THOUGHT BUBBLE FORTNIGHT! Nick Gonzo’s Black Dragon #1 is not an easy book to define. Yes, it’s science fiction. That’s the simple but ultimately unsatisfying categorisation. But it’s also a satirical dissection of lives lived through social media, a nod in the direction of schlock science fantasy classics, a mix and match series of jumps between mediums of delivery, and a quietly caustic critique of corporate greed. Comics with an anti-capitalist agenda are needed now more than ever and represent material I will always gravitate towards, but at its heart Black Dragon also has a most imaginative central premise. One that Gonzo only really has time to set up in this issue, something that only makes it all the more intriguing.
In a future where space exploration has become another avenue for corporate exploitation, the discovery of a new element with miraculous medical properties becomes the biggest business opportunity in history. The problem is, however, that the celestial body this element has been found on is a literal planet-sized dragon, journeying through space on its feeding quest, and it can only be gathered on one inaccessible site on its body. Unable to land in a suitable spot for extraction, and facing an unnavigable surface terrain full of deadly predators, the crews of the submersibles sent by Greener Bio-Medical Technology can only reach their target by travelling through the creature’s insides from one side of it to the other…
Adding an extra layer to this tale of interstellar derring-do, the cast of characters (including protagonist and audience entry point Nora Weiss, her pilot rival Hinata Valera, and media sensation Hero Fontaine, among others) are all also part of a huge reality TV-style venture. Gonzo underlines this with frequent cutaways including sponsor advertisements, news commentary, online gossip, diagrammatical inserts and article profiles. It’s a technique that allows us to view the characters from multiple perspectives – our own observations of them, their perceptions of themselves, and how they are portrayed by the media.
There’s a lot to absorb in this initial instalment and, like all serialised comics, a true narrative evaluation will need at least an arc. But it’s to Gonzo’s credit that the topical story elements that are more familiar – those surrounding the cult of personality and a life lived for audience appreciation – don’t feel overtly rehashed. While the art can be rawer in places there’s a lot of invention in terms of visual storytelling and some strong concept designs, particularly the creature itself. Complemented by another intuitive lettering job from the ever reliable Rob Jones, Black Dragon #1 crams an awful lot into its opening 20-plus pages with plenty of hooks and sub-plots to grab the readers’ attention. Genre comics fans should certainly check this out at Table 91 in the Redshirt Hall at Thought Bubble next week.
Nick Gonzo (W/A), Rob Jones (L) • Self-published
Review by Andy Oliver