From the stack: Black Metal

August 6, 2007

In an early sequence in Oni’s Black Metal, a cute girl is reading Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. Brazen coat-tailing, you say? Possibly, but it doesn’t really matter, because Rick Spears and Chuck BB have built their own endearing world with a distinct set of materials. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Scott and company reading and liking the book.

Shawn and Sam are twin orphans with a love for the titular musical genre and contempt for just about everything else. They’ve earned an almost mythical reputation for antisocial misbehavior by the time they enroll in a new junior high school. When asked which twin is the evil one, their gleeful, unison answer is, “We both are.”

But they wouldn’t get in quite so much trouble if stupid, conventional people weren’t quite so provoking. Left to their own devices, they’d probably just find old vinyl, play it backwards in their garage, and head-bang until the break of dawn. Unfortunately, local laws and a well-meaning foster mother force them into contact with horrors like the cafeteria and the mall.

One trip to pre-fab, retail hell does yield interesting results, though. A Frost Axe album provides not only musical diversion but an actual quest for the surly siblings, leading them on an action-packed road trip. Will they feel more at home in capital-h Hell than they did in the suburban equivalent?

It’s a strangely endearing combination of high adventure and low comedy. I’m not a metal fan by any stretch of the imagination, but Shawn and Sam’s enthusiasm for it and the mythos around it is contagious. Spears makes these spooky little thugs very likable, and he surrounds them with a motley crew of friends and foes. BB’s illustrations are of the creepy-cute variety, and they really work for this material. The pages are laced with dark comedy and a weird kind of sweetness that’s right in step with the script.

Okay, so not everybody will be comfortable with a funny comic about kids embracing their satanic heritage. I think Black Metal is good-natured enough to make that a non-issue, though I recognize that mileage will certainly vary.

(Based on a complimentary preview provided by the publisher.)