Saturday, February 04, 2017

Black Kiss – review

Author & Artist: Howard Chaykin

First published: 2013 (Dynamite, hardcover)

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: It’s been a long, long time…

Rough around the edges, and rougher still at its core, Howard Chaykin’s boundary-shattering immersion into noir at its bleakest has seen its legend as comics’ dirty little secret grow for more than two decades.

Down-on-his-luck jazz musician Cass Pollack plummets into an unrelenting nightmare of sex and death, lost in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, where life is cheap and every shadow holds a fearsome secret.

Still as smart and savage as when it was new, Chaykin’s brutally coarse masterwork is remastered for the Dynamite edition, which collects the entire 12-issue series.

The review: First published by Vortex comics between 1988 and 1989, Black Kiss really was a push at boundaries that had, for too long, been artificially held back by puritanical self-censorship. It marries sex and violence together under a noir aesthetic that the pen and ink artwork suits perfectly.

It begins with Dagmar Laine, a prostitute, setting a Cardinal up with a call girl of his type (young and, allegedly, blind) so that she can destroy him and a film (and the unfortunate girl) in a fiery death. The film – a pornography reel featuring her friend and lover Beverley Grove is taken by a nun (something Dagmar misses) before the fire bomb goes off.

Into this whirlwind of sex, violence and a porno film comes Cass Pollack. Fresh out of rehab he has been set up for the murder of his ex-wife and young daughter and has both the police and a pair of mob hitmen on his tail. As it was, he had ended up with Dagmar, been kicked out unsatisfied and then ended up picking up Beverley and being orally satisfied whilst taking her home, all when the murders took place.

At first he can’t separate the two, they look almost identical, but soon discovers they are separate people but they are also his alibi – however they want something from him first. The nun has been phoning, blackmailing over the film, and they want Cass to get it back. To complicate things Dagmar is also seeing Ricky, one of the hitmen.

So the film has been stolen by a Satanist temple, the "Order of Bonniface", and it contains footage of Beverley with her husband, Charles Kenton. However, it isn’t from the 60s – when she made several films and a bit of a name for herself. It is from the 1920s. Kenton became a vampire, formed the Order and turned Beverley (though she was never a member of the Order herself). The members of the modern Order want Beverley to turn them.

We get some vampire lore – though the vampirism is revealed quite far into the book. Sunlight is an issue, but Beverley has Dagmar who can function in sunlight, of course, and at one point calls her a thrall. Dagmar is not all she appears initially to the reader either. Silver bullets coated with garlic are involved also.

And what a cracking little graphic novel this is. Full on noir, seedy, sexually explicit and violent. It guards its secrets well, until it wants to reveal them, though the vampire aspect was spoilt simply by me looking at the book here. However it is not for those offended by sex, sexual violence and the erotically unusual. 8.5 out of 10.

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