By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X
In the forward to Gotham Central, Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen, Duane Swierczynski stated that noir essentially means “screwed.” That is to say, you can tell a story is noir if everyone is headed for a decidedly unpleasant ending, or at least not a happy one. By this definition, “screwed” described Gotham Central pretty well, and it describes Black and Blue even better.
Black and Blue is a fairly recent webcomic, and like many of the comics featured in this column, rather obscure. It depicts a sci-fi/noir world, where foul-mouthed gangsters walk alongside robot thugs. The inciting incident sees a woman try to escape from some kind of imprisoned labor by cutting off her own head and sending it somewhere. This spins into a sequence of events that slowly bring together a spiderweb of characters, from a pair of dirty cops, to a hapless bike messenger named Owen, to a local criminal gang.
The main draw of Black and Blue is its devotion noir style storytelling. Noir itself isn’t so much a genre as it is a visual style, but the elements of classic noir films are pervasive throughout the entire comic. The titular colors dominate this comic’s cover palette (with occasional bursts of red blood), giving it a very noir-like look. As a result, Black and Blue is one of the most creatively stylish webcomics I’ve ever read.
Black and Blue isn’t just beautiful to look at, but also has a quite compelling story. Mixing in a decidedly bizarre sci-fi concept is a clever way to make the story memorable, but the story doesn’t stand on that leg alone. Each of the large cast of characters has something that makes them stand out. For instance, Unger, a loanshark/butcher who Owen’s father owes money to, has a jovially sadistic feel to him. Virgil, one of the aforementioned robot thugs, is a total jackhat whose trigger-happy mentality and loud mouth nearly get him killed. Not your typical portrayal of a robot, eh?
Owen himself is a very morose, sympathetic character, stuck working for, in his words, “terrible people.” He really is a proper anti-hero. He’s not particularly brave or tough or clever or good-looking, but he has a gumption and sense of morality about him that keeps him going. He’s probably the only genuine good guy in the story, which I believe is the point. He has my vote for the one guy in the noir story who gets the happy ending.
Another thing about this comic is that it is how incredibly intense it is. Just when you think things are slowing down, and you think you know what’s going on, something happens which turns everything on its head. You think you know how the story is going to unfold, and then you’re left in the dust. This is usually accomplished by introducing a new character, but that’s where my one criticism of Black and Blue comes in.
Black and Blue‘s large cast keeps getting larger. We’re introduced to a higher-up called Seagull, a back-alley doctor of some kind with a connection to the woman from the inciting incident, and a hired gun with a TV for a head. I have this feeling that eventually Jason Clarke might write himself into a corner, and when we finally get the big payoff, it will fall flat as Clarke rushes to pull everything together. However, I remain optimistic about his ability to tell this story well. The strands of the story are slowly coming together, and I believe that given time, it will weave itself into a beautiful tapestry.
Clarke himself is an obscure talent who deserves some spotlight. He’s actually putting up issues of Black and Blue for sale in a digital format. I don’t know how that will correspond to the webcomic itself, but I’m glad that he’s getting his work out in other ways. I sincerely believe that if his webcomic had a more solid marketing approach (i.e. Twitter, etc.) he could easily generate a more prominent following.
Black and Blue demonstrates the potential of one of what I am sure are many strong talents out there. It combines stylish art with engaging storytelling and memorable, believable characters that keep you interested. Any comic that reminds me of Gotham Central is worth a look-see. However, I will warn that it contains frequent strong language in addition to some graphic violence, including blood and gore. It may draw inspiration from classic noir, but in these respects, it is quite dissimilar.
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