When I hear “Black Label” the first thing that comes to mind is whiskey. I suppose that says something about my extracurricular activities but it also says something about Archaia’s new line of graphic novels. And when they say graphic, they do mean graphic. Archaia’s Black Label is intended for a more mature crowd, just like the alcohol that shares it’s name.
I recently sat down with a copy of Syndrome, one of the first graphic novels to be featured under the Black Label line (Click here for a TEN Page Preview of the new OGN!). It hit comic shops last week and if you saw the cover you probably did a double take. A creepy baby doll with a gooey brain partially exposed is not something I’d particularly be drawn to but it was really too odd to pass by. Not to mention peak inside. And my, that’s a lot of blood.
Syndrome is a sci-fi story, or perhaps a “near future” story because it’s science doesn’t seem all that fictional. There is no main character but rather four, one of which, Dr. Wolfe Chitel, is a neuropathologist who hopes to rid the world of evil by finding the scientific cause of it in the brain. His trials however are what you’d call unconventional. Instead of the normal FDA approved methods he moves to a bold experiment similar to The Truman Show in scale but closer to Dexter in it’s star performer. Dr. Chitel does want to cure evil after all and what better way to do that then to study sociopaths. Since they’re not known for being the most trustworthy folks, how does one conduct an unbiased experiment? Put a few calls into Hollywood of course!
For one, your environment must be far more convincing than the one in The Truman Show. Serial killers aren’t stupid. In steps the production designer with a serious god complex, Alexei Conta, the only one crazy enough to take on such a job. Then you need to fill the place with actors. Karen Oats, a stereotypical out-of-work blonde actress, is just the right kind of desperate to accept a job she knows practically nothing about so long as it pays. So a psychopath assaults you on a daily basis, at least it’s a steady gig.
The last piece to this bizarre scenario is the test subject. Before being apprehended by police, Thomas Kane was known as “The Bible Killer” for his affinity in killing churchgoers. He was sentenced to death but Dr. Chitel intervened and no one but those involved were the wiser. He’s placed in the environment created by Conta and led to believe he escaped prison altogether. If you haven’t guessed by now, poor Karen acts as his trigger to measure his brain functions. While the aim of the plot is to create a type of “empathy pill” for sociopaths, there is no empathy to be had for the killers themselves from the reader’s viewpoint. Their brutality is unabashed.
Syndrome was created by Blake Leibel, written by Daniel Quantz and R.J. Ryan and illustrated by David Marquez. The creepy doll cover comes courtesy of photographer Michael Dahan. You ever read a comic and think to yourself, “Boy, this would make a great movie?” Well I think these guys thought of that BEFORE they wrote the comic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something I sensed while reading it. With it’s sexual content, shocking violence and a compelling story to back it up, Syndrome would absolutely make for a successful film.
As for Marquez’s art, this is my first time seeing his work and I have to say I can’t really find fault. From the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Karen to the graphic crime scenes, he’s on-point. The entire book was illustrated via computer, sometimes in more detail than he’d ever need as he explains in an enlightening how-to in the back of the book. William Farmer’s color work makes everything pop in this beautiful hardcover on par with Archaia’s other quality merchandise making it definitely worth the $19.95 cover price.
This one’s definitely going to make you think and stick with you a while after reading. Besides the scientific aspects, the moral repercussions of such an experiment would be huge for civilization as we know it. Perhaps a glass of Black Label to go with this Black Label graphic novel?Have you checked out Syndrome yet? What did you think?