The rip-roaring 1920’s, with the Charleston and flapper girls; where society was still very much segregated with the “have not’s” kept in their place by “have’s”. It is also a time where rampant racism in full force. From a certain point of view, some would say nothing much has changed!
During a risqué interracial party a black writer is found dead, swimming full clothed in the bath. With the powers that be seemingly only focussed on making sure that everyone is “all white”, it is left to aspiring cub reporter Zane Pinchback armed with only a camera, a water-logged manuscript and a femme fatale, to solve the murder. Still, Zane has a certain trick up his sleeve; although he is from the “wrong side of the tracks” he is a paler version, at least in skin tone, of his brethren.
Man, I never thought I would ever write a paragraph like that!
Mat Johnson works hard to set up the differences in this book, in an effort to show the folly of segregation, the impact of body image in a world that harbours secrets and the weight of living with the perceptions of others. Johnson sets the character up well, as an almost everyman, caught between the two worlds in which he walks. The problem for me is that I found the whole thing a tad offensive, which may have been a way that Johnson is looking to challenge the reader. I just wish that he could have done that without some of the most stereotypical clichéd characters I have seen in quite some time. Sure, Johnson and editor Karen Berger will point out that its the racism that drives the book, but to me it feels like making hay in an already tumultuous field.
Warren Pleece provides the art for the book, with a simple understated style that fits the idea of the time period, with a gray-scale art that manages to demonstrate the nature of Zane’s journey; there is black, there is white and there is the stuff in the middle. In a lot of ways, the art is invocative of how Harvey Dent is drawn in B:TAS. The style is detailed in numerous places, the backgrounds in particular. Yet there is something lacking in the movement through the panels. For a dance party, there isn’t a lot of flapping and only the barest of knee switches.
How you view this book will ultimately depend on your personal point of view; this book probably has its heart in the right place, but I am struggling to find it to be honest. Granted, there is no getting away from the history of the 20’s and how the race movement suffered until…… will let’s be honest, it is still suffering now.
Writing – 3 Stars
Art – 3 Stars
Written by; Mat Johnson
Art by; Warren Pleece
Published by; (Berger Books) Dark Horse Comics