- Hardcover: 144 pages
- Publisher: First Second; Collector's edition (May 29, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 159643256X
- ISBN-13: 978-1596432567
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,709,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Black Diamond Detective Agency Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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A visually stunning graphic narrative with all sorts of complicated plot twists.
The latest from visual artist Campbell (The Fate of The Artist, 2006, etc) represents something of a show-business reversal. Where it has been commonplace for Hollywood to adapt graphic novels and comic book series into movies, this collaboration finds Campbell working from (or "inspired by") a screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell. The result is a turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) pulp thriller concerning a railroad attack, domestic desertion, a series of double (or even triple) crosses by gangs and a conspiracy that ultimately reaches so high that the Black Diamond Detective Agency has no idea what it's really investigating. The complications have implications that reverberate a century later, but even those who have trouble following the plot will marvel at Campbell's visual detail, use of color (particularly an explosive red) and extensive stretches of wordless panels.
The veteran artist rises to a new challenge.
Campbell, who secured his hold on graphic-novel immortality in the Jack the Ripper epic From Hell (2000), created with writer Alan Moore, continues to produce an eclectic and arresting body of work. In this story of detection and revenge, based on a screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell, he uses a pale palette to create a portrait of a turn-of-the-last-century America that is both thrilled by its technological innovation and terrified by the extreme changes that come with it. The Black Diamond Detective Agency, a fictional stand-in for the Pinkerton Agency, hunts down the culprits behind a lethal train bombing, even as a man in black with a more personal agenda seeks the same men. Cursing, brief nudity, and an implied sexual encounter suggest an older teen audience, who will best appreciate this complex visual experience that weaves in interesting historical supposition, such as the use of forensic sketch artists as nineteenth-century CSI agents, and highlights the staccato bursts of violence (including an exciting, well-choreographed gunfight in a train station) with stinging red accents.
On September 4th, 1899, Jackie Harte’s life goes straight to Hell. The morning train explodes, taking much of Lebanon, Missouri with it. Jackie sees bandits lugging a safe into a horse-and-buggy while he helps carry survivors to safety. When he goes home, his wife has left him and two private detectives inform him that he’s the No. 1 suspect for the bombing. Jackie escapes and goes underground, the Black Diamond Detective Agency and the Secret Service hot on his heels (the latter agency’s involvement is a clue). The trail leads him to Chicago, some unsavory ex-associates and a secret cabal working to undermine the US government.
Nobody in The Black Diamond Detective Agency is quite what he appears to be. Jackie Harte is not an innocent man; he is an ex-gangster who ends up working for the agency chasing him. Jackie’s wife helps frame him, and although they end up together, I doubt they live happily ever after. Eddie Campbell, the author of Bacchus and illustrator of From Hell, has created a crazy, dangerous world that can be summed up in two words — "nothing works." The dynamic art drips with vivid color (especially the blood), and the action-packed plot is laced with quirky characters. The Black Diamond Detective Agency contains vulgarity (f and s bombs) and violence (several gunfights); highly recommended for high school and adult graphic novel collections.
It's no accident that Eddie Campbell's The Black Diamond Detective Agency (First Second, $16.95) reads like a movie treatment. The graphic novel is adapted from an unfilmed screenplay, and Campbell brings to vivid, snarling life this Victorian tale of gang warfare and 'Old West'-style retribution in the streets of 1899 Chicago. A must-read for history-minded fans of nonfiction author Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City or of cinematic fare such as Scorsese's Gangs of New York. — Eugene Weekly
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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.
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.
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)