Previously: Black Cloud #5.
After a nearly four-month hiatus since its first arc came to an end in August, Black Cloud returned us to its dual-world universe inhabited by whimsical characters and a heretofore largely disjointed parable about the power, and danger, of storytelling.
As one of its writers Jason Latour says in a letter found in the back matter of this issue, Black Cloud is “a story that’s about challenging the functions and power of narrative.” Frankly, that is one lofty-ass goal. So lofty, in fact, the first three issues of this series were arguably a casualty of its creators’ oversized aspirations. There was definitely a base narrative there, of Zelda having botched a revolution in her world and run away to “our” world, but it was all over the place; it didn’t have, at least for me, a point. It turns out some functions of a working narrative shouldn’t really be challenged, right? There needs to be some structure upon which things are built.
Issue #4 gave us something to bite into; it finally properly introduced us to Frank, Zelda’s old partner in that revolution. More than that, though, it gave us much-much-needed context for what had, to that point, been a bunch of loose yarn just begging to be made into a quilt. Issue #5 was fine; it did a lot of the same setting up as issue #4. For a first arc, it was decidedly more difficult than it should have been to hang in there and trust things would find their way clear eventually. In that letter, Latour does not explicitly address these problems with that first arc, but he does mention “tumbles”, so I’m guessing he–and the team–at least understand the first arc could have been better.
I say all of that, and I realize a lot of it is negative, because I’m glad to say sticking it out with this series appears to have been a great decision. This issue genuinely feels like what I thought we’d get from this series all along. The writing, I mean; the art has been very good from the first panel. The writing here, though, is finally immersive, it’s entertaining, and it’s funny. And, listen, I would not have stuck through five issues if the writing were bad; it wasn’t bad before, but it lacked life. The writing throughout that first arc felt–I don’t want to say “pretentious”, but it felt almost artificial. It was as if it were being written to “challenge functions and power”. It was ambitious, and it didn’t really translate for me.
Here, though, the artifice feels as though it’s been lifted. There’s a lightness and a humility to the dialogue that serves as a strong connective tissue carrying you from panel-to-panel. To be entirely honest, the issue does begin with some stuff I both didn’t really care about and, frankly, didn’t follow very well, but then we get away from that. We follow Frank for most of his issue, and his story introduces us to one of the Oldfahers we’ve heard about, and this Oldfather’s dialogue is just pure entertainment, while also providing an abundant amount of plot development. Coming out of this issue, you know so much more about what the hell has gone on, and what the hell is currently going on, than you did after the entirety of the first arc. There’s just so much to take in here, and nearly all of it is digestible. To that end, this issue adds very welcome subtitles which tell the reader when the narrative jumps from present time to the past; a very small detail but one that helps a good bit.
I know I’m gushing, but I can’t say enough just how much more I enjoyed this issue than any of the previous issues. The characters: I came away from this issue not only with a better understanding of who characters we already knew are but with a clear idea of who new characters are. The writing here is just so much clearer than it has been in previous issues, and it got there–and this is important–without sacrificing the creators’ stated goal of challenging the power of narrative. That idea is still present; it just seems to be more structured now.
I’m going on about the writing, but that’s because of the improvement in that area. The art, though? It feels weird to gloss over it, especially for this reason, but it has been very good in previous issues and continues to be very good here. Obviously, the elephant in the room is the fact Greg Hinkle did not illustrate this issue; instead, Paul Reinwand (Aloha, Hawaiian Dick) temporarily takes over those duties for one issue. Reinwand has a noticeably different style to Hinkle but not so noticeably as to be distracting at all. In addition to just the regular artwork required for an issue, since this issue introduced several new characters, Reinwand also got to do some great character design. The art continues to be fantastic with this series, and as always, it is elevated even higher by Eisner Award-winning colorist Matt Wilson.
This issue, like the ones before it, does not have much back matter to speak of. We get the aforementioned letter from Jason Latour explaining Greg Hinkle’s temporary absence, among other things; and we get a preview of VS, a new series from Black Cloud co-creator Ivan Brandon, Esad Ribic, and Nic Klein, coming to Image Comics in February 2018.
I know I may be setting myself up for disappointment; after all, this is just one issue, but I choose to err on the side of optimism, generally, but especially when it comes to things I sincerely want to enjoy. With that said, I have high hopes going forward with this series, and I hope any readers who weren’t able to stick it out through that rough first arc can maybe find their way back. Of course, if you didn’t have the same problems I had with the first five issues, well, I guess you’re already there, and I look forward to having you back here with the next issue.