Monday, 8 February 2016

Blacksad: Amarillo (#5)

"All that hard luck on my tail is starting to wear me down." - Blacksad

For the unintiated Blacksad is actually John Blacksad, a private detective in fifties America.  However what makes this a little different from a regular noir influenced crime thriller is that John Blacksad is a humanoid black cat.  And everyone else in his world is a similar blend of humanoid and animal, lending the whole thing a very Furry friendly air.  It is the brainchild of two Spanish creators, writer Juan Diaz Canales and drawn by ex-Disney animator Juanjo Guarnido.  It has a beautiful, subdued painted style that suits the era being portrayed down to the ground and doesn't shy away from sexuality and violence so isn't as "cute" as a world populated by anthropomorpised animals could become.  I have covered all the previous issues, the three volume collection "Blacksad" which introduced us to John and his world, taking in racial issues and the Red Scare as it did so.  "A Silent Hell" came next where John unearthed a thalidomide style scandal involving some major players in the New Orleans Jazz scene.  After getting shot at, drugged, beaten up and nearly drowned during that investigation, John decides to take some time out to recover and goes out on a road trip across America.  But of course it doesn't take long for John to get tangled in a new series of events...

The story begins with two writers, a lion called Chad and a bull called Abraham.  They are messing about in a swimming pool.  Abraham sets fire to his latest collection of poems and tosses them burning into the pool.

Abraham: "My poems don't 'see the light'.  They are the light.  My words enlighten and show us the way."
He says he doesn't want his words to end up in the hands of a slimy editor and threatens to burn Chad's novel.  He accuse Chad of selling out, "no guts, no glory" and likens his work to toilet paper, which leaves Chad sliently scowling.
Abraham and Chad.
Back at New Orleans airport, Blacksad is seeing off his pal the ferret journalist "Weekly" who is returning to New York.  Blacksad is broke, Weekly offers to loan him the airfare but Blacksad says he wants to get his feet back on the ground himself.  He wants a nice quiet job where he won't get beaten or shot at.

He wonders if he should have become a photographer like his father and Weekly enthusiastically agrees and offers him a camera which Blacksad refuses.  They part and when Weekly has gone, Blacksad finds he slipped the camera in his jacket.  "That damn Weekly" he smiles.

He leaves and walks through the carpark.  A bull drops his wallet and Blacksad returns it to him.  Impressed by his honesty the bull offers him a job driving his gold cadillac to Tulsa and Blacksad accepts.
Crusin' with mah top down.
We then cut to Tulsa, Oaklahoma where two shady dudes including a very shabby looking lion and a checkshirt wearing bull (Chad and Abraham to be precise) are lamenting the fact their car has broken down.  They try and steal some motorbikes but the leather jacketed gang they belong to stop them and Blacksad steps in to stop the fight escalating.  As he speaks with the gang leader, the two theives steal the cadillac and drive off.

Blacksad notices they have left a bag with a map that has Amarillo circled on it.  The amused gang leader offers him the use of their injured member's bike and Blacksad takes off on it giving chase to the cadillac.
Badass on a bike.
Having arrived in Amarillo. Chad and Abraham are drinking in a bar with a flamingo called Billy Sorrows  Chad and Billy put a shot glass on the head of the passed out Abraham and Billy challenges Chad to shoot it.  Chad hesitates and Billy shoots it instead.  Billy mocks Chad saying;

Billy: "No calculated act of violence is meaningless.  It's cowardice and stagnation that rot a man's soul.  If you want to be a real writer someday, you'd better face that."

Later Abraham wakes up and he, Chad and Billy talk.  Chad is fuming silently.  He is planning to stay in Amarillo to deliver his manuscript to his publisher.  But Abraham says he mailed it to the Dalai Lama, so he can put Chad "back on the path of light and redemption"  Billy sneers, "admit it Chad you just don't have the lyric sense."

Angrily Chad grabs Abraham and shouts at him asking why he thinks he is better than him.  "Poetry and balls" says Abraham.  So Chad decides to show him he has balls by shooting Abraham dead.  He turns to Billy and asks him:

Chad: "You gonna help me with this, or would you prefer we wrote a fucking sonnet about it?"
One way to win an argument I guess.
Later Chad is driving the gold cadillac lamenting what he did to Abe.  He smashes into a mailbox and retrieves a package which must be his manuscript.  In Alberquerque, two F.B.I agents are given the job of dealing with the busted mailbox.  They are a dog and a cat.  The cat one grumbles, "a whole career in the F.B.I just to wind up rescuing some hick town's postcards. It's fucking humilating"
In Amarillo, Blacksad and the rest of the motorcycle gang pull up in the centre of town.  They drop Blacksad off, and the leader shakes his hand and wishes him well, then they leave and Blacksad starts looking for the cadillac.
The F.B.I
Another character is introduced, a hyena lawyer called Neal Beato.  He talks with a drunken bird he saw being thrown out of the police station who is called Filipe.  Blacksad mooches past them but overhears Neal asking about a "scruffy beatnik lion".  He's been hired to replace Filipe at the circus.  Blacksad butts in saying:

Blacksad: "If it's the same lion I'm thinking of, I can help you break his legs for free."

Neal is also looking for the lion.  "A dilemma.  Three plaintiffs - only two legs to break" but Filipe wanders off saying the circus will have packed up and moved on by now.

Neal introduces himself to Blacksad as the literary agent of Chad, who is the scruffy lion in question. Neal and Blacksad go thumb a lift and Neal tells him a bit about Chad, seems the success of his first novel "plunged him into a sea of doubt,  he can't seem to tell what's good or what's bad anymore."  He says he'll pay Blacksad if he helps him find Chad.  Blacksad says he just wants the car.  Then a parrot offers them a lift and the two F.B.I agents go zooming past them.
A racist parrot.
Working as a handyman at the circus Chad is flirted with by a sexy fortune teller and knife throwers assisstant.  She offers to read his mind, he replies "what's outside my head is way more interesting". She says to him she'd much rather be behind the curtain, he says he'll keep that a secret. 

She says she know he will, she read his mind and she departs.  Chad watches her smiling with a heart over his head, but the bear dressed as a clown says hands off, he's after "Luanne" himself.
Clown + Bear = Bad News.
The F.B.I agent find the gold cadillac wrecked and dumped.  They match the gold flakes on the mailbox to it.  The open the trunk and find the dead body of Abraham stuffed in there.  They find I.D but it turns out to be Blacksad's, who the cat declares the prime suspect.

He wants to know if there are any mendicants in Amarillo he can question.  The policeman with them says Filipe maybe, he's a transient and could fit the bill.  The cat grins cruelly, "I got the feeling we're gonna have some fun".

In the car with the parrot are Neal and Blacksad.  As the parrot chatters away he keeps insulting the "coloured", a group Blacksad belongs too.  Blacksad grits his teeth and tries not to be provoked.  He fails and we cut to him and Neal walking along the road because Blacksad punched the parrot in the head.  Blacksad says he knows someone nearby with a car they can borrow.

The circus is open for business.  Chad is being ordered around backstage and he peeks in on Luanne through a gap in the wall and sees the bear forcing himself on her, and initmating he is blackmailing her as well.  Chad runs in and pulls him off her.  They fight an it looks like Chad will be killed.
Chad comes to Luanne's rescue.
Luanne throws a knife into the bear's back and kills him. Another circus worker comes upon the scene and sees Chad holding the bear's dead body and screams murder.  Chad runs, but the circus folk capture him and the Boss says they'll decide what to do with him tommorrow.

Neal and Blacksad are in Santa Fe, New Mexico where Blacksad's sister Donna works as a tour guide.  They meet her and return to her home in Raton.  Neal plays the guitar for Ray, Donna's son and Blacksad asks if he can borrow her car. 
Blacksad's sister.
She agrees as long as he doesn't trash it.  He asks if she has heard from their father, "nothing since the last letter" she says sadly.  Then Ray runs in and asks to see Blacksad's gun.

Blacksad: "Good guys don't carry guns, Ray. 'Cause we know they always wind up shooting someone."

Back at the circus, Chad has been tied up in the middle of the ring.  The Boss says the penalty for murder is death.  The elephant ringmaster says they should turn him over to the law.  But the Boss says that will mean the police will shutdown the circus while they investigate.  Chad says, "Just do what you're going to do."  Luanne watches him and cries a silent tear.  The Boss says they'll pack up tommorrow, it'll be like they were never there.
The circus owner.
Blacksad and Neal arrive at the circus and Neal notices Luanne and says she reminds him of someone.  Flustered she runs off, and Neal recalls there is a reward out on her.  The Boss comes up and asks them what they want.  Blacksad says they are looking for a scruffy lion.  The Boss says he'll help them find Chad if he can get the reward on Luanne and he shows them into the back of a truck.

Inside are the two F.B.I agents and Filipe who led them there.  They try to arrest Blacksad for damaging the mailbox and murder.  He fights them off with help from Neal and they flee the truck.  The F.B.I agents give chase..

In some nearby mines the circus folk have stashed the bear's corpse and tied up Chad to die down there of hunger and thirst.  After his captors leave, Luanne appears and asks Chad why he didn't rat on her.

Chad: "Because I made a horrible mistake not long ago, and I just wanted to make up for it, somehow, with one good thing".
Luanne comes to Chad's aid.
She cuts the ropes holding him saying she is also doing "one good thing".  The F.B.I are in a car chasing another at high speed.  It spins out on a bend and ends up upside-down in a wood.  The F.B.I agents go down to arrest Blacksad and Neal only to find Filipe was driving the car.  Neal and Blacksad are still at the circus.

Back at the circus, the Boss is arguing with the ringmaster over the reward out on Luanne.  The ringmaster is disgusted he would give up one of their own, "what about the Brotherhood you claim to hold so dear?"  The Boss says they need to pay their debts or the family wil fall apart and he'll do whatever it takes.  The ringmaster says they aren't going to hang around, they are off on a tour of Canada.  Then a baboon runs up say he saw Luanne buying a ticket to Chicago and she wasn't alone.

On the train, in a private cabin, Luanne tells Chad her story.  She is the daughter of a press mogul, she got pregnant and had to have an abortion age fourteen after that she ran away and joined the circus where no questions were asked.  Her real family have spent a lot of cash trying to locate her.  She says it's like a bad novel.  Chad regards his manuscript:

Chad: "Novels are bullshit.  But real life is even worse."
The circus owner tracks them down.
Then the circus boss appears, he locks Luanne in the cabin and forces Chad at gunpoint to walk to the open door at the end of the train.  He orders Chad to jump, but before he can, Blacksad appears and whacks the Boss over the head with a bit of wood.  The Boss falls to the floor and bites Blacksad's ankle.  There is a tussle and the Boss ends up falling out of the train.  Chad holds his gun:

Chad: "I.. don't want to be a killer."

Blacksad: "Too late for that, kid."

Luanne and Chad embrace.  In Chicago, Blacksad phones his sister and apologises for wrecking her car.  Then he asks another favour.  He finishes the call and goes to speak to Luanne sitting nearby, he says she can hide out with his sister for as long a she needs to. Luanne asks why Chad can't come.  Blacksad says he's a killer:

Luanne: "His friend and it haunts him everyday.  Isn't that punishment enough?"
Blacksad is lost for words.
Blacksad is silent for a moment, then wishes her well and they part.  Neal is freshening up in the public bathroom.  He tells Chad that because the murder happened when he was so drunk a good lawyer could get him out in a year.  He'll be a celebrity now.  They go to catch a bus and Neal asks Chad where his manuscript is.  "I left it in the public shitter" says a despondent Chad.

Neal is aghast. Chad say it'll do more good there.  Neal decides to go back for it yelling at Chad for bringing the whole world down with him.  He's going to publish it whether Chad likes it or not.

Neal: "Do whatever the hell you want, but I want to live.  Can you dig that?  To live and laugh, to play and dance.  Anything but wallow in my own pitiful shit as if that were some grand aesthetic enterprise."
The death of Neal.
Chad grabs his arm saying he doesn't have the right.  Neal pulls away and his jacket rips.  He falls backwards into the path of an oncoming bus and is terminally injured.  As he lies dying, Chad holds him and weeps "Oh no, no, no. Neal! Not again, not you!" Witnessing this Blacksad comes to a decison, he grabs Chad and takes him to Luanne telling her to take him away to somewhere like Mexico.

Then the F.B.I agents turn up and arrest Blacksad.  But Chad walks up and says he shot Abraham.  There was a witness he can provide to confirm this.  Blacksad ask him what he is doing? "One good thing.. I hope" smiles Chad.
Chad does the right thing.
Back in New York in his flat, Blacksad surveys all the dead plants Weekly failed to water.  He offers Weekly his camera back, but Weekly says to keep it to make up for the plants.  He just wants to see the pictures when they are developed. "Deal" says Blacksad.  The final page shows a goat walking out of the public toilets read Chad's manuscript and that brings this volume, the last one so far, to a close.
S'all good man.
This is another fine effort by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido.  Unlike the somewhat heavy subject matter of the previous books this has more lighthearted elements despite having a murder at the heart of it.  I must say I do wonder how Blacksad explained away the wrecked cadillac to its owner.  It was fun seeing him chase all over Southern USA and Chad is a compelling character, haunted by his actions and every attempt to atone backfiring on him.  Neal is also well drawn and his rant against "emo" feels like it is just as relevant today as it was then (I'm talking within the fiction here).  The introduction of Blacksad's sister and their absent father feel like plot seeds being planted for future issues which I fervently hope will still be coming.  The era is once again captured gorgeously through the writing and of course the amazing art imbuing the animal people with emotions both subtle and over the top.  Seeing Blacksad riding out alongside their version of the Hell's Angels was a totally badass image, especially as he stayed dressed in his sharp suit.  And he almost managed to avoid physical harm this time apart from a bite on the ankle.  Anyway, this is a wonderful, beautiful read with genuine appeal to people who don't generally go for comics.  Come on Juan Diaz  Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, we want more!


  1. poor chad... I hope there will be more Blacksad comics they look so good!

  2. I like Chad too. I'm hoping they'll be a new Blacksad this year. I have no proof of this though.

  3. Are furries people who want to be animals even though they already are animals?

    That bull is way too trusting, unless he has magical powers. To be able to accurately assess somebody's personality would be a good superpower.

    Everybody looks cooler on a motorbike.

    I don't understand. Do people discriminate against animals with black fur in this reality?

  4. There are many levels to being a furry. Most just have an interest in humanoid animals and express it via artwork and fan fiction. Only a tiny few dress up as them and romp about with each other.

    Yeah, in the first Blacksad book there's a story about racism where we find out animals with black fur and feathers are racially abused, although it doesn't seem to be as ingrained as real racism was in fifties USA here it's mostly a few white furred and feathered extremists and insenitive jerks like the parrot.

  5. The irony is that the parrot is, well... coloured.

  6. It does point out the stupidity of racism pretty well. We're all coloured, just some of us happen to be coloured pink.

  7. Why Neal had to die? He should survive ... Chad did all this in the course of history for nothing after all ...

  8. I was sad Neal died as well, I guess it's because these are noir stories and good people often die in them. At least Chad stepped up in the end because of it.

    1. Seriously, I did not know that, I know very noir culture. But this fifth volume pulled back slightly this thematic, mainly seen in the title of the work, Amarillo, so I thought this death a little forced, to give discontinuity to the character by the way was well built and could be reused in a future sequel ...

      But the main shock of his death is now Chad will have to stay much longer in prison as well as having abandoned the manuscript that could give you more credit ...

      Anyway, it's clear my opnion, but I thought this outcome a bit confusing ...

  9. I think the implication was that Chad's behaviour caused harm to everyone close to him and this was his final lesson before he learned to take responsibility for his actions. I think it's testement to how well the characters are built up that Neal's death is so sad.

  10. Okay, you enlightened me some questions, thanks for answering ...