Monday, March 2, 2009

Review: The Black Diamond Detective Agency

by Eddie Campbell, based on a screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell, 2007, First Second, 144 pages, $16.95

This is a little crackerjack of a mystery from an artist who is on top of his game.

In 1899, in Lebanon, Missouri, a group of masked men blow up a train. The quick-thinking team of investigators at the Black Diamond Detective Agency believes John Hardin, a local farmer with a mysterious past, committed the crime. Hardin escapes their grasp and flees to Chicago to try to solve the crime himself. With the detectives hot on his trail, will Hardin catch the true perpetrators in time? And why has Hardin's wife disappeared? And just how many different styles of facial hair will make their appearances?

Eddie Campbell (From Hell, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, The Fate of the Artist) has produced a solid and straightforward tale that feels like a turn-of-the-century comic book version of The Fugitive with a little bit of A History of Violence thrown in to liven things up. He keeps the plot moving along at a nice clip and doesn't treat his readers like idiots. A side plot involving federal agents feels a little underdeveloped, but the mystery is a good one with some nice twists. Hardin is an interesting, somewhat inscrutable character, and the gents from the Black Diamond Detective Agency are an entertaining bunch.

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The art is first-rate, and the colors are especially appropriate -- nice drab grays and browns, with the occasional dash of bright red to wake you up. One interesting formal flourish shows up during a couple of the action scenes, where Campbell deliberately makes the panel sequencing difficult to follow, offering two or more possible ways to read the scene. This makes it feel like everything is happening at once, and quickly. Here's an example:

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It's a neat effect, and works in a book where everything else feels like good old-fashioned storytelling. You'll be trotting along smoothly, and then lots of BLAMS and yelling and running and ducking come flying out at you, helping those action scenes really stand out and deliver some excitement.

This is an assured, focused work, and highly entertaining. If you are looking for a good diversion, it does the job.

You can read an excerpt here.

Buy it from Amazon here: The Black Diamond Detective Agency

It also looks like Amazon is selling it at a bargain price for a limited time ($4.99!). Get 'em while they're hot: The Black Diamond Detective Agency

Related: my reviews of other First Second books:

1 comment:

  1. These comics make me reminiscent of my childhood. I used to be quite fond of detective stories and find them very thrilling and adventurous…