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4.1 out of 5 stars
Black Hole
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2006
This has to be one of the greatest graphic novels of the past few years. If David Lynch did teen-drama this would be it. The alienation of teenage life taken to the max. Beautifully drawn, visually like nothing else around. Story of subtlety and eery atmosphere. This is a work of depth and sublime power. Totally recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 9 August 2007
Set amongst high school students in a fictional mid-70s Seattle, this is a compelling and horrific graphic novel about urban alienation, teenage despair and the ways in which fear can spread through a community.

Charles Burns uses the metaphor of plague - a mysterious, AIDS-like illness which spreads through sexual contact, with horrifying results. The changes contagion brings are individual - often seeming to echo the carrier's own fears or hidden traits. One boy develops a second mouth which always tells the truth; an infected girl learns to shed her skin like a snake.

As with the shapeshifting feats of traditional comicbook superheroes, it's unclear whether catching the bug is a curse or a blessing in disguise. New powers accompany the loss of normality, although the consequences vary according to the character's moral integrity. There's a Freudian dimension to all this, too; sometimes the transformations of the disease are nightmare echoes of the physical changes of adolescence, the fears of infection a kind of amplified sexual neurosis.

Against the weight of all this metaphor, the sub-plot involving a series of murders almost seems extraneous. Nevertheless, this is a good buy: originally serialised in twelve parts and appearing over the course of a decade, this new edition brings the entire story together along with Burns' darkly beautiful black-and-white illustrations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I don't often buy graphic novels (with some notable exceptions) - despite my continuing adultescence and status as a member Generation-Y, I'm not really that into typical comic books or superheroes - you'll never find me in a Spiderman T-shirt and I find the writing in even some of the "good" comic book serials, well, a bit far-fetched and stupid. I'm glad I took a chance with this one, though and I hope you, dear reader, will too!

Set in Seattle in the early/mid 1970s, "Black Hole" inhabits the damp, sticky, slightly wiffy world of teenage angst, as it following the lives of a group of senior high school kids over the course of a long (somewhat rainy and miserable) summer: so far, so "Dazed and Confused".

The fantastical conceit here (don't worry, no vampires or werewolves in sight), is the underlying presence of a disturbing, teen-only epidemic that's gradually infecting our young charges one-by-one. "The Bug", as it's referred to colloquially, is spread via sexual contact (or is it?) and manifests itself in the form of a spectrum of strange physical mutations - from the subtle and concealable, to monstrous physical deformities; X-men it ain't. Regardless of the severity, the over-riding fact seems to be this: once you've got "The Bug", that's you forever. Those afflicted find themselves ostracised by their peers and some seek refuge by running away into the local woods, leaving them vulnerable to drink, drugs and other perils...

Clearly the disease trope has parallels with the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, particularly in the early years when a diagnosis of the so-called "Gay Plague" was effectively a death sentence, and where fears about blood, hygiene and transmission vectors lead greater society to condemn and quarantine those unfortunate sufferers. Having said that, it would be lazy to allow such a pat interpretations; there's a whole lot going on within these beautifully bound pages.

Teenage themes abound: identity, personal experimentation, awkwardness, conformity vs. independence, ennui, isolation and otherness all feature prominently but the story unfolds an elliptical, open-ended and deliberately ambiguous manner. The heavy symbolism in the drawing (lots of slits, incisions, breaks and openings, the title itself), combined with beautiful draughtsmanship in the monochrome inking, suggests layers of complexity and meaning bubbling under the surface - I can't remember a graphic novel that truly demonstrated the uniqueness of the art-form so clearly; makes you think that maybe Alan Moore was right about the futility of adapting them for the screen. Notably, luminaries such as David Fincher have tried (and subsequently given up).

Like Moore, there's an undercurrent of eroticism prevalent throughout which (unlike Moore) thankfully never feels like exploitation or just there for male gratification; it adds a heady credibility to the thick, hormonal atmosphere - there's a strong autobiographical element here for the writer it seems. The All-or-nothing extremes of youthful emotions are captured with succinctness, sensitivity and poignancy throughout. That's not to say there isn't a brutal, sinister quality to it as well, with echoes of Columbine and Astoria in the background.

Some other commentators have mentioned there's a lack of humour - probably have to agree - which can make it a bit depressing. In addition, due to stylistic choices by the author, some of the characters look quite similar, which, combined with the semi-flashback structure, can initially cause confusion between key characters. These are fairly mild criticisms of what is a masterpiece of the genre.

Maybe you never read graphic novels. Perhaps were maybe put off by the macho "costumed vigilantes" of "Watchmen" or "The Dark Knight Returns"; perhaps you thought comics were just corny and superficial. If you find yourself in that position, maybe take a chance with "Black Hole" - it might just change your opinion....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2012
I was unfamiliar with the work of Charles Burns, well i was aware of Ghostworld but had no interest in reading it, but when I read the synopsis for Black Hole i had a feeling i would enjoy its strange creepiness. I was not wrong. Being a body horror fan i was impressed by the ideas in the novel but also the subtlety Burns uses in introducing these horrific infections into the story. This is really about the alienation one feels during those horrible teenage years, Burns increases this angst with a sexually transmitted disease that has numerous effects upon the sufferer, bumps, growths, tails that only adds to the teens sense of loneliness.

The artwork is some of the best i have seen in a graphic novel and has a linocut/woodblock quality in stark black and white, this imagery is beautiful, mundane grotesque and surreal all at once and is a fantaastic achievement in itself. The story starts slow but reveals itself through the various stories of the infected, i had no idea where it was going to go but was hooked and actually finished the book in one sitting but know i will be sitting down and starting it again tomorrow.

A great book featuring beautiful art and a dark, touching, creepy surreal story.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2007
Black Hole is a book about adolescents in an American town, who suffer from a strange disease which causes mutations in their appearance. Instead of just making this a trite metaphor for puberty, Burns runs with the concept and makes it an important part of the world he creates where the characters run from home and go to live with hippies and drug dealers or camp out in the woods, afraid of the world they have run from.

I read Black Hole over two Spring evenings at the park. After the first half of the book I felt disappointed because it seemed like nothing especially interesting had happened and what had happened was too slow and unclear (several of the characters look similar). However, beyond the half way point, everything falls into place and the character focus becomes a bit sharper with you caring about the fates of certain people in the book and feeling angry about how they are treated. It may spend a while setting the scene, but when the plot gets going and the character relationships develop, it becomes a fascinating work and impossible to put down. I particularly like the way that violence is for a long time absent from the story then strikes suddenly and shockingly.

I do feel that the book could have been edited down and better presented. Although the art style is nice-looking and Burns is highly skilled at facial expressions and body language, I did feel at times it was generic and inarticulate - there were only very few points in the book where I felt compelled to stop my flow and step back to admire the composition of a scene. The overall atmosphere that the style creates is powerful though, with a concentration of black which makes you feel at times that it's not black ink on a white page, but white struggling to partition the depth of darkness - particularly menacing and effective in the scenes that take place in the woods.

Black Hole is a thrilling and intelligent work which may be a one-shot read but is a great read, nonetheless.
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on 22 September 2013
This book has some very well described drug experiences, some great imagery of junkyards full of broken glass that should recall dark anxious dreams a lot of people have; a few other well executed moments disturbing and atmospheric.
But I feel as a story it just feels anticlimactic and unfinished. When I first read it I thought maybe I just didn't "get" this abrupt ending, but I've heard more people say they felt the story was building up to something that never happened. The serialization of this story was over quite a long time and I suspect Burns just lost patience with the story and wanted to end it.
I think the strengths of the book could have been achieved in a visual sequence of strange places and bodily transformation and decay; I'm sure Burns would insist that the characters were an important part of the whole thing but as the work stands, whatever feeling you had for the characters just sort of puffs out into smoke at the end, because it really needed more character development to succeed as a story.

I think it's a shame they didn't include the original short story that appeared in Taboo and the covers to the comic series. Maybe it was felt that the color covers and a bonus short piece would make it less graphic novelly and too much like a collection, but I think some of the covers were one of the best things about Black Hole.

((The star rating represents how much I want you to buy this item and should not be taken as a measurement of artistic merit))
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on 8 February 2013
'Black Hole' is a mix of fantasy and emotional realism set in 1970s Seattle. There's a 'teenage plague' causing mutations in those who pick it up through sexual infection. Against this backdrop, a group of characters from the same High School live out their young lives and loves, hampered in many cases by catching the disease or being associated with those who do.

Burns's visual style is distinctive and attractive, and the quality of illustration overall is high. He has clearly put a great deal of thought and work into each and every panel. Where it fell down a bit for me was the plot. He's great at evoking a period, but he's also trying to say something about general teenage angst and falling in love for the first time through this story, but it didn't quite hold together. There are interesting episodes but he seems to scratch the surface of various lives and characters without really going any further or bringing things to any resolution. I don't think of myself as a lazy reader, and sometimes an author can make a book more powerful by leaving some loose ends and a few mysterious characters, but here it just didn't feel satisfying. My main reaction on finishing was 'Oh - OK. Was that it?'.

Overall, a mixed bag. It has some great illustration and feels very truthful as recreation of the teenage mindset, but it felt ultimately unsatisfying and abrupt. It's sometimes billed as one of the great graphic novels - I don't regret reading it but I certainly wouldn't go that far.
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on 15 September 2014
I get it, I think. There's an STD going around that causes teens to develop strange mutations, some worse than others. Skin splits, they grow tails, horrendous buboes, an extra tiny mouth, that sort of thing. The whole thing is a metaphor for adolescence, teen angst, the confusion of bodily and mental changes that kids go through at that age.

And it's reasonably well done. The artwork is solid (and I'm not usually a huge fan of the blocky B&W style, but I confess it works reasonably well here, adding a certain starkness). The problem lies in the fact that I couldn't really find much of a story. Sure, stuff happens, but we come in in the middle of people's lives, then we exit in the middle of same lives (or at least some of them), and some stuff has happened in between, but there's little rhyme or reason to the whole thing. It's like reading somebody's old diary, you get a snapshot of how they were and what happened at a specific point in their life, but none of the background and you don't get to find out what happened next.

I'd like to check out more from the same author, since he obviously has talent, but I don't feel this reached its full potential
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on 27 June 2013
The art work in this graphic novel is excellent and the storyline is also of a high quality. Definitely not for children though. To say the plot is all about teenage angst would be a little harsh, but I think it would be fair to say that the main theme probably centres around the issues faced with being a teenager and awkward transition from childhood into adulthood. There are a few subtexts interweaved with the main narrative, both cultural and ideological but for me the main draw is the way the stroy is told, increasing with intensity as it progresses. I like the way the reader is allowed to make their own conclusions at the end, although I did feel slightly disappointed some of the threads where left unresolved... I might have to read it a few more times to really get it though. Good book and worth adding to your collection, if you don't already own it. I'll be checking out more of Charles Burns' work soon.
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on 15 March 2012
Visually, this book is jaw droppingly beautiful, and the relentless colouring and illustration really lends itself well to the eerie tone of the story. I think. That is, I'm not entirely sure what the story is. I got the metaphor of the plague affecting the teenagers, and alienation and being an outcast and all that, and I was engaging with Chris and Rob and the other girl but then - nothing. I was trying to work out the victims of The Subplot but I couldn't and I hadn't spent enough time with the characters to really care, even though events are horrific. I was certainly affected by this book, and I will not forget it, but it's very puzzling. I don't think there's enough of a build up to truly involve the reader.
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