A Josh Bayer Two-Fer : “Black Star”

The task facing Josh Bayer’s new Tinto Press comic, Black Star, is both twofold and daunting : to add depth, texture, and significance to the “main work” it refers back to and, in a very real sense, occurs within — that being the just-reviewed Theth : Tomorrow Forever  — and to justify its own existence as an individual, self-contained work.

Which, for the record, it isn’t — but that needn’t necessarily prevent it from functioning as one. If you’re confused by this review right about now, that’s okay — if you’re confused by the comic itself, considerably less so.

Adapted from the classic Dick Briefer Frankenstein story “The Faceless Monster,” this richly-drawn (and even more richly-colored) book is also a “book-within-a-book,” a meta-textual narrative sprung from the mind of Theth “himself” metaphorically, his creator literally — and one that calls into question to an even greater degree the separation, if any actually exists, between the two. But that question is best considered with the fullness of Bayer’s artistic ouevre in mind.

After all, this is the same guy who’s made re-purposed and re-imagined versions of old Bill Mantlo-scripted Rom comics a staple of his career, and to his considerable credit has managed to make something reasonably new out of such largely-forgotten material, thereby showing the intrinsic value that even the most disposable of pop-cultural artifacts can, and often do, contain. Making something that somebody else made first well and truly your own is a tough gig, but Bayer’s done it before — and, to give away the “plot” of this review probably too early, he does the same here. But that’s only half the battle.

The greater challenge is, of course, fashioning at least a borderline-necessary supplement to Theth’s story. To imbue enough of “him” into it that readers of the longer, admittedly more broad-scoped book can take real value from this side-step. Your mileage on that is really going to vary — it’s not like you need this to enjoy and appreciate that — but between the main story, the five-page backup strip, the Jeff Test cover and the Matthew Thurber and Jason T. Miles “pin-up” illustration pages, the job of fleshing out Theth : Tomorrow Forever is more than successfully accomplished.

What’s perhaps less clear is how much actual utility this comic has when considered entirely on its own, cut loose from its “parental” moorings. It’s a joy to look and read, to be sure, and that’s enough in and of itself, but readers of this comic only really are missing out on so much, on levels both liminal and subliminal, that it’s fair to say they’re cheating themselves out of the “full experience” of all this work has to offer. That’s not to say it doesn’t stand tall and proud individually — how many cartoonists would sacrifice at least their non-drawing arm to produce something this technically and creatively proficient? — but it is to say that the exact same material means considerably more when taken in conjunction with the “mothership” from which it was “launched.” I definitely recommend picking it up — but I recommend picking up Tomorrow Forever along with it to get a complete understanding not so much of what you’re reading here, but why you’re reading it and how to best understand and appreciate it in its totality.

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Black Star is available for $6.00 directly from Josh Bayer at http://joshbayer.storenvy.com/products/28425626-black-star

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