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Black Metal, Book 1
Written by Rick Spears; Illustrated by Chuck BB
As someone who’s not a fan of Black Metal the Music Genre, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Black Metal the Graphic Novel. I hoped I’d like it. I love Chuck BB’s (Secret Skull) art for one thing. I’ve also heard great things about Rick Spears’ Teenagers from Mars. Mostly though, while I don’t dig a lot of the music, I’m very entertained by the trappings of Metal: the skulls, the demon lords…the Vikings. If Spears and BB were able to just tell an awesome story with all that stuff, Black Metal would succeed.
Undoubtedly, readers will find more enjoyment in it the closer they relate to the music and the culture that Black Metal celebrates. There’s no false advertising in that title. Shawn and Sam Stronghand are an orphaned pair of junior high twins who’ve been shuffled from school to school and foster home to foster home. They also – as the book says – have “a penchant for the darkest of metal.” When they play an album by a hardcore band called Frost Axe, they hear the legend of a war in Hell between two Barons: a huge, horned bruiser called the Roth and the sinister demon named Von Char who defeated the Roth through trickery. Playing the record backwards, the twins are pulled to Hell where they recover the Roth’s Sword of Atoll and return to Earth with it.
Von Char doesn’t like this of course and sends minions to kill the boys. As the Stronghands (and their gross little foster brother) try to survive, they encounter a band of ancient warriors (action!), Norse gods (adventure!), and cute girls (romance!) only one of whom is human.
For the most part, Black Metal is awesome, funny, and even sort of touching. The boys are tough and put up a good front, but Spears humanizes them with humor, like when they profess their disdain for Easter until their foster mom asks if the Old Gods come with chocolate bunnies. “Damn your sweet confectionary bribes,” says Shawn. You can tell they’re kind of sweet on her even as they’re complaining about her taking them to the mall and her love of argyle. They even get a little protective of her booger-eating son when demons threaten.
What I didn’t care for so much was a lot of the dialogue. Some funny jokes notwithstanding, the twins and the rest of the Metal crowd in the book (human and demonic alike) have an overly formal way of talking that begins to grate after a while. “We are not Goth and your grievous error offends greatly.” That kind of thing. If it was just the boys talking like that, it might have been endearing. When everyone’s doing it, it sounds pretentious and annoying. Especially when characters are stealing lines from Predator, Lord of the Rings, and The Ten Commandments in order to sound hardcore.
Still, that’s small potatoes for the level of enjoyment Black Metal delivers otherwise. Even though it’s Book 1 and ends with a set up to a possible sequel, it’s a complete story. I’m not giving anything away by saying that the last scene is no more a cliffhanger than the last scene in the movie Carrie. Sure, you can tell another story (and I’d like to read it), but it’s a satisfying read all by itself.
More important than that to my fondness for the book though, I came to really like the characters. I rooted for them whole-heartedly, both in love and in their battle against the Forces of…well, let’s say the Forces of Darker Than They Are. It’s Metal, but it’s sweet Metal. Not that I’d want the Stronghand brothers to hear me say that.
Discussion Question: What’s the most interesting depiction of Hell you’ve read in a comic?