Friday, March 21, 2014

"I'm going to tell you everything because I want you to know the full depth of your defeat." The Black Coat: the Blackest Dye review

I came early to the independent series Black Coat, joining it in 2006 for the mini-series A Call to Arms. The titular masked hero is based out of New York in 1776 and wages war with the British, aided by a network of operatives called the Knights of Liberty. The concept brings to mind Dr. Syn, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, even the Shadow. It's a great premise.

...On paper. I like the concept behind Black Coat, it's a fine premise for an adventure hero series - yet I've always been disappointed with the book. I'm not sure why I've followed it for so long - Francesco Francavilla's artwork on the initial series helped, yet I wound up following the subsequent Or Give Me Death without him. The series has a very erratic publishing schedule - although the stories are intertwined so that they would be best served by monthly publication, a year or more might elapse between Black Coat series.

The most recent series is actually a graphic novel: the Blackest Dye by Ben Lichius (writer) and Dean Kotz (artist). It saw funding through Kickstarter, where I happened to be one of the supporters. I guess I wanted to show my support for independent comics, even if I don't find the product especially memorable.

The back cover blurb declares: "this new graphic novel picks up after the events of "Or Give Me Death" but is a great place for new readers to jump in as well." To which I say: horse hockey! I read Or Give Me Death and even I'm baffled by this book.

The high-flying swashbuckling adventure the concept promises is constantly undermined by the heavy scenes of characters talking to each other; so little of visual interest happens, instead letting exposition or melodrama envelope the publication. And for all the exposition - page after page at a time, including the villain bragging about his plot to the hero. Yet for all of this, one of the villains from the previous mini-series returns without any explanation of who or what he is; another supporting character, Nadia, holds an important role in this story but is never given a proper reintroduction - I confess I've completely forgotten who she was, but considering how her story plays out in the Blackest Dye, I doubt rereading Or Give Me Death would be fulfilling. How can such a small cast be so complicated to introduce?

Little as I know of Revolutionary War-era USA, something about this series seems unconvincing - and not only because it involves the Black Coat battling supernatural creatures. At one point he wields a wooden stake against a vampire and he - living more than 100 years before Dracula will be written - remarks, "Looks like I'll have to put a stake in this vampire the old fashioned way!" He's pretty self-aware to be deconstructing tropes in an era before they've become cliche!

No, you must be reading lines from an old script.

The Black Coat's Knights of Liberty tend to fall into a single heap of talking heads, but team leader Ursula Morgan stands out. Sadly, her role is limited here to exposition and a subplot where she's jealous of the Black Coat spending time with Nadia. Still, it's a pretty progressive role for a woman... by the standards of 1776.

More of comic books and the spirit of '76 tomorrow!

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