I picked up “Black Hole” a couple weeks ago and finished it about three days ago. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about it yet, but I will attempt to put some thoughts down that will give some insight to the quality of this book. “Black Hole” was written and Drawn by Charles Burns over a 10 year period in a series of 12 issues. A compilation was published by Pantheon Books in 2005. This is a review of the compilation.
“Black Hole” is set outside Seattle in the mid 70s. The point of view changes regularly between characters but focuses in on Keith and Chris (Chris is a girl). The story follows along as the local teenagers deal with a mutation based disease that affects those adolescents who have sex. Mutations are all individual ranging from the grotesque to unnoticeable. Many of the students who cannot hide their mutation begin to run away from home and camp out together in the woods; ostracized from school they seem to find no other choice. Eventually the feelings of abandonment turn ugly in some as strange things and murders begin to happen in the suburb. This eventually pushes Keith and Chris on their own paths with no clear direction ahead of them.
From the beginning, “Black Hole” is fairly enigmatic as it transitions regularly between present time flashbacks hallucinations and dreams. It was occasionally hard to tell entirely what was happening. This confusion was ultimately beneficial to the story as all the heavily used characters seem to be at a unsure of their future. Keith seems to hate his only two friends, while Chris falls in love with a boy and can’t seem to relate with anyone else. The Mutations are an interesting frame for the story and an overt physical expression of the stigma put on teenage sex. While this is apparent, Burns doesn’t beat you over the head with all his messages as some writers do in graphic novels. Along with his subtlety comes a immense amount of foreshadowing. Many of Burns’ early images that seem out of place become key parts later in the story. I reread the first few chapters before I started noticing them. Burns’ pacing was well done and all the situations had a distinct smack of realism. The characters were well drawn out and seemed real enough to come from Burns’ own high school life.
“Black Hole” goes after the idea of being lonely, and it does it well. The characters are lonely without being melodramatic. They try to find something that will make them happy but having to force happiness doesn’t seem to work out well for them. The art is vibrant in shape but ultimately muted by the black and white coloring, which adds to this feeling of loneliness. It was hard to not get sucked in to Burns’ illustrations as I often found myself cringing and occasionally avoiding a panel’s illustration all together.
I would recommend this book. However, I would extend a word of caution in doing so. The content is phenomenal but I wouldn’t take this book lightly. Enjoy.