Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: The Black Diamond Detective Agency

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’ll go through how it works:

Every once in a while, a comic book publisher will get the idea that I am, as the marketing folks say, a “reputable influencer,” despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Thus, they’ll send me something, and in gratitude for getting something for free, I attempt to get through an entire review without mentioning the Punisher.

It doesn’t always work out.



This week saw the latest release from First Second Publishing, and with the promise of explosions, train robberies, and the always amazing art of Eddie Campbell–all of which can be seen in First Second’s nifty animated trailer for the book–it’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty excited about it for a long while.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as good as I wanted it to be.

Set in 1899, the story doesn’t waste any time getting started: The huge, double-page shot of the train explosion that drives the rest of the story hits a mere eight pages in. It’s a great, striking image (so much so that :01 decided to use it for a poster, along with the caption “The Train Was Bang On Time”), and it comes as a jarring kickstart to the plot after eight pages of sparse but beautifully done setup where we see the main character, John Hardin, deciding to “spend the rest of his life hiding behind glasses.”

It’s an image that should be pretty familiar to most comics readers, and I can’t imagine that’s an accident, especially since the very next scene shows Hardin bloodied by the explosion, doing his best to rescue survivors from the blast, which hit a mass of people gathered for a protest. And to make matters worse–for Hardin, anyway–he’s quickly named as the number one suspect of the titular detective agency, which starts to uncover his past as a gangster in Chicago.

It’s a heck of a way to start a book, and it works wonderfully, right up until the complexities of the plot start to come forth. Sadly, it’s muddled in a few key places, and while the basics of the plot–which climaxes in explosions and gunplay in secret bank robbery tunnels–are fantastic, there’s a lot in the middle that drags it down, and left me wondering why I should care. Campbell’s unquestionably a master of the form, but I suspect that a lot of the problems come from the fact that Black Diamond is adapted from a screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell, who also wrote the story on which 2006’s Blood Diamond was based.

Dude apparently loves diamonds of varying types.

Anyway, once that’s taken into account, a lot of the dragging bits start to make sense: The shoehorned love story and the tragic past feel more like standard-issue movie subplots than something that belongs here, and even Campbell’s art doesn’t quite translate like it should. There are scenes that take place after Hardin escapes to Chicago where he’s far more haggard than he is at the start of the book, traveling in disguise because he’s wanted by the law. He looks like a completely different person, and while that’s easy to convey in film (what with the fact that he’d be played by the same actor), in the graphic novel, well, he looks like a different person, and there were a few pages where I had a hard time telling who the heck he was supposed to be.

But that’s not to say it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination. Like I mentioned before, Eddie Campbell’s art is gorgeous, and the tricks he uses–like shots characters leaning on panels while discussing their content, or the way the explosion is represented in some shots as a solid red word balloon rising shakily from the distance–are great reminders of what an innovator that guy really is. It’s rare that I say this, but the art alone–combined with a fantastic design that makes it a great-looking book–is really worth the price alone.

It doesn’t really compared with Campbell’s last work from First Second–the truly phenomenal Fate of the Artist–but then again, they’re two entirely different books, and the only thing they really have in common is Eddie Campbell’s amazing artwork.

If you’d like to see for yourself, it hit the shelves at finer comic book stores everywhere along with this week’s comics, and–of course–is available on the cheap from Amazon.



While we’re on the subject of people who were nice enough to send me comics, I really ought to mention Brian John Mitchell, who contacted me a while back about sending me a few of his mini-comics.

I’m not really what you’d consider a mini-comics guy–unless of course said mini-comics involve the One-Man Army Corps–but I’m always interested in seeing new stuff, so I asked for a few and he sent them over.

And the first thing I noticed, of course, was how tiny they are.


Actual Size.


I imagine that’s the first thing everyone notices when they see them, since Mitchell’s putting the mini back in mini-comics with his work, and it’s a novel format that I found utterly charming when I sat down to read them. Each of the three he sent me (one issue each of XO, Worms, and Lost Kisses), is around 44 pages, with each page as a single panel, and while they’re not really my thing, they’re pretty enjoyable.

Pictured above is Lost Kisses, which, coincidenally enough, probably best fits my stereotypical definition of “mini-comic,” seeing as it’s an autobiographical tale done in the fine art of stick figures, where Mitchell deals with finding out an ex-girlfriend of his recently died of cancer. And it’s the best by far, mostly because of jokes like this:



In another novel concept, all of Mitchell’s comics can all be viewed as videos or purchased as physical copies on the website, so if you’re curious, check it out.



And once again, I have triumphed over my nagging desire to scan pictures of robot gorillas being shot out of cannons. But tomorrow?

Oh you best believe there’ll be robot gorillas being shot out of cannons, buster*. And that’s a promise.**



*: No there won’t.

**: No it isn’t.

6 thoughts on “Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: The Black Diamond Detective Agency

  1. Dang it. Campbell’s book did not make it to Arizona (or at least my comic book store), and this is the second lukewarm review of it I’ve read (although the other was by Church, and you two MIGHT be the same person, so we’ll have to keep wondering …). If I have to wait until next week I won’t be excited for it anymore. Damn you, Sims!

    Despite that, I’m still looking forward to this. I flipped through it at the bookstore over the weekend and you’re right: it’s beautiful.

  2. Oh, it’s a beautiful book, no doubt, and that alone makes it worth reading. I just wish the story was as fantastic as the art.

  3. Film lovers, just a note about something cool Henry Rollins is doing – and your chance to appear on IFC (Independent Film Channel.) He’s looking for someone to make a 30-second “rant” and the person who does the one he chooses will be put on the air in a MAJOR way on IFC, where his talk show airs.

    Henry will choose someone who does a commentary on one of 11 controversial topics he’s chosen and make them the host of an upcoming “Rollins Show” Marathon on IFC.


    Go to and record and upload a video “rant” on one of the topics that Henry has selected (including abortion rights, has the Iraq war made us safer? Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, is America a dumb country? global warming, etc.) The person he chooses will be flown to Los Angeles, meet Henry, and serve as host of the upcoming “Rollins Show” Marathon on IFC. All entries will be watched by, and the winner chosen solely by, Henry. He encourages anyone to enter, no matter their political persuasion. His only requirement: have “passion and attitude!”

    Check it out:

  4. I have been trying for the last two years to get Chris Sims on TV, because the world should not be denied his charisma. NOW IS THE TIME.

    Also –

    “I’m not really what you’d consider a mini-comics guy”

    *sob* Why do hate our baby?

  5. Huh. I’m pretty sure that’s spam, and while normally I’d be quick with a surgical deletion, it goes against everything I believe to can something that has to do with Henry Rollins.