ADVANCE REVIEW! Black Dynamite: Slave Island will come out on April 20, 2011
Holy shit: they sold Black Dynamite into slavery.
The premise of Black Dynamite: Slave Island would have made for an amazing sequel to the blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite -- sort of a Shaft in Africa but with elements of something like Women in Cages but with less perversely sadistic male gaze. But the people who made Black Dynamite decided to bring such a killer idea to comics instead of dashing off some half-baked nonsense for a lark and a quick cash-in. And for that, I thank them. And comics thanks them.
To be fair, only about the first half of Black Dynamite the movie is truly great. I admire the film’s later escalation with Kung Fu Island -- and the phrase “Kung fu treachery” regularly pop up in my vocabulary -- and the ensuing assault on the White House leading into a battle with Richard Nixon, but it feels like the filmmakers were afraid that they’d never get to do a sequel, so they finished the movie prematurely and decided to cut to parts from Black Dynamite in Kung Fu Negro and Black Dynamite Goes to Washington. That said, I can never really fault a movie for going big.
Black Dynamite: Slave Island is better than the film in the above respect -- it tells a complete story and never betrays its goal of trying to come off as a Black Dynamite comic book that kids with afros and bellbottoms could pick up from the local drugstore after sneaking into the movie theatre, complete with a hilarious blaxploitation take of the Charles Atlas comic book ads. Even with that bit of parody, it’s way more straight-faced than the film.
It helps that writer Brian Ash (working from a story by the film’s screenwriters) doesn’t try to rely on any comic book goofs. One of the best things about the Black Dynamite film was the amount of blaxploitation cinema tropes -- not just in plot, but in meta-elements, too, like bad acting and questionable editing, where botched takes make it into the film despite an actor breaking character. I’m not sure comics have equivalents and, even more importantly, I’m not sure how they would fit into the book a way that wouldn’t disrupt the pacing. Movies keep going at the same pace no matter what you’re doing, but comics sit there on the page, requiring the reader to do some of the work getting through it.
Which isn’t to say that Black Dynamite: Slave Island isn’t funny or silly. For one thing, Black Dynamite’s first clue comes from Roots author Alex Haley, who’s a doctor for some reason. Immediately after there’s an entire two-page sequence where Black Dynamite fights a shark, killing the beast with its own fin. Brian Ash’s script could have been more overtly funny -- it’s hard to read it and not see opportunities where bit of narration or dialogue here and there could have been tweaked to make it as parodic as the film -- but I appreciate it for feeling like an artifact of its era as opposed to a pastiche of it. As a result, on some levels, Black Dynamite: Slave Island is more pure than the film it’s based on.
The heart of the book is the work of artist Jun LoFamia, a 74-year-old Filipino artist who drew horror comics for DC and Warren in the 1970s, giving Black Dynamite: Slave Island an amazing sense of authenticity that further separates the book from more over-the-top takes on the genre like Jim Rugg’s Afrodesiac. Aided and abetted by JM Ringuet’s period-perfect color job, LoFamia’s renditions are old-school, but his dynamic, angular layouts might be a bit too modern for the book. But I might also be quibbling. Either way what’s contained within the panels is astonishing.
Anyway, at least the layouts are handmade, and there are more overt modern touches (read: computer-generated) that really work against the feel of the book. The digital lettering is obvious, especially when it comes to the sound effects. It was probably cheaper than getting someone to letter the book by hand, but such an easy, cost-saving measure unfortunately also disrupts the period feel. Even worse is the Photoshop-y map of Slave Island in the backmatter, which could have really benefitted from some more analog TLC.
However, in the face of the macro, my complaints are relatively micro. Considering how many comics get it all wrong, Black Dynamite: Slave Island should be celebrated for getting it most right -- as both a fun comic book sequel and a loving tribute to the late All-Star Running Back Ferrante Jones.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Ray Tate also reviewed Black Dynamite: Slave Island. Read his thoughts, too!
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