19th century America and a seemingly normal day is upended when a train full of passengers is blown up on the tracks. In the fallout, the Black Diamond Detective Agency is hired to hunt down the bomber and bring him to justice. But with a trail that leads them up and down the country and leads to a coal mine in the middle of nowhere, the chase will be deadly and fraught with enemies.
Eddie Campbell draws/paints the book beautifully and the artwork is of the highest anyone could hope for in comics but the story is what lets the book down. It's overcomplicated and thoroughly convoluted with new characters being introduced before old ones are properly established, and then the ones that are introduced end up putting on disguises, and... well it's hard to keep track of them after that.
The story lurches from plots and conspiracies from one group of bad guys to another to the point where I couldn't be bothered to pay attention and just waited until the book was over. Turns out someone they thought was good was actually bad. Ho hum. Boring story aside, the artwork is top notch and that's what the two stars are for. It's definitely not a must-read by any stretch and only fans of Eddie Campbell should seek this out.
on May 26, 2014
Eddie Campbell is a recent discovery for me, so that will color this review.
I like Mr. Campbell's artwork. I liked it in Bacchus, I liked it in Fate of the Artist, and I like it here. It is impressionistic at times, sometimes overly stiff, sometimes stark, sometimes downright confusing. But I find it always purposeful. If the angle someone sits in a chair seems to rigid to be real, well, I feel that Mr. Campbell did that on purpose, given his attention to detail elsewhere and his mastery of the form. I think for the most part his art works beautifully well, and there were some panels I wanted bigger than this little paperback allowed.
The story, though, did not fill its share of the pie. The way contemporary comics or graphic novels or sequential art (call it whatever you want) is going these days, writers are back in the fore. This story is convoluted, at times too complicated for the simplicity of the plot, and some of the lines (particularly at the end) too corny. The size of the page made things worse - so many, I repeat so many, characters are introduced but the panels are so small I can't figure out who said what, goddamn they all have those Williamsburg beards so I don't know who it is. If half of the characters were removed from the plot, it would make it a far better read. I don't mind being confused in a story or have to go back 10 pages to search for something. But I am annoyed when its for something the basic sequencing of the plot.
Add to that that a) the double-cross at the end (c'mon you know there's one of those in a detective story...) just takes the cake for "well duh", and b) I couldn't find the significant symbolism or commentary on society other than the tried (and maybe lazy) one about government and secrets.
Finally, someone else already mentioned the deception of the title. This is totally confusing to me - the Black Diamond Detective Agency really has no personality from what I can tell. This book is NOT about that agency, why it came about, what it is doing, what happened since, what it's philosophy or morality is, who runs it, why they run it, etc. It is about a guy who gets in trouble for something after he was escaping something else, and the team of detectives that encircle him. Black Diamond could be the FBI, a police department, a bunch of cowboys, or the Boy Scouts. The only thing I picked up as unique to the Black Diamond is that the main character was able to infiltrate it b/c it's so big (at least in geographic scope). Not sure if there's some meaning there I missed.
In conclusion, buy it for the art. But that's about it. If you want detectives, go buy a non-graphic novel, or buy something by Brubaker or someone else who is truly steeped in the medium. Campbell should stick to more abstract or characterizations, or have a real editor give him some help on a big venture like this.
on December 4, 2014
The Black Diamond Detective Agency is a graphic novel set in the Old West. I've always been fascinated by the work of early detectives such as the Pinkerton Detectives and Texas Rangers, so I knew I'd enjoy the theme. Set in 1899, the story follows a man accused of causing a train wreck. Although the characters are sometimes difficult to follow, the story is an exciting mystery that begins in small town Missouri and ends with gangs in Chicago. The illustrations and muted colors reflect the time period. Intended for mature readers because of the violence, language, and brief nudity, I'd recommend this graphic novel for anyone who likes an Old West detective mystery.
on July 27, 2007
Nothing Campbell does is boring and this is no exception. Like Chris Ware, Campbell employs the utmost creativity with his layouts, the irregularly sized frames in The Black Diamond Detective Agency take the predictable flow of your average comic book and toss it out the window (but it's a good thing) and help move a dense plotline along at a brisk pace. In my opinion this is Campbell's most impressive narrative yet. This is his second book with First Second (The Fate of the Artist, also amazing, was the first) and if you ask me they are a publishing house to watch. They've obviously got a great team over there b/c the books are gorgeously produced and reasonably priced - no easy feat!
"The Black Diamond Detective Agency"
by Eddie Campbell
(First Second Books, 2006)
I have been a fan of Eddie Campbell's work for a long time -- I first discovered his Bacchus stories via the "Eyeball Kid" adventures in the early 1990s and have enjoyed everything he's done ever since. This graphic novel was a bit of a departure for Campbell: other than his work with Alan Moore ("From Hell") I haven't seen many other works where he's adapting another writer's story, but as with "From Hell," the results are top-notch.
Here Cambell works from an unproduced movie script about a man at the turn of the Twentieth Century (1899) who is accused of blowing up and robbing a freight train and who has to outwit the Pinkerton-like detective agency that has been hired to capture him. The economy of Campbell's style is impressive -- the book flows quickly and many key points are communicated through images, not words. The evocation of the still-wild West and the gilded age is delightful -- Campbell perfectly captures the flavor of the time with a laconic charm that is very reminiscent of films such as "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid." It is not until the epilogue at story's end that a distinctly Campbell-like tone is struck, with some minor characters standing around hashing over the events of the book, like a Greek chorus on a cigarette break. This was a good, fun read, recommended to fans of westerns and of Campbell's work, or anyone else who enjoys a good story. (Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)