Thursday, June 21, 2007

Just Read: The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell

Campbell is best known for illustrating the From Hell graphic novel from Alan Moore's scripts, but, as far as I can remember, he's been the prime mover behind every other work in his career. His other major works are the Bacchus and Alec series, both of which are fairly loose. (The former is about a handful of Greek gods surviving into the modern day, often as a frame story for other kinds of tales, and the latter is a series of pseudo-autobiographical stories about the life of a comics creator.) He's also only worked on other people's characters a couple of times -- I remember a Batman Elseworlds one-shot a few years back, and one or two other DC comics work-for-hire stories around the same time, but I think that was it.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency, though, seems to also be work-for hire: it's copyright by something called "Wonderland Films," and, though Campbell's credited as the author, this graphic novel is based on a presumably unproduced screenplay by someone named C. Gaby Mitchell. And it's a quite cinematic (in a way that Campbell's more impressionistic style doesn't necessarily help) story, about detectives and gangsters in the late 19th century. (I'm also sorry to say that it has a major Talking Killer scene near the end, where a plotter explains everything that's been going on and laughs in the faces of the heroes who want to see justice done.)

So, all in all, it's a bit odd as his follow-up to The Fate of the Artist, his graphic novel from 2006 from the same publisher (First Second) which is possibly his best, most sustained work to date. Black Diamond is a decent graphic novel, though I found the pacing a bit rough in spots, and I couldn't always tell the characters apart (especially ones I'd seen for a couple of panels, but hadn't been properly introduced to). The thriller plot is pretty well handled, but it suffers from the lack of a single central character (though there is one who could have been that focus, if the story had been tinkered with a bit).

It's not a disappointment, precisely, but Campbell is capable of much better, and I hope he'll do something much better next time out. Black Diamond will be of the most interest to Campbell's fans, and to folks who like stories of derring-do and police procedure in the gaslight era.

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