Friday, 2 December 2016

The Black Monday Murders, Volume 1: All Hail, God Mammon Review (Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker)

“In God We Trust” is printed on US banknotes – yeah, the god of money, Mammon! The filthy lucre is America’s true religion and its high priests preside on Wall Street. Assigned to investigate the horrific ritual murder of a banker, Noo Yawk Detective (and secret voodoo practitioner) Theo Dumas uncovers the hidden world of finance where human sacrifice, pagan practices and occult magic covertly keep the markets going and the top banks wealthy! 

Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker’s The Black Monday Murders is a mixed bag. The concept of ruling banking families controlling money by worshipping an ancient bloodthirsty god is an unusual and interesting one but this first volume suffers from too much table-setting and a vague, weak opening story.

We spend a lot of time meeting the main players like the rich families, their strange roles and the growing tension between them, as well as Dumas, the voodoo detective. However, as always with Hickman, he doesn’t know how to write characters readers can care about – they come off like robots or ideas masquerading as characters on the page. 

We jump around in time and see what really happened behind the scenes of the 1929 stock market crash, the temple to Mammon underneath the Berlin Wall in the 1980s, and the families’ internal politics throughout the 20th century – but what’s the story (morning glory)? I suppose it’s the present-day murder investigation and the families’ power-plays but these both advance very slowly – most of this volume is just set-up. 

Like all of Hickman’s books, this one is stylishly designed with swish-looking symbols and an aesthetic that appears to be inspired by David Fincher’s movie Se7en – fitting given the macabre and violent subject matter. However there’s also a lot of superfluous extras thrown in to pad the page-count like lists of characters, family trees, keys to symbols and their meaning, none of which I cared about or enhanced the book for me – and does every issue really need a contents page like a book!? How pretentious!

You couldn’t call him unambitious or lacking in scope or vision but Hickman’s comics are usually only superficially sophisticated. Some of his format experiments are successful though, like the prose-only sections. The interview transcripts, emails and diary entries are surprisingly more entertaining that the comics sections though they compound the pacing problems and lack of a focused narrative. Tomm Coker’s realistic, gloomy art looks a bit like Sean Phillips’ noir style which is definitely a plus and the comic looks great but the visuals don’t really have much of a wow factor to stand out. 

The Black Monday Murders isn’t the easiest read nor is it especially gripping though it is different and its subject matter is intriguing. Patient readers willing to indulge Hickman’s overcomplicated storytelling approach might enjoy it, though, without a strong narrative or compelling characters you can become invested in, it’s definitely not for everyone and feels more like a case of style over substance.

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