Black Hole opens with the dissection of a frog in biology class. One of the main characters, Keith, faints upon seeing the frog being opened, and enters an inky, eerie dream space. This black chasm of hopelessness lies in the background of every character interaction. It’s the “black hole” they are all running from: a emptiness of lost hopes, disappointments, and despair.
The story is set in 1970’s Seattle, and follows a group of high school kids who have been infected with “the bug”: a sexually transmitted disease that turns young people into mutants. These aren’t the mutants with cool super powers, by the way. These are kids who have to struggle with physical deformities, public ostracization, and crippling self-loathing. They become subhuman: to other, “clean” individuals, and to themselves.
Charles Burns’ stark black and white frames are shocking. The striking visuals make us feel that the characters are being stripped bare at the emotional level. The art reflects the absolute lack of sympathetic fluff: things are just the way they are. Much of the time, that is not pleasant.
Black Hole challenges readers at many levels. We are faced with an engrossing plot, a meditation on youth and the cult of beauty, and an existential look at the meaning of hope in the face of despair. What actually makes someone a “monster?” How do we change and grow when circumstances are difficult, when we feel like hope has been sucked out of us? Why go on at all? Black Hole asks us to consider human beings from different perspectives, and ultimately, to see ourselves reflected there. Is there a light at the end of the black hole? You’ll have to find out for yourself. We invite you to place a hold on it now.
If you enjoy Black Hole, feel free to check out some of Charles Burns' titles in our catalog.