Saturday, June 4, 2016

Black Death in America #1 Review

Written by: Tom King
Art by: John Paul Leon and John Workman
Cover Price: Free (HERE)
Release Date: June 1, 2016

This was a hard comic to read and review.  It's weird, just writing that makes me feel awful, but it's the truth.  We started this site to review comics, make a couple jokes and throw in as many 80's references as the internet would allow.  For me, comics are all about having fun.  This comic is not fun.  This comic is important.  There will be no jokes or 80's references here.  In fact, I'd actually like everyone who is reading this to go and grab the comic and just read it for themselves. You can come back and look at my review afterwords, but you will probably also want to look some things up, do a little research, share and then talk to someone about it.  It's just eight pages...eight very important pages.

The story opens in the year 1918.  New York City is throwing a ticker tape parade for the returning heroes of World War I, but we focus on one man...Black Death. The man has an actual name, but Tom King is very careful with that for very good reason.

As the story goes on, we get a running flashback to the event that gave him his name.  As he puts it, "Just fought for my life. A rabbit would've done that", but his actions in the trenches of France made him a made him a larger than life, it made him the Black Death.  While reading the beginning, it's very easy to forget about the times the story is taking place in.  Tom King continues by reminding us of just that.

The story shifts to 1919 and reality is setting is.  As the narration of the event in France continues, we learn through overheard conversation that the Black Death's request for a special injury pension is being continually denied.  Things have changed since the parade...actually, they have just gone back to normal.

Tom King then shows us a continuous shot of the struggles and hardships this man had to endure over the next couple of years.  His injuries prevent him from working his pre-war job and his pride and anger won't let him become a mouthpiece for a system that only used him.  Only six years after the ticker tape parade, he's lost his family and in five years more, he's dead.

Only then we learn his name was Henry Johnson and  I dare you not to get angry or shed a tear when Tom King shows that he is not only a forgotten man, but hardly a man at all to those involved.

I can't say enough about this story even if I really can't find the words to express it.  I had all five of my boys read it when I was done because it's something that everyone should read.  My nine year old son actually started crying at the end and just asked me, "Why would they do that?" and I really didn't have an answer for him.  I don't know Tom King, but to me, this story isn't about "why", it's about never letting it happen again.  That's what makes it a must read.

The biggest compliment I can give John Paul Leon's art is that it helps tell the story.  It's black and white and is an unflinching look at a man's life.

Bits and Pieces:

This story was originally in Vertigo:CMYK, but was released on it's own because it was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Short Story.  I hope it wins so that more people will read it.  It won't make you feel good, but it will stick with you.



  1. Thanks for reminding me of this story. I had a similar reaction as your nine year old mixed with anger. Tom King has a real knack of telling stories with heart and showing how war makes victims of everyone, whether fighting in WW1, Baghdad or space! Now, if only more politicians read comics.

  2. Yet another example of just how talented Tom King is and just how lucky DC is to sign him. I am a lover of War comics and this one is a standout because it says so much in a mere 8 pages. It is a gut-wrenching story that provokes discussion beyond its deceptively simple premise. It's 'War' that is supposed to be Hell, not the years following it trying to fit into society. No one, regardless of colour should have to endure such callous disrespect and indifference.

    1. put perfectly... The short time that passes from the War to the end is staggering and Tom King just lets the story play out. When you realize where it is heading, you almost wish that he could change the outcome, but of course, he can't.

  3. It's a truly great story, and I love that it's been getting this additional exposure.

  4. Based on your recommendation, I picked up this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope there's more to this at some point down the line. I especially liked the incorporation of the WW1 time period piece.