Black Diamond has been getting rave reviews from comics fans, and our own Beau Smith recently recommended this book highly in his column. I wanted so much to love this graphic novel, but I just couldn’t stand the thing.
See, there’s one very annoying aspect of this comic that plan drove me crazy. The characters talk . . . and talk . . . and talk some more. All the characters are convinced that the words that flow from their mouths are the cleverest and most interesting words that have ever been spoken.
Character after character babbles endlessly during scene after scene in ways that seem clever but which don’t advance the plot one iota. It all feels very Tarantino-esque–very much like the intensely long dialogue scenes in Kill Bill before the action finally happens.
I suppose the idea is for the dialogue to add color to the story. Instead, it pulled me out of the story. Not a syllable of the conversations seemed real. The characters babble about trivia that can be found on Google or a blog, and this intended brightness just made me want to look up random junk and use that information in my own graphic novel.
The thing is, the dialogue in Pulp Fiction was clever, fun, and interesting. It also served a number of key functions. Hearing contract killers talk about foot massages was intriguing because it was unique and went against type. Who would expect a character like Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield to talk about wandering the earth “like Caine in Kung Fu“? It gave Tarantino’s characters depth, complexity, and the hint of inner lives.
Here, though, that kind of dialogue just gets in the way of the story. It serves no purpose for Larry Young to spend four pages showing dental receptionists answering trivia questions. It just disrupts the flow of the book. These are inconsequential characters, so what purpose is served in the larger picture by having that scene? It just feels like a bit of authorial showiness.
The frustrating thing for me is that Young built a great story in this book. The Black Diamond is a highway that stretches from coast to coast, where all kinds of undesirable people have gone to live and create a parallel society. The daughter of the creator of the Black Diamond is kidnapped–so the husband of the kidnapped woman, a San Francisco dentist, has to set out to save his wife. Meanwhile, the government is trying to bring order to the Black Diamond, so there is massive tension on the highway.
It sounds like the concept behind a great B-movie adventure, the sort of story that would plain explode behind the writing of a great many comics writers. For Young, however, the story is secondary to all the dialogue moments he wants to explore. Young puts very little effort into elaborating on the fantastic plot. It just doesn’t seem to interest him.
Most frustratingly, the ending of the book shifts style as Postmodern elements are suddenly brought in. Instead of captions, lines from the manuscript are imposed on the art. It feels like we’re looking over Young’s shoulder as he describes the scenes to Proctor.
Then comes the final page, a joke that depends on the premise that characters know that they’re fictional. It’s an ending that you’ll either find fiendlishly cute or intensely annoying. You can guess which side I fall on.
I felt as if the readers have been the ones carried along on a ride on the long highway. Those final few pages are intensely jarring. It seems as if Young wasn’t interested in wrapping up his disparate plot threads in a satisfying way.
I didn’t much enjoy Jon Proctor’s art, either. It has a nice decorative style, and would work well as poster art. However, Proctor has trouble illustrating characters consistently, and I have a difficulty in following his action scenes. His characters look overly posed–like tracings of photographs with little effort made to change the images–and his depictions of the settings do not bring the story to life in any way.
Black Diamond is slick, polished, and annoying as hell.