Paul Brian McCoy:
EDITOR'S NOTE: Yo, the images in this review are so NSFW it's not even funny. So if you clicked on a review with THAT cover image and DIDN'T expect to see a confluence of dicks, then I don't feel sorry for you at all. Just sayin'.
For those of you who know exactly what you're in for, welcome perverts and/or Howard Chaykin fans!
Hit it, boys.
Paul: Okay, this is probably going to be incredibly biased, but I want to make it clear before people start listening to me about this. I love the work of Howard Chaykin. Beginning in 1983 (when I was 15) with American Flagg! and continuing straight on through the '80s with The Shadow, Time2, Blackhawk and the original Black Kiss, Chaykin defined what could be done in comics for me. I grew up with these works.
He was the first writer/artist whose work I hunted down, gathering a collection of his '70s work, particularly anything with Dominic Fortune in it. My bookshelf also houses his graphic novel Empire (with Samuel R. Delany) and has spaces reserved for his Alfred Bester adaptation The Stars My Destination and Swords of Heaven, Flowers of Hell (with Michael Moorcock).
By the way, if you see them on eBay, drop me a line.
I stumbled across Black Kiss in 1988 at a used record store. It was bagged up and on a shelf with music, horror, and drug paraphernalia magazines and I immediately recognized Chaykin's art. (that's also where I found Ho Che Anderson's I Want To Be Your Dog). I bought it without questioning, took it home, and holy cow was I surprised.
Chaykin had always pushed the envelope with sexual situations in his comics. That's one of the things teenage Paul liked about his work. But Black Kiss was straight-up porn. But it also had a great horror-noir story with abhorrent characters doing abhorrent things and then a vampire got involved. And it all revolved around old Hollywood.
Steve: Here's my experience with Black Kiss: I've never read it.
Paul: You really should track it down. At least if you like Porno Vampire Noir!
When I heard earlier this year that Chaykin was returning to the world of Black Kiss, I was enthused and concerned at the same time. I wasn't sure the comic really needed a sequel, prequel or whatever. It was damn near perfect as it was. Perfectly perverted in just about every way.
In a world with "2 Girls 1 Cup," I don't know what Chaykin can do to give the story the perverse impact the original had. And when I heard that every issue was going to look at a different decade of perversity in Hollywood, I wasn't really won over.
But it's Chaykin, so I'll read it. And I'm biased toward liking it.
Steve: Howard Chaykin wrote and drew a story about Magneto as a '60s gentleman of leisure once. That was fun.
Paul: That's one I haven't read. Anyway, back in the first Black Kiss, Beverly Grove was a '50s film star, notorious for naughty flicks, who is actually a mostly immortal vampire whose 1920s relationship with actor Charles "Bubba" Kenton inspired the formation of a Satanic Sex Cult, The Order of Bonniface. In Black Kiss, the Order hopes to blackmail Bev into turning them into vampires after she tricks Kenton, also a vampire, into dying in the sunlight. But things don't go so well.
Steve: I learned about sex from the Spice Girls.
Paul: In Black Kiss II we have a six-issue series with each issue broken into two chapters. The first issue's Chapter One is less a narrative than it is a meditation on class, sex and worship. At least that's how it seems at first. It's a hentai-inspired nightmare of rape, set in a porno theater — sorry, Nickelodeon — on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1906.
But what I didn't notice on a first reading was how the Nickelodeon just appeared out of nowhere, and that the sex scene we're introduced to between Abie Gelbfein and Rose O'Malley in the projectionist's booth seems to be combining with the poor theater-goers' sense of worship of the moving image to summon, or at least provide entrance for, the tentacle-dicked horror that violates them in every way possible.
Then the audience is sent on their way and the Nickelodeon disappears.
Steve: I'm sad there weren't any satanic sex cults in this short story, but there was a lot of history. Frequently Chaykin devotes a page to describing a typical sidewalk in America, all innocent-like and naïve. We're positioned on the same level as the passers-by, watching them as they go about their lives. Technically it's brilliant, because it puts us in the perspective of the characters, involving us in the story. Chaykin is a master of perspective and placement, and shows that off on every page of this comic.
Paul: The entire sequence is pretty disturbed and after not knowing quite what to make of it at first, on a second read I started to really like it. I mean it's filthy and the sex is graphic, but Chaykin is on peak form here. There's a stylistic shifting throughout the scene, going from more realistic and clearly inspired by actual films (both mainstream and stag), to becoming sketchy and looser, almost violent as the monster emerges and fucks everybody in every hole.
Steve: I did look to see if I could spot Paul Reubens somewhere, but he must've been elsewhere.
Paul: I think he was sitting next to Fred Willard.
Steve: After a few pages setting us within American society, we're then thrust into some of the darkest crevices of repressed America. And I think I mean that literally, I'm fairly certain there's a scene set from the perspective of a vagina. There's a weird monster which looks like if Mr. Fantastic stretched his fingers REALLY long, but everybody in the cinema seems to be enjoying it, communally.
Paul: It's all about setting the stage and establishing the fact that the movies is a kind of worship; a temple. And the movies are also ripe for subversion, veering to the basest of impulses from the very beginning.
Steve: There were a lot of penises.
Paul: A LOT of penises.
Chapter Two gives us a much more approachable narrative as we shift to 1912 and we're onboard the Titanic with 20 year old virgin, Charlie "Bubba" Kenton. Who is, in the pursuit of doffing his innocence, instead anally violated by the insatiable succubus we saw unleashed in the Nickelodeon earlier.
Steve: Paul Reubens wasn't in this one either.
Paul: And with a newfound lust for blood and violence, he slaughters the survivors who have rescued him from the icy waters after the ship goes down.
Steve: (Charlie Keaton slaughters them, that is — not Paul Reubens)
Paul: It's all very quick and direct, and if you haven't read Black Kiss, you might be wondering why we should care about Keaton at all.
Paul: But if you've read a lot of vampire stories, you probably know that there are only a few writers who have come up with interesting and original origins for the bloodsuckers.
Maybe they're the offspring of Judas, or the angels at Sodom and Gomorrah, or just cursed by the devil, or maybe they even spring from Jesus himself. I've never read a story where vampires were created by being butt-fucked by a succubus.
Steve: As somebody who enjoys a healthy terror of basically everything Paul just described, I enjoyed this story a lot more than the first one. Whereas the theatre stuff was kinda boring and I couldn't work out what the point of it was — it's not exactly a new idea Chaykin's thematically exploring, even if it's one that hasn't been quite so rigorously explored in comics before now — this story was a story. There was a plot, and progression, and characters. Things developed into something else.
I understand how technically, Chaykin's work remains clever and well-executed. In terms of the story he's telling? It's written well, but I just don't really see why any of this should matter to me. I think it's because I'm British, and would rather just repress sex as much as possible. It is a frightfully uncouth act of horrifying nature, after all. But it looked good! The art was good.
Paul: Visually, again, I'm very impressed with Chaykin's work. The attention to detail in every panel is amazing, from the costuming to the architecture to the design of the rooms on the Titanic. And the variety in character design is the work of a master.
I can't wait to see where we go next as we discover the origin of Beverly Grove.
Steve: I really did like that Magneto story.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot,Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.