Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Blacksad: Amarillo Review (Juan Díaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido)

Set in 1950/60s America, a Jack Kerouac-type writer murders his antagonistic poet friend in cold blood and goes on the lam. Blacksad is mixed up in this beatnik writer’s life after the Cadillac Eldorado he was entrusted with gets stolen and trashed by him. But then the feds go after Blacksad after his wallet is found in the car – and the poet’s body in the trunk. 

Amarillo is definitely the weakest Blacksad story yet. Everything about the plot is maddeningly happenstance. Blacksad happens to need a ride back home and happens to come across an eccentric cowboy millionaire who gives him the keys to his car. And then he happens to intervene in an argument between the beatnik writers and some Wild Ones-esque bikers and then his car happens to be stolen by them. Then he happens to come across the writer’s agent who just so happens to know where the writer’s headed and who happens… well, I won’t get into every element of the plot but. Every. Single. Thing. Is a coincidence. 

Why does the writer immediately join the circus when he decided to disappear? That’s such a childish idea! Couldn’t he have run off to Mexico or something more adult? And while it’s heavily implied the writer is Kerouac, from the scroll manuscript to the beatnik background, and the Williams Burroughs-esque friend, Juan Diaz Canales tries to work in a half-assed supernatural element to the unpublished work. Everyone the writer comes into contact with – dies! Woooo! And it really didn’t work. 

Blacksad himself is barely a character in this story. He bumbles along with the plot, completely at odds with his strong characterisation in the previous four Blacksad stories, and a new reader starting with Amarillo will probably wonder why the series is named after him.

There’s also a lot of filler here, and the book’s hardly long at 53 pages! There’s a pointless scene where we meet Blacksad’s sister, there’s a rambling backstory to the writer’s love interest that doesn’t have anything to do with the main story, several pages are devoted to the circus’ code of punishment which doesn’t go anywhere. There’s far too much padding! And I hate that there are no consequences to anything – the writer gets away with all the murders because… he’s a tortured, brilliant artist?!

Juanjo Guarnido’s art once more rescues a sub-standard story with gorgeous – GORGEOUS! – pages. Amarillo is also his brightest book yet, the Southern heat giving the colours a vivid look, in sharp contrast to the murky noir overtones of the previous Blacksad adventures. The Cadillac Eldorado with Blacksad behind the wheel is a fabulous image, the sheep bikers were awesome designs. So many scenes looked terrific from the beatnik party, to the circus sequence. Guarnido’s street scenes in particular are some of the best you’ll ever see in a comic and his animal-headed characters’ faces are extremely expressive, so much so that if you looked at the comic untranslated into English, you’d still follow what was happening in the story. 

New readers to the series should check out the collected hardcover of the first three Blacksad books from Dark Horse for much better fare. Amarillo is really only for returning fans than a good place to start.

Blacksad: Amarillo

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