Blacksad: A Silent Hell, the fourth Blacksad comic, is a gorgeous noir story set in New Orleans of the ’50s. The first detail that the sharp-eyed reader will notice is that all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. The second thing they will notice is the incredible art. Third, you will probably notice the intricate and dark story.
Blacksad, the titular detective, is a black cat, accompanied by his sidekick Weekly, a weasel. The rest of the cast is filled by roosters, goats, hippos, and dogs. Nearly every character’s personality or social class is reflected in their animal form. The big, blustering P.I. is a hippo, the southern gentleman is a goat, and the tuxedo-ed club owner is a penguin. I think that having all of the characters portrayed by animals does two very important jobs. It gives the reader a handy shorthand to make snap judgments about the characters, much like the largely stock characters in the original film noirs did. This allows the book to subvert or uphold these impressions. Second, the animals give the story an interesting, unreal look. The effect is that everything is just a little bit off, and this, oddly enough, helps to reinforce the realism the story needs.
The art is the best I’ve seen since Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s Parker books. Juanjo Guarnido’s watercolors are some of the most visually striking pages I have ever seen. Every single page is a masterpiece. Guarnido is equally skilled at the stark, simple panel and the incredibly lush, detailed, full-page spread. Most noir P.I. stories are wordy affairs, and this is no exception. It says a lot about the art when that is where the storytelling shines the most.
So, this is a rather traditional noir tale. The subject matter is dark, the characters’ motivations are difficult to unravel, and double crosses and danger lurk around every corner. The story centered on the jazz scene, and every page seemed like it should be scored by Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. The plot was sufficiently twisty and dark, and I was sucked into this world completely. There were one or two spots where it looked like a scene was cut that should have been left in. In one striking example, a character referred to something that we never saw. This particular bit of action would have taken three or four panels and would have kept the story flowing a bit smoother. I actually stopped to check the page numbers to make sure I didn’t miss it. Other than this, the story is one of the better comic stories I’ve read in a long time. In fact, this is one of the best books I’ve seen this year.