by on Feb.16, 2011, under Comics

The French mega-hit Blacksad doesn’t have wildly original characters or plots. It tells straight-ahead noir detective tales—in this latest American collection from Dark Horse, three of them—that aren’t anywhere near the best the genre has to offer. I mean, the character of Blacksad just can’t stand up next to heroes like Philip Marlowe or the Continental Op, detectives who were complicated, human, and flawed.

What Blacksad has instead are a knowing wink and great art. Here’s the wink: Blacksad is a man with the head of a cat! The police captain has the head of a dog! He’s up against villains with the heads of rats, frogs, and snakes! (Or, in the best of the collection’s three stories, polar bears and white wolves.)

All these are depicted in luscious watercolors that look like high-class versions of furry porn. It feels like a gag straight out of Disney (and Art Spiegelman), but artist Juanjo Guarnido executes it far better than any Disney movie of recent vintage. If his paintings were less expert I’d probably dismiss the whole book as a silly and none-too-original gimmick, but they’re so good they redeem every predictable page.

Previews here and here.

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