Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Blacksad - a Silent Hell

According to statistics on Blogger, the top search term for Section 244 is "Blacksad." Hm. I would have thought "Amazing Race." In the interest of giving the public what it wants, I present to you my review of the new Blacksad graphic novel: A Silent Hell.

For those who have forgotten, John Blacksad is a private detective cat-man in a world inhabited by animal-people. Often assisted by his muck-raking journalist friend Weekly (a weasel-man). This new volume from Dark Horse contains the English translation of A Silent Hell, plus two 2-page stories and a feature entitled "the Watercolor Story" which explains how the art is created.

According to the back cover, this story is set in the 1950s; although the Blacksad series thrives on its period setting, it's hard to pinpoint when the stories are meant to occur (the animal-people interfere with some of the realistic touches). This is another grim, desperate thriller, with the only relief from its depictions of misery coming from the occasional humourous turn by Weekly and the attractive work of Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido.

In this tale, Blacksad and Weekly are in New Orleans, searching for the missing jazz musician Sebastian Fletcher on behalf of Faust Lachapelle, a famous record magnate. Faust is lying on death's door and has considered the lost Sebastian his surrogate son; this doesn't go well with the producer's flesh and blood son, Thomas. There's also another private detective on the case, hippo-man Ted Leeman, who's just a little sore at losing his case. Behind it all is a mystery dating back to Sebastian's childhood and how Faust made him who he is.

In the middle of this story, Blacksad is saved from drowning by another cat-man, who appears and disappears mysteriously. This figure hints at having some sort of connection to Blacksad's past; is he a hallucination, or a supernatural ghost? And how does a cat-man wind up with a tattoo? Did he shave his chest? Or is the image just inked into his fur? Some of these questions may be answered in future Blacksad tales, which would be the first real series continuity (outside of Weekly).

While the visuals in this story are outstanding and I can understand why the creators were eager to depict Mardi Gras, it is a little hackneyed to set stories in New Orleans "just in time" for a celebration which comprises about 4% of the calendar year.

As with the earlier Blacksad tale "Arctic Nation," race relations come to the fore as Sebastian is meant to remind readers of African-Americans (even though he isn't a black dog-man; in "Arctic Nation," the African-American characters had black fur or feathers). A Living Hell is another stylish, energetic Blacksad outing and hopefully there are many more to come.

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