“Guh, UH. Huh, HUH.” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Unseemly!

John Kane

So, Howard Victor Chaykin returned to his successful BLACK KISS creation and penned a sequel. What could possibly go wrong!?! (SPOILER: I liked it.)

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BLACK KISS 2 #1
Story & Art by Howard Victor Chaykin
Lettering & Logo by Ken Bruzenak
Cover Colours by Jesus Arbutov
Additional design by Drew Gill
Image Comics, $2.99 (2012)
BLACK KISS created by Howard Victor Chaykin

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This is actually how it arrived- in a semi black bag. I unwrapped it and was immediately compelled to begin using a cheese grater on the blameless plum of my glans. Buyer BEWARE! Indeed.

Well, it isn’t for everybody. In fact if you live in the United Kingdom or Canada it isn’t for anybody. The first issue made it past the real life heroes of HM Customs after a thorough vetting but Diamond have since declined to submit the second issue for the contemplation of HM Customs due to there being “scenes depicted which may fall foul of UK Customs’ regulations on the importing of indecent and obscene material.” Apparently if you commission HVC to create a sequel to his controversial sexually explicit and raucously funny‘80s series BLACK KISS he isn’t going to turn in six issues of wrinkle faced dogs and sunsets over still lakes. Who knew?!? I mean he’s all old and shit for totes so he should just be producing comics about boiled sweets and Stannah stair lifts when he isn’t weeping over faded Polaroids of all the ladies he squired to the sound of Glen Miller’s In The Mood back when the sky was still blue with futures yet to live. Turns out though that people over 50 don’t just stand still and wish for death, turns out they can still actively engage the world via the mechanisms of their mind and produce creator owned work that has a little more ambition than, say, superheroes but in the real world or a fucking TV pitch the ambition of which flies no higher than an episode of The Rockford Files from the ‘70s. You may not like BLACK KISS 2 but there’s no doubt it’s about something.

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Not just the title of a shitty farce.

Don’t expect me to tell you what though. I was so confused by the first issue that I intended to let the series end before I belaboured your ever dwindling patience with another unbiased and restrained 1000 words on why Howard Victor Chaykin is just super, thanks! That’s not going to be an option though is it? So, from this first issue here’s what I can fillet out. For a start the most arresting aspect of BK2 is what it isn’t. Because what it isn’t is a typical HVC comic. HVC comics are usually about various things depending on the series but are presented in the same HVC style. This one isn’t. It’s a lot less linear than the usual HVC affair. We start in 1906 with a visit to the pictures. This is framed by two pages reminiscent of nothing so much as the title sequence to the popular sit-com Cheers, which is weird an more than a little discomfiting. Now, I’m not too sure what goes on from then on because either it was usual in 1906 for men and women to attend performances of pornographic films en masse or what we are being presented with is not to be taken too literally. HVC is seemingly casting cinema as a demon which will divert and sap the strength of the lower orders while he’s also trying to communicate what it must have been like, what a very sensual experience cinema must have been, to the first audiences. Or, as is often the case, a demon with a plenitude of phalli does in fact pleasure the entire audience via every orifice before the cinema itself disappears like a haunted toy shop in a Victorian ghost story. Given the less than delighted descriptions of cinema (“..two-faced God of Cinema”, “..light exploding from the very asshole of Hell itself.”) I think HVC is definitely not on its side. Which is borne out by knowledge of HVC’s oeuvre in which he is often to be found lambasting the cinema for its portrayal of fake heroism and dissemination of impossible to fulfil ideals.

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“…and they’re always glad you CAME.” (Sigh. Sorry about that. It just slipped out.)

HVC’s work is also concerned at times with the polymorphous perversity of people’s appetites and how technological advances are bent towards this end. In CITY OF TOMORROW (2005), a series in which HVC’s apparent conviction that if we can invent it we will try to fuck it is at the forefront, there is this sequence:

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Once the scene has shifted to the Titanic in 1912 (natch, I guess) BLACK KISS 2 contains this sequence:

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Now this one involves a demon (succubus?) rather than an automaton but, and you’re going to have to bear with me here, the intention is the same I think. HVC has already explicitly linked cinema to the demon i.e. a technological advance and the supernatural or magical. If we just shut up and agree with the thought that magic is just science that we don’t understand then the parallels are plain. In both scenes the advanced creature (science based or supernatural) controls the situation by appealing to the protagonists basest instincts. Lack of self control isn’t something to be encouraged, show some gumption or you’ll soon be having someone get grotty on your botty, Bubba!

The hero initially seems like it’s going to be the usual HVC stand-in, one Abie Gelbfein but the focus switches, in part two, to Bubba Kenton. This makes sense as Bubba was the force behind the mcguffin in the first series, even though he was dead when it opened. I guess the series is going to show us Bubba’s descent into Hell over the next 5 issues, which will be a useful bit of back-story for the chronological sequel to rest on. I mean, I won’t know will I, as my country would make of HV a prisoner; a prisoner of Sex, in his shackles of Love! Anyway, although HVC wrong-foots us by basically telling us the story of the villain rather than the hero this is still very HVC. After all what we’re about to see, or you are about to see anyway, is another exercise in HVC’s demonstration that power corrupts. “Power Corrupts (What The Hell Else Is It For?)” declared the cover to HOWARD CHAYKIN’S AMERICAN FLAGG #1 and Howard Victor Chaykin still hasn’t stopped declaring it here in a comic which, should you pass through Customs, you would itself have to declare.

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Chin up, Old son. You can probably get the TPB when it comes out.

There’s also a nice joke in the art when Bubba is thrown through the air mid-forced bum fun and there’s a panel that is a hilarious inversion of the usual HVC hero swaggeringly soaring through the air while unloading his weapon. Y’know what, I found the art throughout to be pretty strong throughout, only sagging when HVC used his computer to reduce and enlarge images; turns out that sounds easier than it is. There are some nice compositions and I liked the scenes of panic on the Titanic. It was, in fact, quite refreshing to see HVC’s art free from some of the busyness all those textures he applies for colour were absent. I just really like looking at his art in B&W it seems. Still, Jesus Arbutov does some really slick and candied colours on the cover and seems set to continue this excellent performance onto issue 2. Ken Bruzenak remains a force of nature but I thought the caption boxes got lost in the art too easily, but that’s just whining, any Ken Bruzenak is good Ken Bruzenak. Despite the fact that the editor missed a few bumpy bits, as a comic I thought it was VERY GOOD! I already told you I did !

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Wow. No One liked ULTIMATUM did they!?!

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Compare and Contrast! (N.B. I have edited the latter panel to remove any indication of biological items that we all might possess and/or see on a daily basis. In case it might turn your hair white or make you fondle dogs or something.)

I still have questions. Why does the series begin in 1906 when the demon is apparently already in the USA and then switch to 1912 when the demon is apparently on its way to the USA? Are Alfie and Rose going to be the hero and heroine; if not what were they doing in the book? I guess we did get to hear the ear scarring sound of Gentle Jeff Lester reading the narration to the “horsecocked little Jew” text, so I guess that’s reason enough. Is the last page meant to remind me of a ‘70s Marvel short strip involving a lifeboat from the Titanic in which one of the survivors turned out to be a monster; a strip I cannot clearly remember beyond that, but the existence of which I am certain of? If every sex scene in the book was replaced by a scene of equally explicit violence would this book still be problematic? Really? Who knows? Not me. Because, as I said, I will be unable to read any further issues. I guess, as befits my National stereotype, I finished too early. Just think of it as a compliment, that’s what I always say in those situations. (Psst. Edit that bit out, John).

In case you needed another reason to value the continued existence of Howard Victor Chaykin the comic also has a Q&A with him which contains this:

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‘Nuff Said, True Believers! Have a good weekend and enjoy only the most decent of COMICS!!!

3 Responses to “ “Guh, UH. Huh, HUH.” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Unseemly! ”

  1. ‘..the blameless plum of my glans.’
    wow! best thing i’ve read all day. thank you.

  2. I was equally perplexed by that first issue, and while the second issue felt a little more coherent as a unit, I read your review and realize I’m not completely sure how the second chapter tied into the first. I mean, there’s clear continuity of story, but like you say, there’s a ton of somewhat disjointed stuff in issue one. I need to reread them in a sitting, because a week after reading chapter two, I couldn’t tell you what’s really going on, who I’m supposed to care about, or what I’m supposed to hope/fear will happen to them. Whereas I’m pretty sure how I’m supposed to feel about, say, that Iron Man fella. (“Bored?” Don’t be cruel. I like Fraction’s run.)

    It is only through faith in HVC that we will persevere through to the story’s, um, climax. Those of us who don’t suffer at the squeamishness of customs inspectors, at least. I hope you find a way to get ahold of future issues, or the eventual trade …

  3. @craig: Cheers, sir!

    @BrianMc: Cheers for reading, sir! Ha! I read an issue of Fraction’s Iron Man once. Moving swiftly on…Yeah, I was hoping to stall until the BK2 thing was finished rather than just go: Um. I dunno?!? But that wasn’t an option. I hope HVC brings it all together at the last. Thanks for your concern but I’m sure I’ll get the trade at least; hope you enjoy the book in the meantime. But not too much, wink wink! Oh, dear, I just lowered the tone again!

    Thanks to tha both a youse!

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