The Black Diamond: Get in the Car and Go trade paperback
Writer: Larry Young
Artist/Colors: Jon Proctor
Cover photographer: Mimi Rosenheim
Publisher: AiT/Planet Lar
Price: $19.95 US
AiT/Planet Lar graphic novels have always been worth a look. Publishers Larry Young and Mimi Rosenheim have an eye for unusual projects and strong creative voices. Among the talent they’ve worked with are now high-profile names in the industry, such as Matt (Invincible Iron Man) Fraction and Brian (DMZ) Wood. AiT/Planet Lar first got off the ground with Young’s Astronauts in Trouble title, and he returned to writing comics recently with this title, collected here. While AiT/Planet Lar was built mainly on the philosophy of publishing original graphic novels, it’s strayed from that model from time to time, and this is the most recent instance of that. I liked the premise of The Black Diamond in that its premise flows from socio-political issues, and that real-world, smart quality is to be found throughout this book. Unfortunately, the story is derailed in part by the artwork. Jon Proctor’s stiff illustration is appealing at times, but the action doesn’t unfold clearly at all. Without vital cues in the dialogue, there are times when it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. The story’s pacing is a bit off as well, but I’m pretty sure I understand why that might have been something of a necessary evil.
Dr. Don McLaughlin lives a quiet life in San Francisco, as the dentist follows the hum-drum, comfortable routine every day. All that changes when he learns his wife Kate’s been kidnapped while on a business trip in Baltimore. Kate’s become caught up in the fight for control of the Black Diamond, a coast-to-coast, elevated super-highway that was built to address the country’s ills. It propped up the economy and isolated criminal elements in a whole new world on the asphalt above. Now the Army is trying to take it back from the counter-culture that has arisen up there. Dr. Don, determined to save his wife, must get from the Bay Area to the east coast in a hurry, and the answer, fittingly, is the Black Diamond. Along the way, the determined dentist encounters another damsel in distress, and with her, a whole new set of problems.
Proctor’s artwork does a good job of setting a dark, weird mood for this unusual story. The colors are psychedelic in tone; those, in combination with the 1973 muscle car that’s so integral to the plot and action, bring a 1970s sensibility to a story set in the not-too distant future. It makes for an odd atmosphere that has both a playfulness and tension to it. Proctor’s art unfortunately provides distractions and confusion as well. Sometimes, he brings a realistic look to the characters. At others, their faces distort in unnatural ways that take the reader out of the moment. The more action-oriented scenes are difficult, if not impossible, to discern. I was also disappointed with his choice to vamp up Kate. It made sense to depict Cammie, as the mysterious femme fatale in the story, that way, but Kate’s seemingly sensuous body language as she engages her captors in conversation made no sense.
I could have sworn that this series was meant to be 12 issues long, but a quick Google search shows me that the plan was for six issues all along. As I reached the final chapter of the story in this collected edition, that sense of a 12-issue story persisted, as Young’s plot comes to a close in a hurry. Dr. Don and Kate’s reunion seems too easy, and the Cammie subplot seems to go nowhere. I get the feeling that a 12-issue run would have allowed for more interesting conflicts and a greater sense of the distance between Don and Kate, that Don’s journey would have seemed more like a quest. Still, I can see how a 12-issue run from lesser-known creators could present a challenge from a publishing perspective. A six-issue run makes for a more standard-sized, affordable collected edition as well.
As I began reading, I was struck by the dialogue. The rhythm of the script and the inclusion of trivia in the discussion reminded me of Aaron (The West Wing) Sorkin’s writing. It’s clever and entertaining at times, but it doesn’t sound natural. At times, I was aware of Young at his keyboard, typing some of these lines, and it took me out of the story. Young’s script succeeds in entertaining in short bursts in that respect, but it also works against the illusion he’s meant to create as a storyteller sometimes.
Mind you, the plot and ideas upon which it is founded are strong. The smaller story — Don’s effort to find and save Kate — runs parallel to the larger one, as government and a duke of oil fight over the date of the Black Diamond (or really, over the destination of fuel). Young offers action and amusement, yes, but there’s some strong commentary about economics, politics and the machinery of Western society. Young’s introduction of the characters who represent the military industrial complex and the corruption of the private sector could have been clearer (and Proctor’s art further muddied those waters), but I love that it happens on a hunting trip. One can’t help but think of Cheney with his shotgun out hunting pheasants or Bush clearing brush on a Crawford ranch. While Don and Kate’s story is a classic one, the bigger picture is what helps to set the plot apart and challenge the audience. 5/10
Note: This book is slated for release Aug. 13.