Charles Burns’ twelve-issue comic book series Black Hole (Pantheon 2005) follows a group of teenagers in dreary 1970s suburban Seattle as they face the usual and unusual tribulations of adolescence: love, loneliness, uncertainty about the future, and a sexually-transmitted infection known as “The Bug,” which causes strange physical mutations (a tail, an extra mouth, skin that sloughs off) in the unfortunate hosts. At once reminiscent of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Marvel Comics’ X-Men (where, again, mutant teenagers struggle to fit in in spite of mutant “deformities” that render them grotesque to their kith and kin), Burns’ narrative turns “The Bug” into a catchall metaphor for alienation, sexuality, AIDS, and Otherness—though he never reduces the central uncanniness of the conceit through explication or editorializing. Even better, Burns’ artwork stuns: Rendered in stark black-and-white, Burns’ style recalls the classic EC Comics-era titles Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror (though Burns’ line-work and shading are much more precise)—which makes sense: This is, finally, a horror story about what it means to be a teenager.
Charles Burns, Black Hole. Published by Pantheon (2005; Reprinted 2008). 368 pages.