holmes is a raving paranoid, but rather then being called on it or institutionalized, he is granted leeway and his behavior excused… even though there’s no rational reason for doing so beyond his reputation. What that leaves is behavior that would have made the detective an honorary member of the Go-Gos during their 80s heyday. And the results are goddamned funny.

Perez’ artwork can be a bit on the stuff side, but that fortunately doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of the book. You’re buying HOLMES for the laughs, not the looks. And you’ll get your money’s worth.

Marc Mason