McBlack (2010)

Editor Jason Franks
Publisher Back Glass Press
Writer Jason Franks
Art and Colours Jason Franks, Dave Gutierrez
Genre Noir

Talk us through it

Whiteface McBlack is a disembodied ex Private Detective who now has a line in murder, sabotage, theft, and arson. All traits he's going to need in a dysfunction world of mayhem. McBlack is reluctant to take a case from a Killer Dame that involves hunting down her errant husband who has made off with her estate, titles, and wealth. He decides however to make an exception as the Dame wants revenge rather than to simply track down her husband. McBlack is all about revenge with extreme prejudice of course.

Naturally things don't go to plan and there are wheels within wheels. McBlack is soon dealing with corrupt and vicious police officers, the Thrupenny Boardogs - mutated cyborg hippy bikers, the Screaming Micks - an Irish Paramilitary Cannibal gang, and the West End Reapers. Seems errant husband Duke Dave Oberg left owing various people drugs, money, and something called the Delucci Bambino. McBlack might have a little too much on his plate perhaps.

Ready to dial into one of the more insanely violent graphic novels you are ever likely to read?


"Come prepared - it's gonna be ugly." - McBlack

Just when I was sitting back and enjoying a quiet tequila cocktail or two, satisfied in the knowledge that all articles for the week had been written, a long weekend was coming up, and ScaryMinds was going all Naomi Watts movie wise, the dastardly fiends at Black Glass Press decided to drop McBlack on me. I'm blaming Jason Franks who no doubt has beer rampages on his mind for this evening while I'll be toiling away over a hot word processor to get this review to you. While I would like to shoot McBlack to next week's review queue I really can't enjoy a three day break without letting my readers in on what has to be one of the most insanely great graphic novels to be released anywhere in the World in 2010. Check this one out kids, Jason Franks has gone psycho on our arses!

The novel is pretty much in first person narrative form with our narrator for the day being the overly violent Whiteface McBlack. Jason Franks has created one of the great comic book anti heroes in McBlack and I was certainly grooving along to our resident Psycho, McBlack not Franks, and his general outlook on life and share glee at the opportunity for large scale death and destruction. It's hard to say exactly what McBlack is, no the character isn't human, he's clearly dead but not in a sort of re-animated zombie fashion. I was reminded of that dude with the flour bag mask over his head in Watchmen, though McBlack is demonstratively way cooler. I don't even won't to speculate on how McBlack's arms etc work, but at least he has a fresh change of clothing available, which is kind of a blessing in disguise considering the amount of carnage the dude is involved in. No doubt if enough people score the comic we just might be in line for a prequel down the track explaining what happened to our central character and how he came to be a disembodied head. Anyways before getting too demanding about future editions, McBlack is sort of an insanely violent Phantom* type character who doesn't worry overly much about truth, justice, and the great Johnny Howard way. Maybe Jason Franks has created the modern Phantom for a new generation of thrill seekers?

McBlack lives in a future world where the concepts of civilisation are given scant regard as various factions fight for supremacy in a very violent fashion. It's sort of like Mad Max 2 except with more petrol and firepower. As McBlack tries to track down the errant husband he runs into all kinds of weirdos, and takes time out of his busy schedule to slaughter them in ever increasing numbers. Clearly there are not too many civilians in Jason Franks dystopian future society, but there sure are some cool cats prowling around. There's a breadth of imagination going into the various groups McBlack runs across that is staggering, and somehow perfectly logical given the alternative reality we are being immersed in. I was actually quite taken with the Screaming Micks, I don't think I've even run across demented Irish cannibals with thick accents before, that have a touch of the Rasta about them mon. "Leave him for de buzzards, bejaysus-mon. Dinner's getting cold". Its touches of brilliance like this that create a cult following.

Little side track and we'll get back to the dodgy looking meat real soon. I might be completely off the reservation and heading down no idea street in hopelessly-inept-ville here but the "West End Reapers", who McBlack helpfully informs us were "runners up in this year's Division 3 Metro mixed Football League" , sort of look to me to have been at wink at The Warriors, the movie not the NRL team. Maybe it was the almost sport like uniform that reminded me of those baseball dudes the Warriors clean up in the New York underground.

Naturally since you have a disembodied head as a narrator and a cast of degenerate characters populating your graphic novel you go with a Noir approach to things. Jason Franks delivers on the gumshoe shuffle here and should make any Mickey Spillane reader feel right at home. There's a sort of 1940's underworld, as realised by Hollywood, feel to things that somehow works like a raging night out at the Cabana lounge. Added bonus is McBlack's one liners that had me grinning like a ferret in a henhouse throughout the novel. [Editor's note: Do ferrets actually grin?].

Overall we're talking a tight plot, a lot of imagination, and exceptional writing. Is this Jason Franks' best book to date? The jury is out folks but McBlack is certainly up there in terms of the plot, the twists that are coming our way, and the share scope of things.

While the novel might not be construed as pure horror, there's a dysfunctional future genre right? - Franks is of course never far from core horror concepts and constructions. At ScaryMinds we have tried to explain on a number of occasions that the dark genre Mansion is a huge construct, there's enough rooms for different views on what constitutes "horror" in its expansive halls of ill repute. Needless to say if you groove to the horror rhythm then you will be right at home in McBlack.

About the only thing missing from the novel is a slice of romance, if for the moment we forget about McBlack's obvious love of his extensive arsenal. But you just have to say what the hey, who wants to read a graphic novel with Irish Cannibals that sparkle in the daylight populating it? Am I right gang, or am I right! More McBlack mayhem and less love is a mantra I think we can all live by kids.

Before I forget, the thoughts of a double shot daiquiri at the Cabana are weighing heavily folks, the novel is broken into three acts. "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies", "Kill the Body and the Head Will Die", and "On The Ricochet". A careful reading of the novel, and hey I went for three, will inform the reader that the construction is perfectly apt for the plot flow. For slow readers there's the added bonus of having a logical place to halt reading, though I'm thinking you won't want to put the book down and will read well beyond your allotted time. In case anyone is wondering, yes it's a book where you get additional goodness from multiple reads. Little added bonus from the good folk at Black Glass, The Ballad of McBlack, lyrics by Franks and art by Gutierrez, (I'm thinking a skip hop version would work, yo Hoodies), and Nathan Wiedemer has a treat right at the end.

Naturally since we are having this little chat about a graphic novel it's time to address the actual artwork. Black and white inks folks, though Franks seems to have swung more towards realism in this release as opposed to say the Kagemono series. The panels are clean, crisp, and easy to read making the novel an enjoyable experience both from a reading stance and a visual point of view. I should also mention that Ron Salas delivered the starkly arresting front cover. Sorry running out of space here and when you have a new editor on the prowl it pays to watch your wordage. That's a wrap.

Summary Execution ...

McBlack arrived on my desk unannounced and unapologetic as it simply demanded to be picked up and read. Damn that Ron Salas and his cover artwork. As normal Jason Franks delivered on a well constructed story and showed a depth of imagination that made for one hell of an enjoyable read. I loved the artwork, a pooing dog outstanding! - and had to read the book three times to satisfy my initial delight in having in my hands a Jason Franks graphic novel. McBlack rocks, I had a bloody good time, what more can I say?

The last paragraph finished on a rhetorical question by the way, not finished over here kids. No doubt you are just dying to get your sweaty hands on the book and find out about McBlack's world for yourself. There's a website up right here, thankfully not another one of those free crappy ones that really don't do anything for a book, you can actually read McBlack is serialised form on the website, (three pages published each week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), or you purchase the novel for the outstanding good value of $11.00. Who let the dogs out, that's what we are going to have to do to stop people swamping the online purchase option.

As stated somewhere above one of the best graphic novels of 2010, I'm expecting awards, and a must have for your library. Miss this one and you'll be kicking yourself as people bring it up at parties, on television, and I believe I noted the New South Wales Premier glued to the pages during question time, so no doubt Parliament as well. Don't be the only kid on your block that hasn't rocked out to McBlack score yourself a copy right now.

Peace out, I'll be at the Cabana amigos.

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

  Jason Franks blows the roof off the house, nails it back on, and blows it off again. McBlack is destined for cult status.

*- The Phantom is a long running Aussie comic about some dude who has a really close relationship to his dog, maybe too close. Oh and he fights evil doers and protects the native people of Africa from Robert Mugabe. Needless to say McBlack would kick his arse before breakfast.