LIBSCI 790.3 Review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

Burns, C. (2005). Black hole. New York, NY: Pantheon.


In the style of a Kirkus review:

BLACK HOLE by Charles Burns

635825946688307987805811681_Black-Hole-by-Charles-BurnsNone of the Seattle teenagers in this dense, black-and-white comic know where the monstrous transformations that overtake their bodies come from, much less if they are fatal; what’s more, no adults or figures of authority are alarmed or seem to be aware of what is happening.

First published from 1995-2004, this collection was published as a book for the first time in 2005. Charles Burns’ characters move through a universe of claustrophobic corridors, repeated dreams, and endless weed and hallucinogens. As a mysterious sexually transmitted disease with a wide range of symptoms (from horns to tumors to scaly abscesses) spreads through the teenage population of a high school, some of those carrying the contagion one by one depart from their normal lives and go to live in the woods as they transform gradually into creatures none of their former classmates can recognize. Some of the changes people experience are benign, like the growth of a tail, but others appear painful or life-threatening. While there is plenty of nudity and sexuality, Burns’ compulsive, restrained style keeps the course of the story firmly focused on the question of how central characters will react to their situation, and keeps it from tipping into a Burroughs-esque smorgasbord of degradation and unrestrained id. Sex, where it happens in the book, looks transcendent, symbolic, sort of scary, and heavy with ritual animal imagery. Faces contort in horror, but everyone’s eyes remain strangely masklike. There are few large panels and few vistas and little white space in which the narrators or reader can catch a breath. Nightmares, premonitions, hallucination and flashbacks echo through the book and through multiple characters’ perspectives. As their identities shift and their lives are destabilized, two questions that are never asked are: where does this disease come from, and how could it be stopped? While the trajectory of three central characters gradually accelerates toward escape from the horrific nihilism and rage consuming their peers, the swimming, receding vision of a rational future dips down over the edge of the horizon long before high school ends or Bowie becomes famous.

This book is edgy, deeply contemplative, and feels like hot tears.



Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2005                                           Page count: 352pp

ISBN: 0-375-42380-X                                                    Publisher: Pantheon


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