REVIEW : THE BLACK RACER AND SHILO NORMAN SPECIAL #1

Who in their right mind wasn’t intrigued by this one when it was first announced? The Black Racer is, after all, one of the more immediately-arresting and enigmatic characters in all of Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World canon, and Shilo Norman was fondly remembered as the trusted “kid sidekick” of Mister Miracle — but given the Racer’s occupation/mission, it was pretty obvious from the outset that any story that would bring these two together would possibly, if not probably, mean that poor Shilo’s days were numbered.

And so it would seem right from the outset of Reginald Hudlin‘s script for The Black Racer And Shilo Norman Special #1, wherein Shilo, having assumed and/or inherited the Mister Miracle mantle for himself, is strapped to a missile (a hat-tip to a concept The King first utilized in Scott Free’s adventures four decades back) as part of a charity event sponsored by a casino magnate who’s an obvious stand-in for — shit, do I even need to say it? Suffice to say, we all want to see this asshole forced to fork over the cash to Shilo’s charity of choice, but the Racer appears to have other plans —

If, like me, you prefer your Kirby homages to be of the big, bold, and brash variety, then Hudlin and pencillers Denys Cowan and Ryan Benjamin, along with inkers Bill Sienkiewicz and Richard Friend, certainly deliver the goods — this is fast-paced, and decidedly high-stakes, storytelling that gives a number of terrific comics veterans who we don’t see nearly enough of anymore the chance to really flex their creative chops on some of Jack’s out-and-out coolest characters and concepts as Shilo, desperate to stay alive, finds himself not only making a quick pit stop into the world of Kamandi, but getting into an underwater tussle with none other than OMAC himself! In short, strap yourself in tight because this is one wild ride.

For all its breakneck action, though, there is also plenty of humanity at the heart of these proceedings — we get a deeper look at the Racer’s civilian alter-ego, Willie Walker, than we have at any point since his first appearance way back in New Gods #3, Shilo is both as likable and, frankly, immature (not to mention a tad bit sexist) as ever, and a genuine air of mystery and the unknown is imbued back into “The Source” in a manner that would no doubt make Kirby himself smile with appreciation. Yes, this is as much a re-hash as any and all of the other “King 100” specials, and there’s certainly nothing revolutionary about its sabotage/betrayal central plot conceit, but damn, it hits all the right notes and frankly hits them so well that I think it will have appeal to more than just the “hopeless nostalgia” crowd.

Needless to say, that’s not entirely due to the story alone although, as discussed, that’s certainly quite good — the simple fact, however, is that for a book that’s got an “art by committee” approach, this thing looks pretty damn seamless (thanks in large part to Jeromy Cox‘s vibrant and attention-grabbing colors throughout), and the Cowan/Sienkiewicz team, in particular (always a winning combination “back in the day”), appears not to have lost a step at all. This is fluid, graceful, and expressionistic stuff, rendered with obvious love for both the creations they’re playing with and, crucially, their creator. Heck, it’s borderline majestic in many instances — particular Willie Walker’s Vietnam flashbacks — and consistently dynamic and bracing from start to finish. Prepare to be thoroughly impressed indeed.

Finish it all off with three Kirby “Young Gods Of Supertown” back-up strips from New Gods #s 4, 5, and 6, respectively, and you have a comprehensively fun and entertaining spectacle with plenty of soul to both balance out and underpin all the gloriously far-out cosmic otherworldliness. I’ll be the first to admit that these DC Kirby tribute books have been a decidedly mixed bag on the whole, but The Black Racer And Shilo Norman Special #1 is definitely the best of the bunch and well worth its, fair enough, pretty steep $4.99 asking price. As The King himself used to say : “Don’t ask — just buy it!”

Story : Reginald Hudlin  Art : Denys Cowan, Ryan Benjamin, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Richard Friend

Story : 7.5  Art : 8.5  Overall : 8  Recommendation : Buy

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