As we inhabit the heads of several key characters -- some kids who have it, some who don't, some who are about to get it -- what unfolds isn't the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it, or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself -- the savagery, the cruelty, the relentless anxiety and ennui, the longing for escape.
And then the murders start.
As hypnotically beautiful as it is horrifying, Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it- back when it wasn't exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird.
To say nothing of sprouting horns and molting your skin...
An even grimmer look at adolescence is found in the recently concluded magnum opus by legendary artist Charles Burns. Described as semi-autobiographical, the surrealistic Black Hole follows a group of suburban teens in early '70s Seattle who are afflicted by a particularly vicious STD. "The bug" leaves its victims grossly disfigured: those who get it end up looking like monsters, ostracized from regular society and forced to retreat to the woods, where they're tormented by heavily symbolic dreams and visions. It's a gripping tale, with simultaneously gorgeous and stomach-turning artwork that somehow captures all of the paranoia and social terror of teenage life. Highly recommendedjust not as breakfast-table reading.
Becky Ohlsen keeps her comics collection in Portland, Oregon.