Previously: Black Cloud #8.
After last month’s action-packed issue, we slow things down a bit here and get into some character-driven drama. Zelda is about to take us even deeper into this looking glass, but not before we get to hear more about how she and Frank are trash. Also, I think I love Naomi.
Alright, so the previous issue saw Zelda face off against Zorrbow, and that altercation left her a bit worse for wear, which is exactly where we pick up with her here. We get a full five-page, single-scene cold open with Dottie Havemeyer, Zelda, and Naomi. I already loved Dottie, for both her design and the attitude with which she is written. Zelda is great, of course, since she is the lead. Naomi, though? I remember liking her in her previous appearances, but I do not recall her being this awesome; well, her design has always been very good, but that’s not what I mean. We know some of her history with Zelda, and we got a bit of her general negative opinion of Zelda when we first met her, but there is something about her here that is terrific. Iván Brandon’s writing here is great because we fully get that she doesn’t just dislike Zelda; she hates her guts and does not care one bit about Zelda or her life. I mean, she talks mad shit to and about Zelda, while Zelda is laying there bleeding all her rainbow blood out and dying. And that attitude lasts the entire issue. She does not give Zelda an inch, and I love it.
And that’s just the cold open. Beyond seeing deep into the relationship well between Zelda and Naomi, we also get back to the Old World and get some slight insight into the relationship between Frank and Lem. You know, Frank is the guy who was left to take over after Zelda skipped town, and Lem is his chameleon pal who owns the black-and-white restaurant we’ve seen a few times. Well, I suppose we don’t really get too deep into their relationship, but what we do get shines a little more light on just what the big problems are in the Old World.
One of my complaints about Black Cloud‘s first arc, comprising its first five issues, was its lack of definition. Plot definition, character definition, objective definition: it lacked overall clarity in just what it was we were seeing and what we should be getting out of it. Thankfully, since issue #6, the series has gone a long way toward solidifying itself. However, one problem has remained, and I suppose it’s a big one: What’s the point? That probably sounds glib, right? We’re eight issues in, and I don’t know the point? I get the general plot we’ve seen so far, but I don’t feel as though the series has clearly laid out any real point to itself. I mean, ideas are powerful, and the stories we tell are important; words have meaning, and all that, but in what way is all of that going to be applied to this series to lead to something?
What I’m getting at is this issue finally puts a concrete idea into my head about just what is at stake and what it all means. It comes from the way Frank is written. We’ve got these cats and these gremlins (or whatever the fuck they are), and they’re more-or-less rebelling in the Old World, right? It’s in the way Frank talks about them, using the language of ideas and stories, that puts things into perspective, at least partially, for me. We see these rebels to be dangerous and destructive; their ideas are demonstratively bad, but Frank talks about them in a way that sounds like these people who insist we should give equal time to “both sides”, even when one side is objectively wrong. He says “I can’t just erase the ideas I don’t agree with,” and maybe that’s what we’re starting to see is the point of the Old World and its failing system. Maybe the point is a lack of conviction and becoming too deferential. Sometimes one idea should become an absolute because it’s simply correct. Frank is unwilling to accept that, so the Old World is crumbling? I don’t know, but I like it, so I’m going with it.
The series’ usual artist Greg Hinkle tags out, and the art for this issue is handled by Saumin Patel (Devi, 18 Days, Caped). Since there is not a ton of action here, most of the work goes into communicating emotion. I’m not familiar with Patel’s previous work, but he seems to wield a softer pen than does Hinkle, which lends itself to the more dramatic facial expressions needed here: when Naomi is laying into Zelda or when Frank is staring into this bifrost-ish hole door to The Void moping about everything. All that being said, the artwork is overall on the same high level it typically is, so most of this issue is basically the same as if Hinkle had illustrated it. But there is one area where I feel Patel’s presence changed the tone of what we got, for the better, and that is in the design of Todd Havemeyer. You remember Todd; he’s Dottie’s son, and Zelda abandoned him in Old World. Here, he has shape-shifted again, and this new design is horrifying. The way he’s drawn here makes me feel bad for him. I can’t say Greg Hinkle definitely would not have drawn this design this way, but from my experience with Hinkle’s work in the previous eight issues, I assume the design on Todd here would have been more comical, and I would not have felt all that bad for him.
This month’s issue returns the series’ back matter to not simply a sparsely populated area but a completely barren wasteland: there is no back matter, at all. Issues don’t have to have back matter, of course, especially if the readers are not engaging and writing in for a letters section, but back matter is something I value as a reader. This is especially disappointing given how great that back matter was last month. Not having anything there does not ruin the issue or take away from the narrative value, but having an issue where it’s not there leaves me feeling like the issue is missing something. But, hey, this is their story; I can’t just input ideas I agree with.