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The Black Diamond Detective Agency Hardcover – May 29, 2007
From Publishers Weekly
Campbell is one of the premier cartoonists of his generation. So what's he doing working on a book adapted from a screenplay by C. Gabe Mitchell? It's hard to say. John Hardin, a man with a criminal past, ends up framed for a horrific Midwestern train bombing on the eve of the 20th century. Hardin is captured-mysteriously his name is found planted on boxes of nitro at the scene-but escapes and heads for Chicago, the Secret Service and private detectives hot on his trail. He's got a notion of the men (and one woman in particular) who are likely behind the bombing. Campbell's adaptation starts quite literally with a bang, setting up a gripping criminal mystery driven by the gruesome explosion and a selection of deft, emotional images from Hardin's past. But the work is very soon plagued by confusing plot turns and Campbell's awkwardly painted, static artwork. Campbell cleverly uses the story as an introduction to industrialization and the growth of technology in turn-of-the-century America-with previews of police forensics, photography, subways and cars. But a bewildering progression of sometimes indistinguishable characters makes the whole enterprise somewhat hard to follow. A promising work though clearly not Campbell's best.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. Jesse Karp
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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)