We return to the world of Blacksad, some seven years after the last volume was published.
Juanjo Guarnido hasn’t lost a step, and Juan Díaz Canales’ story is filled with memorable characters and moments.
There’s also a lot of New York City, if that’s your thing.
I loved every page of this book.
First Quarter of the Credits
Writers: Juan Díaz Canales
Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Colors: Juanjo Guarnido
Translator: Diana Schutz and Brandon Kander
Letterers: Cromatik Ltd.
Published by: Dark Horse/Dargaud
Number of Pages: 35
Original Publication: 2021
Half a Story Is Better Than None
This is a bit confusing. I got confused, and I checked on it in a couple of different ways before writing this review in the first place.
I have official confirmation now of what’s going on, so here it is:
“They All Fall Down” is a two-album story.
But, for digital release, each album is being released as two books. That’s why this book is only 32 pages. The second half of it is scheduled for release in November. Dark Horse will release one album next summer containing both halves of this first part of the story.
The second album will be coming out in 2023. Again, it will be released in two parts for digital distribution and one album as a print edition.
In other words, the total story will be four digital parts but two print parts. This also explains why Amazon was listing a second book for a November release. They’re not wrong. This also explains why the creators insisted it’s a two-part series — because that’s how they created it and that’s how the print editions are released.
In France, the digital release is also the entire book — 61 pages, total.
It’s only the English digital releases that are breaking the books into two parts to confuse us all.
“Blacksad: They All Fall Down, Part 1” is 32 pages.
Yes, the cover price is lower to match the page count: $5.99 versus $8.99.
OK, let’s talk about this half of the book that’s half of the overall story now:
What’s Going On?
Blacksad is back in New York City, taking in some Shakespeare in the Park with his pal, Weekly. The little furry guy is falling for one of the actresses on stage, but Blacksad is keeping busy by stepping in to keep the peace when the police try to shut things down over permitting issues.
What springs out of that scene is a story that probably has more direct analogues to the real world than I realize. There’s the politicians, the unions, the money, the architects, and the people who want more green spaces and public transportation. It’s clear to me that Díaz Canales has done some homework for this book, which feels very much like a minor bit of slightly revisionist NYC history.
The guys who worked in the subway tunnels in such awful conditions weren’t literally moles in the real world, after all.
But the events, locations, and relationships between the people in the city feels real, and very much like a period piece done right. Plus fur.
There are four or five new characters to keep straight in your mind. They’re interrelated in ways we don’t fully understand just yet, but that’s the mystery and the drama of the book. It helps that they’re different animals, so it’s easy to keep them separated.
Blacksad is hired by a bat named Kenneth. He’s a union president, and is worried his life is in danger from the “weasel magic.” He knows who’s coming after him, though, and hires Blacksad to stop him.
That’s what sends Blacksad around the city to discover a whole new world of what’s going on under his own nose. It ain’t pretty, but it’s the kind of stuff that went on to build things up to how the city lives today.
Meanwhile, Weekly has befriended the woman from the stage show and is darn near stealing the book from Blacksad. Given his sidekick status, he’s able to be more flexible and more cartoonish than Blacksad. He hits a wider range of emotions with this book than Blacksad, and provides a lot of much-needed comic relief. He’s more animal than human, still, so he can be more physical in his humor, including his facial expressions and his body language. Guarnido really shines when it comes to animating Weekly on the page.
I like to think that making this book a two-parter gave Weekly more page space. Not that his part of this story isn’t important, but having all these extra pages lets Díaz Canales open the story up a bit and give Weekly more things to do that Blacksad might have had to otherwise uncover.
More Weekly is never a bad thing to me!
What Guarnido Draws
This book is beautiful, which shouldn’t come as that big a surprise to anyone who’s read Blacksad before. He has some very densely packed pages here, with no cheats for convenience sakes.
This series started as a very dark noir title, but has become quite colorful and vibrant in the past couple of books. That carries through here, balancing some gritty subway station and underground construction scenes along with daytime scenes in Central Park and Washington Square Park. Weekly’s walk on the bridge is on a beautifully clear blue sky day.
Also, it’s not strictly about sheer draftsmanship and the ability to draw a packed city street lined by architecturally interesting buildings. Guarnido’s storytelling is in full display here, too. There’s one scene, in particular, where Weekly is interviewing Solomon, the money behind the city’s transportation system growth, high atop his new suspension bridge.
Look carefully at how Guarnido changes camera angles across a small number of panels to get you dizzy. Weekly is too focused on getting the interview to become overly nervous, but you can see that he’s aware of his surroundings and the sweat is still there. He just barrels through to get what he wants.
Meanwhile, Guarnido cut no corners in this book. Absolutely none. The results are at time jaw-dropping. There’s an amazing amount of information on every page. I don’t find it overwhelming at all, but your mileage may vary. I’m glad Dark Horse has been publishing the series at its original size. Shrinking work like this down to traditional North American comic size would be a crime against comics.
As much as I love a good print edition, being able to see these pages on a backlit screen helps them, too. The resolution is super high, the colors are bright, and there’s nothing that’s blurry or hidden by muddy color reprinting. You can even pinch and zoom to check out the finer details, if you’re so inclined.
This is a single panel showing Blacksad walking through Washington Square Park while protestors picket against the build-up of the city. (Oh, boy, I can only imagine what they’d think of the place today…)
Just look at that panel. He drew dozens of people in there of all types of animal, chose a high angle, and gave every visible person something to do. It’s remarkable. And it’s not a particular panel that the plot hinges on. It’s not even an establishing shot. Blacksad is busy musing on the strengths of being a city of people as he walks through this location, and here are lots of people to show that.
An artist on a tighter deadline would have drawn the crowd in silhouette with the raised signs to help show the protest, while Blacksad walks a discrete distance away in the foreground.
Not only does Guarnido squeeze a crowd into here, but he also lights the scene brightly with pure daylight, including the shade falling from the trees off-panel below and to the right. It’s the kind of slightly dappled pattern that he does so well with his shadows. (There’s a memorable example of it in New Orleans in “A Silent Hell“.)
Name That Bridge
What suspension bridge is it that we meet Solomon on?
It’s The Solomon Bridge in Blacksad’s world, but it’s clearly based on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that connects Brooklyn to Staten Island. Construction on that real world span began in 1959 — the end of the decade that “Blacksad” is generally considered to be set during.
It was also the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time it was built.
One minor nit-pick to that word balloon: The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge holds 13 lanes of traffic between its upper and lower decks. (Also, it’s an $11 toll to cross the bride — nearly twice as much as the digital edition of this book.)
That bridge was a project championed by Robert Moses, who was involved with a lot of New York City area planning. Moses is a fascinating and polarizing figure. He’s responsible for a lot of parks in the city and for getting the United Nations to headquarters itself in NYC instead of Philadelphia.
But he often favored highways over public transportation, and many of his choices negatively impacted minority areas of the city. He wan’t a trained civil engineer or urban planner, but his influence can be felt in the area to this day.
Solomon is described more as a construction magnate than a city planner, but there’s definitely the feeling of Moses behind him — the singular man who can change the face of the city with his projects. He can bend the will of the people and the politicians to make his plans come true.
Sometimes, that comes at a cost. Solomon mentions to Weekly what it takes to get the job done. The question is whether it’s worth the price that the people will have to pay.
That’s not the point of this book, by the way, but it does help set up some of the background for what’s going on.
A Couple of Little Things
We see some of the books on the shelves of Blacksad’s office. I couldn’t help but notice the grey one on the top shelf here:
Looking at the Kenneth is holding that book, it appears that the book was on the shelf spine-in, and that the Gallic Wars book printed its cover on the back.
Don’t hurt yourself thinking too much about these things.
The posters on the wall in New York City advertise a fight between Ferrigno and Balboa, and another between Kent and Parker. Is that The Hulk vs Rocky and Superman vs Spider-Man?
There’s no love interest for Blacksad in this book. Nobody is here to break his heart or to drive his investigation or to lead him on. Weekly is getting the romantic storyline in this outing, and it’s a lot of fun. He’s trying to impress her, but things never go his way.
It’s another piece of the “noir” guidelines that’s missing in this book. It feels much more like a political thriller than noir, but we’ll have to see how it all ends to see how the classification works. I enjoyed the story, even if a proper label for its genre type is a close cousin.
There’s also no musical cue of interest. Díaz Canales and Guarnido always thoughtfully include a song or two into each book. That’s completely missing so far. I’m curious to see if that pops up in part two.
You can see some vinyl jazz albums in Blacksad’s office if you look closely enough, but there’s nothing playing in any scene of any relevance.
Music is hard to pull off in comics. I wouldn’t blame them if they skip it this time.
Speaking of Records, Here’s My Broken One
That’s a crossbar-I in the third panel of the book. It’s a persistent condition of the book that is easily solved. It only happens when a word beginning with “I” starts a sentence. It doesn’t happen when the “I” is inside a word. It works fine with the first person pronoun “I”.
In other words, the letterers are cutting-and-pasting the mixed-case text from the script and not fixing it afterwards. I know this sounds nit-picky, but it’s part of the job.
I have a book I can recommend… (Yes, that’s an Amazon link. You know the drill — you buy it, it doesn’t cost you any extra, and Amazon kicks back a few pennies to this site.)
Verisimilitude — or is that “Veri-smurf-itude”?
In the last panel on the first page set in Central Park, you can see Belvedere Castle in the background. That, of course, was the setting for the big battle between Gargamel and the Smurfs in the 2011 live action Smurfs movie.
This is part of what CentralPark.org says about the castle:
Designed originally in 1865 by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould as a Victorian “Folly” (A fantasy building) that would provide an overlook to the scenic splendors around it. The views include the Delacorte Theater, home to the very popular Shakespeare in the Park series, the newly-restored, 55-acre Great Lawn, once one of the Park’s original reservoirs and, directly below, Turtle Pond.
The castle, the Turtle Pond, and Shakespeare in the park. Guarnido packed it all into that panel. The fall foliage is a nice bonus.
Yes, even though it means impatiently waiting for the second half of the story. Right now, the story reads a bit more like a political/crime/thriller. It’ll be interesting to see if what happens in the second part leans it back more towards the noir the series started with.
If you haven’t read Blacksad before, just go start at the beginning. Try book 1 digitally or the Dark Horse print edition, which collections books 1 through 3. Once you’ve read the first book, you’ll want the next two, anyway.
When you do that, you can read along with all of my reviews here:
I’ll be back in two years to review Part 2!
Buy It Now
(Remember what I said about Amazon Associates before? That still holds for the above Amazon link. The FTC wants you to know that.)