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The Nocturnals: Black Planet

Comic books suffer from typecasting. Though the medium covers a lot of different genres, superheroes have been the dominating subject since their inception in the earlier part of the 20th century.

This is not a bad thing. Because of their devotion to this single subject, comic books have created internationally recognized pop-culture icons. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are common household names, spawning movies, breakfast cereals, and even Broadway plays.

And thanks to comic books, the "Hero in Literature" archetype has been more thoroughly explored, by and from a multitude of different writers and perspectives, than almost any other literary character type. But too much of a good thing will always breed stagnation, and the field of comics is no different.

That is why when a book comes around that doesn't feature super-heroics, it usually gains little attention and snags even less shelf space, regardless of quality. Thanks to those fanboy gods over at Oni Press such a book, Nocturnals: Black Planet, is now available again.

Written and painted (that's right, the man said "painted") by Dan Brereton, this is the story of Doc Horror, a dimensionally displaced scientist, former mafia enforcer, and father to a very unique little girl named Evening who can hear and see spirits; spirits who become large and homicidal if she is in danger. As if that wasn't enough characterization, Doc Horror has surrounded himself with a band of fellow misfits, including a former wraith (Polychrome), a re-animated zombie bodyguard (the Gunwitch), and a woman who is a cross between a Victoria Secret model and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (Starfish), among other creepy-crawlies.

The genius in this book is way Brereton mixes so many varying literary flavors in a way that seems to work. This book appeals to the Horror Genre fan in many ways. For instance, the main threat to Doc and his Nocturnals, the Narn K Corporation, could just as easily appear in an H. P. Lovecraft novel; they resemble the writhing mass of evil spoken of in his Cthulu mythos in more ways than one. Also, for the campy horror lover, the bevy of movie monsters and old pulp creatures that appear in this comic is amazing. One panel of a pyrokinetic Frankenstein-like creature can lead into an anthropomorphic raccoon, wearing a business suit and brandishing a firearm, and it all makes perfect sense somehow.

But horror isn't the only genre that rears its proverbial head. If anyone is a fan of the Crime/ Mystery genre, you will not be disappointed. The story includes plenty of both to entertain. One of the first and foremost plot points is trying to discover the Narn K's secret agenda and discerning why and how they seem to be taking control of the city's underworld community and the Lupo crime family. There's also the mystery of the characters themselves. How is Doc Horror connected to the Narn K and why do they want him dead? Why do the spirits protect Eve? Who is the mysterious woman-in-red who seems to be around at the most inopportune times? Can the Nocturnals survive when the Narn K decide the Doc and his crew of paranormal pals need exterminating? The twists and turns of this book make for a nail-biting experience and the action alone is on par with most A-List action movies (maybe one person in this entire comic isn't armed in some fashion, and she's got talkative ghosts protecting her).

The phenomenal story aside, Brereton is one of the comic industry's top painters. The entire comic is done in moody water-colors, which Brereton uses well in creating backgrounds that perfectly match the scene; if the scene is one depicting a mafia dispute in a pub, the colors are deep browns and reds, with a mottled quality that screams "smoky hole-in-the-wall." Flashback scenes of Doc's origins are pale and film noir-ish and Brereton manages to make nighttime as freaking macabre as he can. It's like he wants you to sleep with the light on after reading his stuff (which he probably does, all things considered).

This book has always been one of my favorites and I'll admit that I picked it up on a whim, not really knowing how good a thing I was getting. Nocturnals seamlessly blends aspects of horror, science fiction, crime, action, and mystery; all genres that are neglected, but beginning to reappear in modern comics in the form of books like Road To Perdition and several Vertigo titles. So, buy this book and expand your comic book horizons for a paltry $19.95 and possibly the cost of a small nightlight. You know, just in case.

Nocturnals: Black Planet

Robert Sparling

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