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4.8 out of 5 stars16
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 27 July 2012
I came to this new volume of Blacksad having read the three previous Blacksad stories, and whilst that background is not essential to understanding this fourth story, I highly recommend checking them out first (picking up where original English-language publisher iBooks left off, Dark Horse has been kind enough to collect all three in a single volume). This review refers to the 2012 hardcover edition of 'A Silent Hell'.

After resigning myself to a seemingly interminable wait for the third Blacksad story (originally published in 2005, finally appearing translated from its original French in 2010, courtesy of DH), I was thrilled to stumble across a few pages of what looked to be a new instalment several years back on the site Blacksadmania. Now, following its original publication in 2010, 'A Silent Hell' has arrived, and it is well worth the wait.

I'll admit from the outset that the primary reason I love the Blacksad graphic novels is the art rather than the stories - something not entirely unexpected since several major definitions of film noir, from which the series takes its inspiration, have preferred to examine it as a style rather than a particular narrative or even generic mode. The stories typically lack the labyrinthine plotting usually associated with the form - 'A Silent Hell' is much less a whodunnit than a whydunnit, though there are a couple of unresolved mysteries in there that have really been playing on my mind since I finished the book. Though this volume tells us less about Blacksad and his past than some of the previous stories, it has enough shocks, twists and red herrings to keep you hooked in. Juan Díaz Canales' dialogue really pops and flows and conveys the mood of the story well, whether indulging in a few much-needed laughs at the expense of the hapless and rather seedy journalist Weekly (consistently one of the most fun characters and a nice foil for Blacksad) or unveiling the tragic abuse of power and money so often a part of Blacksad's world. For the sake of those familiar with the series, I won't say any more on that front as it is better to come to the story with minimal prior knowledge.

The art is, as ever, awe-inspiringly beautiful, and an object lesson in conveying a host of clear and dynamic facial expressions without resorting to exagerrated and increasingly abstracted levels of cartooniness. The extraordinary level of detail in Guarnido's backgrounds is a marvel to behold - the spaces the characters move through feel solid and truly 'inhabited' without detracting from the main actions and events of each panel and page (Guarnido knows precisely when to introduce more firmly defined and more elaborate details in order to establish setting and when to soften his lines in order to fix our attention on the foreground). Just witness the sheer variety of design and expression in the numerous incidental characters wandering the streets of Canales and Guarnido's New Orleans. These are not anonymous crowds of identikit stick figures who exist purely to convey busy-ness or simply to react to events concerning the principal characters, they are individuals captured in the midst of their daily conversations, business and errands, and the nature of Blacksad's universe (populated, for the uninitiated, by a host of anthropomorphic mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians) is such that Guarnido succinctly expresses each major and minor character's nature through the physiognomy of the animal he selects. It's less a simple shorthand than an expert grasp of how to delineate character with remarkable economy, humour and energy. On subsequent readings and throughout the progression of the series there are aspects of his style that I am less fond of, such as his tendency to show certain characters (especially Blacksad and those with 'subtler' and more humanoid features) with their mouths frequently closed as they talk unless angry, distressed, laughing, etc., and the more humanoid quality of female characters designated as young and attractive (which, though something of a safety net, would not necessarily be a problem were it not for the fact that it leaves several of the principal female characters across the series as a whole looking very similar in face and build). Yet the strengths of Guarnido's watercolour art generally outweigh these gripes. It is particularly interesting after the murky and muted colours of the earlier Blacksad stories to see him working with a much more varied palette. Just compare the sequence at the beginning of the first volume, 'Somewhere within the Shadows', where Blacksad sits brooding in his cluttered office with a double-page spread where we are every bit as surprised as the great detective himself to stumble into the middle of a Mardi Gras parade. Stunningly intricate effects that astonished on their appearance within the occasional panel in earlier stories, such as the dappled shadows cast on figures walking down tree-lined streets in the sunshine, run throughout entire scenes here. You could spend hours losing yourself in the detail, lighting and texture effects across just a few pages, and that alone is justification for owning this book rather than simply hiring it from a library.

This is to say nothing of the second half of the book, which presents a beautifully written (and translated, lest we forget the fantastic work done by Katie LaBarbera and Bart Beaty) commentary by Guarnido detailing the processes behind his colour-work for each sequence. Written with warmth and intensive (but never boring or dry) insight into the creative challenges and choices presented by the story and illustrated with plenty of sketches that greatly add to an appreciation of the hard work involved, this is a fascinating addition to the volume.

If you don't already feel spoiled by this point, the book ends with two short stories never before published in translation, including a friendly face that fans of the series will remember from earlier instalments.

All in all, this is a magnificent volume that rewards multiple readings, provides brilliant value for money and is beautifully put together by Dark Horse. An absolute delight from start to finish.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 December 2012
Mid-20th century N'Orleans and Detective John Blacksad is in the Big Easy, hired by the suggestively named Faust, the owner of a popular music label to track down Sebastian "Little Hand" Fletcher, a wayward jazz pianist and the star of the label whose heroin addiction may have gotten the best of him. But as Blacksad investigates the characters' murky lives in this outwardly jovial town, he finds the place riddled with corruption and murder, a bloody trail leading from the poorhouses to the highest levels of power. But there's a killer on the streets and the air is filled with mardi gras and voodoo... and time is running out.

For those new to this series - and really, you can just start right here rather than pick up the previous book - this is the world of Raymond Chandler and James Cain; that is, noir. But with animals. Every character is an animal-headed humanoid doing the things humans would normally do. And the book does hit all the noir buttons - the gritty detective, the dames, the drugs, the smoky bars and boozy nights, the fights and deaths and guns. If you love noir, comics, and animals this is your book.

But my problem with this book, like the first book, is the lack of originality in the characters and story. Blacksad is your average gumshoe: he's tough, he's street smart, he's tortured and angry - and he's unoriginal. Same goes for every character in the book. The evil rich guy, his entitled smug son, the working class depicted as honest, salt of the earth heroes, and so on. And the story of finding the pianist is barely touched on because it's over really soon and the subplot of the masked killer is easily solved by page 3 - it's as obvious to figure out as an 80s Columbo TV movie where the bad guy is always the most famous person in the cast. Then the real story begins which takes the form of a staple of the noir genre - the abuse of power and the corruption it brings. The private eye against those in power, the little guy versus the big guy! Etc...

The finale of the book is a poorly chosen plot point mainly because it relies heavily upon an artistic form comics cannot replicate: music. I won't go too much into it but suffice it to say that not since Alan Moore's atrocious "LXG: 1969" has there been such an unconvincingly written use of music in a comic book. And it's anti-climactic, coming off as more than a bit contrived. It may have seemed poetical in the planning of this story but reads very clumsily in the execution.

The art is faultless and every page - every panel! - is a master-class in illustration. From the simplest of scenes like Blacksad interviewing a drug dealer in a run-down bar to full page street scenes, Juanjo Guarnido brings it every time. For a noir story, the New Orleans in Mardi Gras setting gives Guarnido the chance to inject glorious amounts of colour to the normally muted stories of Blacksad and he takes full advantage of the newly opened up colour palette for this story, producing page after page of first class art. The full page street scene of the carnival in full swing is a page I would love to buy as a picture to hang on my wall. It's so detailed and full of mini-stories in the enormous cast of unknown characters living in that page, you'll find yourself happily pausing the story to examine the scene in the detail it deserves.

"A Silent Hell" is a slimmer volume containing one story while Dark Horse's previous Blacksad book had three. Dark Horse have beefed up the page count by including a 50-page "making of" commentary by Guarnido who walks the reader through the steps he took in creating this story. While the book is well produced with high quality paper and the artwork is gorgeous, I felt the book was overpriced for what is essentially a 54 page story plus two 2 page short stories. The additional 50 pages of behind the scenes material is really only going to appeal to the devoted fan rather than the casual reader who probably won't be as interested in finding out how Guarnido decided to draw a particular scene. It's inclusion seems to be Dark Horse's justification for charging so much for the book.

While this is a beautifully illustrated, well produced book, look beneath the surface texture and the story and characterisation is lacking nuance, originality and true intrigue. It is an average detective story that is fairly interesting but lacking the integral qualities that would make it a great comic book. In the end it is a pretty but insubstantial and forgettable read.
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on 22 November 2012
I've loved the Blacksad stories for some time now and this one has lived up to every expectation I had so far. The story has the feel of a good noir, as well as a road movie. It's a gripping tale with riveting dialogue, characters that demand my attention and a phenomenal artwork that deserves its laurels.

From the gritty back streets of post-war New Orleans to the colorful vistas of the Mardi Gras parades, the creators have done their homework and delivered a vision of America in the 50s, embellished with a personal story of loss, broken families and lies, exactly what you expect of a good noir, with no pretensions and no holding back. This story shows you everything.
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on 14 November 2012
Lovely lovely lovely! It's not as long a book as the first Blacksad from Dark Horse comics, which includes three stories rather than just one with extra bits, but I'm still very happy with what's in it. Guarnido's artwork is just breathtaking. He is a master at creating atmosphere, emotion, movement and the melding of human and animal. The stories aren't that memorable for me but that's a small quibble. For anyone interested in stories drawn beautifully, I would strongly recommend it. If you haven't bought the first, larger book of their stories, buy it first, then buy this one. Visual stories don't get much better than this.
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on 21 February 2013
Even if you don't like anthropomorphic animals, or film-noire, or detective stories, or cats, or whatever. Buy it. Every single panel is gorgeous and stunning to look at. In fact, they're so good, you'll probably forget what the story is.

Overall I enjoyed this issue, not just because of the dark portrait it paints of the blues-era but also because we get a brief glimpse of Blacksad as a boy (kitten?), and you just know that it's a set-up for the next story.

Enjoy!
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on 4 September 2013
If you want to be more into watercolour, and drawing full of life with a lot of motion and interesting storyline, this is your book.
This book gave me a lot of experience for my own projects. The anatomy, characters, colours, atmosphere, everything is perfect.
I've never read a better Noir comic book story.
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on 16 March 2015
I loved the first Blacksad novel and was equally entranced by this offering. The art is as magical as ever and the colours of New Orleans are vivid and gorgeous. The story itself is as compelling as the characters and while I was hoping for more of a crescendo from the ending, it was still a very enjoyable read.
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on 3 August 2014
Phenomenal artwork and strong writing - this collection also contains a brilliant art-process section with discussion about the panel painting and process of "lighting" each scene that I would have gladly paid money for by itself.
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on 17 March 2014
Absolutely marvelous artwork. The setting and background of the individual frames, are amazing! It is deep as every character is not only an animal, but also has the personality of the animal in question.
Love it!!!
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on 16 September 2015
Amazing! Un-matched colors, light and drawing skills!
I'm not a fan of detective stories, but the quality of the art and the skill-level of panel design and overall comic book creation makes this a joy!
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