Mayhem! Mystery! Mineshafts! Bullets! This new offering from Eddie Campbell’s got it all and more!
The Black Diamond Detective Agency
By Eddie Campbell
First Second Books
HC Collector’s Edition; Softcover
The private investigators of The Black Diamond Detective Agency are on a hunt to find out who’s responsible for a fatal train explosion in Lebanon, Missouri. Their number one suspect is John Hardin, a small-town farmer whose name is written all over the boxes of nitroglycerin found at the scene. In an effort to clear his name, Hardin — who’s also looking for his missing wife — searches for the real culprits using a particularly clever tactic, one that could throw everyone for a major loop.
Based on the un-produced screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell, this graphic novel by Eddie Campbell spins a whodunit tale of mystery that takes the investigation to Chicago in late 1899, with references to the coming of the modern age and all its complicated implications.
But while the likable investigators show obvious apprehension toward modern advances, their commissioning of an invaluable sketch artist/photographer who’s a woman — to the disbelief to those dealing with the agency — points more in the direction of progressive thinking.
Where Campbell’s work on From Hell — the Jack the Ripper tale he co-created with Alan Moore — magically transported you to the Victorian era, Black Diamond brings you to turn-of-the-20th-century middle America. The book’s cover itself is a throwback to the “dime novel” covers of that period, with its faux wood-engraved imagery and punctuated adverts ORPHANS! MAYHEM! TERROR! meant to brace the reader for a thrilling story filled with lots of plot twists and turns.
Once opened, Campbell’s impressionist-inspired watercolor artwork (note the Van Gogh-esque image on p. 59) perfectly accentuates the intricately woven narrative, which makes the intermittent spurts of violence and bloodshed even more shocking.
The Black Diamond detectives not only use Holmesian logic as a method to solve clues, but often employ the forensic help of a coroner as well as the aforementioned sketch artist, the detailed pencil drawings of which starkly contrast the other paled-colored illustrations.
While the story is adult-themed and at times so complicated it warrants a second read, the book’s not totally lacking lightheartedness. For instance, when trying to extract a confession from Hardin about the explosion, one of the detectives tells him, “Your name’s on the goddamn nitro boxes.” In the right corner of the panel, an arrow playfully pointing to a stack of plain-looking boxes reads, “The goddamn boxes.”
You might want to give that artwork a second look, too, as there’s plenty of details hidden within it. The pacing of The Black Diamond Detective Agency makes it perfectly suited for screen adaptation without taking away from the fact that this is a comic book — a comic book with intense action and surprises that keep the reader guessing till the very end, that is.
Publisher First Second Books has posted a trailer for the book, complete with dramatic voice-over. If you happened to be at Free Comic Book Day last month, you might recognize this title — the opening chapter “The Train Was Bang On Time” was one of the participating comic books and definitely a highlight among the offerings.
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