Mark Allen reviews The Black Monday Murders #1…
“MAMMON” ALL HAIL GOD MONEY! From JONATHAN HICKMAN (EAST OF WEST, Secret Wars, Avengers) and TOMM COKER (UNDYING LOVE) comes a new crypto-noir series about the power of dirty, filthy money… and exactly what kind of people you can buy with it. THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is classic occultism where the various schools of magic are actually clandestine banking cartels who control all of society: a secret world where vampire Russian oligarchs, Black popes, enchanted American aristocrats, and hitmen from the International Monetary Fund work together to keep ALL OF US in our proper place.
Tomm Coker and Jonathan Hickman’s new comic, The Black Monday Murders, takes place in a world where bankers, stock market traders and investors are part of clandestine societies that worship gods that require blood sacrifices and are capable of causing massive financial crashes. Some of this is explained in traditional comic panels, but much is laid out in Courier typeface-written memos, complicated diagrams and graphs. This isn’t uncommon for a book written and designed by Hickman, who also regularly inserts splash-page title cards, but it does seem to be the furthest he’s pushed this technique. His body of work is an ongoing experiment in reshaping the form and presentation of comics, and the spirit of this should be commended.
However, most experiments are failures, and The Black Monday Murders #1 is no exception. Despite the weighty (if unoriginal) premise of Money As Religion and Coker’s atmospheric, sharp illustration, the 50+ page tome he and Hickman have produced simply does not function as effective storytelling. It’s needlessly complicated, over-expository and, in many places, exceedingly dull. There are few engaging characters (instead we’re presented with tired archetypes, like the New York City detective with a dark past) and the moments of excitement and narrative thrust are inevitably interrupted by the aforementioned graphs, diagrams and definitions, adding little but difficult-to-parse history and jargon to the book’s experience. Similarly, while Coker and colourist Michael Garland bring engaging art and noirish textures to proceedings, they’re often blocked by an overabundance of redundant dialogue, practically making letterer Rus Wooton an honorary member of the art team. There’s little space for the panels to breathe, and though claustrophobia may be the name of the game on some pages it starts to feel less like an artistic choice and more like the inevitable fallout from Hickman’s tendency to overwrite.
There may be something worthwhile for those with the fortitude to finish The Black Monday Murders #1 in a single sitting, but for many it may be too much of a slog to carry on through the rest of the series. You can’t fault the team for their ambition – and in particular Hickman’s continued insistence on telling his stories his way – but this first issue just feels a little too much like homework.