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Campbell Is a Gem

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Eddie Campbell’s career began much like many independent creators in the realm of autobiographical comics. Campbell started drawing photocopied pamphlets in the late 1970s, featuring an avatar for himself by the name of Alec. These self-published works detailed his life and garnered him a following.

The black and white comic boom of the mid 80s, started by Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, gave Campbell impetus to start his own, non-autobiographical, black & white comic book. That book was called Deadface and told us of the adventures of Bacchus, the God of Wine, and other members of the Greek pantheon as they went about their lives in the present day.

Creators such as Dave Sim promoted Deadface over in North America and Campbell’s fame and renown grew. Deadface is remembered fondly as one of the shining beacons of quality to come out of the black and white glut of the that time.

But perhaps the main reason for whatever fame Campbell has comes from his collaboration with writer Alan Moore on From Hell. Taking nine years (from 1989 to 1998) and at least three publishers (Spider-Baby, Tundra, and Kitchen Sink Press ) to complete, this dissection of the crimes of London’s Jack the Ripper stands as one of Moore and Campbell’s seminal works. The 2001 movie adaptation starring Johnny Depp still brings new fans to Campbell’s artwork even today.

Such is Campbell’s artistry that his style fits in and melds to various genres. He is just as at home in portraying his life as he is in documenting historical horror. This versatility is once again on display in his latest work, The Black Diamond Detective Agency .

Adapted from a non-produced screenplay, the graphic novel takes place at the latter part of the 19th Century. It tells the tale of an innocent man accused of planting an explosive device on a passenger train. In an effort to clear his name, he assumes a false identity and infiltrates the organization that is hunting him—The Black Diamond Detective Agency.

The fictional agency of the book was inspired by the legendary Pinkerton Detective Agency. Established in 1850, the Pinkertons were legendary for the heroic acts (such as foiling an attempted assassination of President-Elect Abraham Lincoln) to more dubious ones (their strike-busting efforts in the latter part of the 1800s). The agency was known for its dogged pursuit of its targets and their willingness to get the job done by any means necessary.

Producer Bill Horberg came to Campbell with the screenplay and a bunch of research material on the Pinkertons. He also gave Campbell the freedom to take liberties with the work as he saw fit to make it work in the sequential art medium. The artist added more complexity to the screenplay and rearranged scenes for heightened visual impact.

Campbell describes the graphic novel in an interview with Comic Book Resources as "a great old fashioned shoot-'em- up thriller" and it seems to fall into the same category as other works such as Road to Perdition and History of Violence , although reversing those properties journey from page to Hollywood.

While The Black Diamond Detective Agency stands as a further breaking down of the walls between Hollywood properties and comic book ones, it also is an example of a skilled artist at work. Eddie Campbell has almost 30 years experience in crafting comics, and he brings all his skill and artistry to this project. It might never be a major motion picture, but we are guaranteed that it will be an awesome graphic novel.

Also out this week:

• New Warriors #1

The main battles of the Civil War are now over, but that doesn’t mean that the conflict is done. The Superhuman Registration Act might be the law, but it is not universally accepted. Some powered individuals are fighting back from the shadows. They refuse to register and refuse to let that stop them from helping their fellow man. To show their distain for the violation to their rights, they defiantly lay claim to the name of the team whose deaths started the Civil War rolling—The New Warriors.

This series might have a rough time finding financial success. There are no big name Marvel characters in the solicitation and the creators are relatively unknown. All that it has going for it is a novel concept and a tie-in to the months ago completed Civil War series.

Kevin Grevioux (W), Paco Medina (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

• Fear Agent: The Last Goodbye #1

Heath Huston is back and in the biggest mess of his life. His hometown has been chosen as a battleground between three alien races who absolutely hate each other. The extra-terrestrials have turned the Earth into a charnel house. Heath and his wife Charlotte are left to try and survive the chaos—if they can.

Rick Remender and Tony Moore’s blue collar sci-fi hero is back in a pulse-pounding, edge of your seat adventure. The Fear Agent series is a throwback to the classic days of yore. So, if you are nostalgic for the classic EC stories of Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood or just are tired of the way science-fiction is written these days, you just might want to pick this one up.

Rick Remender (W), Tony Moore (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

• Scalped #6

One of the better Vertigo books of the last several years is starting a new arc. Now is the perfect time for late-comers to hop on board.

Dash Bad Horse came back to the reservation with a nasty disposition, a chip on his shoulder and a bad attitude. He was looking for a fight but what he got was a job working as Chief Red Crow’s tribal police force. Chief Red Crow keeps tabs on everything on the Rez to keep track of his corrupt business ventures. But what he doesn’t know is that Dash Bad Horse is actually an FBI agent, working undercover to bring down Red Crow’s organization from the inside.

This series started slowly but picked up speed as it progressed. It is a taut crime drama that brings to mind movies such as Donnie Brasco and Goodfellas. It is one of my favorite books and if you haven’t discovered it, this is a great time to pick it up.

Jason Aaron (W), R.M. Guera (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

• Strange Embrace #1

If you are just familiar with David Hine from his work on District X, Spawn or various X-Men miniseries, you might not realize that his comic book career spans almost 20 years. One of his earliest works gets a new life at Image.

Strange Embrace is the story of a family terrorized by a malicious clairvoyant. The tale is one of psychological horror and the alienation of youth.

Originally published in black and white in 1993, the series has been digitally remastered an colored by Flanimal co-creator Rob Steen. The series might be good to pick up if you are a fan of dark and scary stories, wonder how far Hine has developed in 14 years, or just want a bright and shiny new version of the story you loved back in the 90s.

David Hine (W/A), Image Comics , $2.99. Eight-Issue Miniseries.

• Transformers Movie Adaptation #1

One of the most anticpated movies of the summer, now that Spider-Man, Jack Sparrow and Shrek are out of the way, has to be Transformers. And not all of the anticipation is positive. Many a fan is concerned about the fact that director Michael Bay’s "style over substance" direction won’t do their favorite toy line justice.

Fans will be able to get a sneak peak at what the film has in store this month, starting with this week and the next three consecutive weeks, as IDW provides us with the official adaptation of the movie. They promise "bonus material exclusive to the comic." Usually, every movie adaptation has content not seen in the actual film. The lead time for creating a novelization or comic tie-in means that the creator receives an early version of the movie script. So the adaptaions usually include scenes cut from the final cut of the flick.

Kris Oprisko (W), Alex Milne (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Four-Issue Weekly Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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