Thursday, June 23, 2005

Black Diamond: On-Ramp

I’ve long championed Larry Young as a far better writer than most give him credit for. Beneath the rugged man’s-man demeanor and irascible salesman’s cap lies a subtle and contentious cerebellum of a born storyteller, and it is almost a tragedy that his responsibilities as mastermind of AiT/Planet Lar publishing keep him from writing more. When he sets aside his business responsibilities he proves himself to be one of the best mainstream writers in the business, consistently capable of welding high-concept adventure to surprisingly subtle execution.

Sometimes he’s more subtle than he needs to be – just ask any of the many people who didn’t “get” the industry satire dressed as superhero allegory that was Planet of the Capes. Somehow, I don’t think subtle is going to be an issue with Black Diamond. The high-concept - Die-Hard meets Road Warrior on a futuristic superhighway strung over the lower 48, according to the promo blurbs – promises explosions in abundance. But again, as much as Young tries to front, his attempts to come off as a card-carrying he-man are somewhat less than convincing: not many car-chase scenes come equipped with Tom Stoppard name-checking bits of meta-textual exposition.

It’s this dichotomy that makes AiT/Planet Lar such a fascinating entity, the constant tug-of-war between high-concept genre entertainment and a more understated, cerebral sense of style. Whenever the books veer too closely to one side or the other of the equation, the product invariably suffers, but when they stick to their core conviction that genre entertainment does not necessarily have to be insultingly dull, the results are usually at least interesting. Based on this promo, Black Diamond appears to be Larry Young at his best, or at least, that's what he wants us to think! (The series itself could suck. There's always the possibility of that - but hey, judging a book solely by it's preview would be like judging a film based on it's trailer. I gotta leave myself an out if this thing turns out to be 22 pages of Elmo and Snuffalupagus singing with Carol Channing.)

As such, the package is as integral to the story as anything else. Although most people know them for their commitment to the black & white original graphic novel format as a commercially-viable vehicle, Black Diamond is an eight-issue limited series in glorious color. Young’s last experiment in monthly comics, the critically acclaimed Demo, stood out because of production values which made every issue stand out as a mini-graphic novel, but if this preview’s format can be judged, Black Diamond looks to be every bit the pamphlet, both physically and conceptually – complete with dastardly cliffhangers and cheap newsprint. Of course, this is only a preview, an introduction to the characters and concepts behind the story, but based on this tease I’m looking forward to seeing what the next eight months will bring.

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