Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Black River by Josh Simmons Review
Erk – you know a comic’s grim when it makes Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead look family-friendly!
So it’s another post-apocalyptic-set story and things are miserable as usual! Civilisation is decimated, most of humanity is dead, and roving gangs of people struggle to survive amidst rapist biker gangs bombing about in Mad Max parody. Our protagonists are one such group of mostly females. They rove. They fight. They look for a fabled city that still has all the luxuries of the pre-apocalyptic world. And everything remains dark and miserable!
Josh Simmons’ Black River is a gratuitously nihilistic comic about human suffering. I don’t mind dark stories; I can read very gory, horrific tales of bleakness and enjoy them – but they have to have a point. They can’t just be horrible things for the sake of it. But that’s what Black River is.
For example (and spoilers from here on out): the group go to a wrecked comedy club and there’s an old guy on stage talking – not telling jokes, just mumbling nonsense. Some crazy hunters wander in, take a seat, and listen to the old man’s gibberish. The head crazy hunter goes on stage and machetes the old man in half. Then he turns around and screams while everyone shoots him dead.
What was the point of that scene? Was it supposed to be funny? Tragic? Horrific? What was Simmons hoping the reader’s reaction to be? It was slightly interesting for its randomness but came out of nowhere and meant absolutely nothing. Was it intended to show us how far civilisation has fallen (as if we didn’t already know that given the rest of the book)?
The women are raped (which we’re thankfully spared the visuals of - gosh, there’s a lot of rape in comics these days!) and one loses her mind. Cuts her hair, cuts her face, gets stoned out of her skull and eventually commits suicide. Realistic reactions to immense trauma – but what was Simmons going for? All this abundant misery and for what? To tell a story about how the post-apocalypse is not a nice place to live in? That, stripped of civilisation, humanity devolves into base appetites? I just don’t see any originality or anything meaningful in all of this to make the comic worthwhile.
I can’t fault the storytelling – if nothing else, Simmons knows how to tell a story well in comics form – and, despite its subject matter, I did find the black and white art interesting. But the story itself is simply unpleasant without any redeeming qualities. Maybe if you’re a fan of Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows’ Crossed you’ll like this but at least that comic had a virus that caused the extreme behaviour – Black River is just shitty people being shitty to one another. Yuck.