THE BLACK SINISTER, created by Troy Nixey, Dave McCaig, and Kaare Andrews, tells the story of an insane billionaire who terrorizes his steampunk city with a twisted perception of justice. The mayor and police chief of Coal City, along with a shady group of mobsters, spend the majority of this six-chapter graphic novel trying to find a way to end the Black Sinister’s rampage once and for all. Calling THE BLACK SINISTER a BATMAN parody, while accurate, would only describe the bare basics of this story. Everything about it is crazy. The dialogue ranges from funny Deadpool-like zaniness to Norman Bates levels of Oedipal obsession. Although the story itself is nothing groundbreaking, THE BLACK SINISTER is certainly worth your time and money, with a handful of standout writing moments and an art style bursting at the seams with detail.

Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics

Let’s Get Nuts

The story shifts back and forth from the mayor’s office and Black’s vigilante escapades. Black’s liberal use of lethal force upon those he views as criminals comes from a dictator-like view of security. He sees the people of Coal City as mere cogs that keep the city running and his violent antics lead to widespread destruction. The mayor and his companions are caricatures of politicians, aristocrats, and mobsters. Their main concern is how they can stop Black Sinister with the smallest number of casualties and still fuel their own greedy agendas. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to say about them when it comes to the dialogue. They act as you would expect a stock politician or a generic 1950’s gangster to act. However, you will occasionally get a few laughs from Advisor Blunder and his bizarre health concerns.

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The moments where the writing and characterization really shine are when we delve into Black’s psyche. He spends the majority of the comic being an entertaining but unsympathetic character. However, this changes drastically in the fifth chapter. Kaare Andrews, the writer of this story, turns Black Sinister’s unsettling obsession with his dead mother into a source of vulnerability. While everyone is familiar with Batman’s ongoing fixation with his dead parents, Kaare’s take on this trope is less rooted in Black’s desire to avenge their deaths, but rather Black’s desperate need for their approval and love. This dynamic is, in my opinion, the writing highlight of the whole book.

Insane Illustrations

The art of THE BLACK SINISTER is where the comic really shines. In fact, artist Troy Nixey was originally intended to write this graphic novel. The story was formed around his character and background sketches before Andrews was brought on board. With that in mind, it’s no real surprise that the writing takes a backseat to the art. Still, this is far from a bad thing. The artwork perfectly captures the off-kilter feel of the book, combining cartoonish characters with heavily detailed outfits, environments, and shadows.

Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics

Dave McCaig’s frequent use of reds and blacks immediately reminded me of Mignola’s HELLBOY, but the use of pale yellows and browns lets the reader know that THE BLACK SINISTER’s world is sick. Plus, the somewhat sepia-tone of the whole comic helps sell the steampunk aesthetic. The people of THE BLACK SINISTER are equally strange. The designs of the more aristocratic characters are so over-the-top, they’d be too exaggerated for a political cartoon. Overall, Coal City looks like a steampunk Gotham, and the machines that inhabit it seem straight out of a nightmare Dr. Seuss himself would have after watching a TERMINATOR movie.

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What a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

Although I harp on the unremarkable writing in this book, I admit that there were certainly a few parts that really caught me off guard. Other moments got a hearty chuckle out of me. The inspired and unique illustrations carry everything in between. If you’re a fan of steampunk, BATMAN, and JUDGE DREDD, THE BLACK SINISTER is a worthy addition to your comic collection.

The dialogue in THE BLACK SINISTER leaves a lot to be desired, but there are enough standout character moments to give this Batman parody an unexpected depth. The stellar artwork is what really carries this graphic novel, but it carries it beautifully.
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