At 240 pages The Black Monday Murders Vol. 01 (out 1/25/17 from Image Comics by Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Michael Garland and Rus Wooton) is simultaneously a seriously intimidating graphic tome as well as being an absurd amount of bang for your buck (provided you're paying in American bucks and not worthless, worthless British pounds). It is so immense and packed full of everything it takes nearly 20 pages to get to the actual start of the story. Before you actually make it to that classic match-up of words and pictures we call "comics" you have to make it past a table of contents that resembles something out of Kevin Spacey's Se7en character's journals as well as list of character names and dates, all which will mean nothing to you at this point, but if you can make it through the rest of the book might.
Which is not to say it's bad! Far from it! It's a little bit like, you get home from a hard day's work and you want to pick up a book to kick back and relax with. You don't pick up Ulysses by Joyce or The Soft Machine by Burroughs. You pick up something a little more friendly to your weary mental state. Something a little less taxing; A Song of Ice and Fire or something terrible like a book by John Green. You're not overly enthusiastic for something that is going be the literary equivalent to being trapped in an abandoned subway car with a tinfoil hat wearing maniac who repeatedly shoots LSD into your cerebral cortex while strapping your eyes open A Clockwork Orange style and forcing you to watch Adam Curtis documentaries, all the while blaring out industrial music from speakers he's attached to the inside of his blood covered coat.
So what's it all about? Well as far as I can tell after slogging through the timelines, message board posts, police dossiers, transcripts of interviews, encyclopedic descriptions and diagrams of (fictional?!?) occult, economic entities it's about money, power, death, magic, the 20th century, family, ancient civilizations, crime, punishment and the great conspiracy at the heart of the great conspiracy's conspiracy. How's that for a pull quote?
"No really" you say, "Go deeper." I sigh and begin to sweat and convulse in my chair. "I…am…trying." It's like trying to write about a dream you had once, that you didn't write down, so it comes to you in waves of feeling and disjointed imagery. "I remember…people falling? And there was a language no one could understand. And a group of powerful families who hated each other or maybe they didn't? And there was all kinds of magic and a stranger all in white. Russia was there! Though that may have just been day matter left over from watching the news. And it kept jumping around in time! First it was the 20s, then the present day, then the 80s and even the 70s. It was really weird and I can remember waking up stressed and confused."
I genuinely can't really give you more than that. It's captivating! It definitely is. It feels like a forbidden book, something that doesn't quite belong in our universe, that fell through a crack in reality, something that makes your eyes twitch when you read it, that vibrates on a different frequency than we're used to, something we maybe shouldn't be seeing because we can't handle it.
I'm a huge Hickman fan and I was kind of surprised by the lack of noise I heard surrounding the book. A new Hickman creator owned book is a big deal and worth getting excited about. Now having read Vol. 01 of TBMM I can sort of understand why it's been quietly unfolding like a corpse flower. It must be seizure inducing to have to be the ad people tasked with selling this to the rank and file comic reader. You can't really say "It's like Ghost Rider meets The Flash meets Sin City in space!" for starters because it's clearly none of those things but also because it defies simple categorization. It's a graphic middle finger to anyone trying to reduce it to an one page paragraph description in Previews.
One of the reasons the book feels so alien has to do with the art style. It's not inviting. It's very dark and even when there's colour, it still feels like the red is coming out at you through dark glass. The figures in the book sort of have that "uncanny valley" effect to them, they look real, almost too real but at the same time, not. Even so, the art is striking and perfect for the width and scope of the story its telling. You can't imagine any other art team being able to convey Hickman's beautiful, paranoid madness as accurately.
I leapt at the opportunity to review this when I saw it coming up for the week's releases. And after I got, oh, I don't know, 150 pages into it, I wanted to weep, for I knew there was not going to be a way for me to convey all of the everything going on in this book in one review. I also wanted to weep because my brain was sore and I wanted to go home, but I was home, which made me even more confused.
You've made it this far through this barely-a-review review, so I'll try to bottom line it for you. If you're a person who likes to have to work through your art, this is for you. If you're someone who loves being challenged by a challenging creator, who doesn't spoon feed you the story but instead slaps you around a bit with it and then puts a curse on your unborn line of heirs, this is for you. If you're looking for a book to give someone who's never read comics before and is looking for a way to get into that wacky scene all the kids go boffo for these days, then for godsakes give them Sandman or The Manhattan Projects or practically anything else than this. Unless they're also secret internet weirdos who are up all night charting the courses of the stars and breaking them into a cypher to compare against the Dow Jones using tea leaves, the bones of stillborns and vodka. Then this is the book for them.