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01.09.08

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Black Hole

Review by Richard von Busack


A massive, beautiful and frightening graphic novel, previous anthologized over the course of nine years in Fantagraphics comics. The setting is a Cobainian northwestern landscape, sometime around 1975. An unnameable plague is striking the young on the fringes of a Seattle suburb, the result of a degenerative disease carried by sex and shared saliva. A circle of seemingly harmless "freaks"—as vegetating drug-takers of the time proudly called themselves—are here genuine mutants. A lion-faced creature called Dave is the most pitiable and the most dangerous; an artist called Eliza, who has a doglike tail, is so alluring that she'll probably create a new kind of fetish. But the worst creature lurking about is only glimpsed, not fully seen. Burns' usual blend of fantastic monstrosity and almost photorealistic high-contrast black-and-white figures and faces complement a memoir expertly mixed with magic-realist horror. Black Hole recalls the haunted evergreens in Lynch and the erotic deformity in Cronenberg. Certainly, fans of both film directors should read this. But the originality of this tale is rooted in the unbearably sharp feelings of adolescence. Seascape raptures are ruined by turds, bones, litter and broken glass. Vertiginous circles and jagged rents tear open the fabric of the ordinary world. But maybe the worst damage is caused by the adolescent delusion that a lover is actually a messiah. (By Charles Burns; Pantheon; $17.95 paperback)


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