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The Black Forest 2: Castle of Shadows
Review by James W. Powell

Story
Black Forest 2: Castle of Shadows

Story
Todd Livingston and
Robert Tinnell
 
art
Neil Vokes
 
Letters
Michael Anderson

Publisher
Image Comics
 
Format
Softcover Original
 
Publish Date
September 21, 2005
 
Cover Price
$6.99
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Black Forest 2: Page 1While I'm certainly no expert monster movie expert, I do have fond memories of watching old black and white horror flicks on TV. It's where I learned of Frankenstein's monster, werewolves, and vampires. In the intervening years between my youth and adulthood, I've lost my fascination and interest in the old B&W monster flicks. But last year, a graphic novel hit the stands that reminded me of everything that I loved as a kid, sitting on the living room floor during those cold winter mornings. The book, of course, was The Black Forest by Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell, and Neil Vokes, and it captured the essence of those films and put it on paper.

Now, the creators are back for round two in The Black Forest 2: Castle of Shadows, and believe me, the magic's still there. In the second installment, our young hero, Jack, and his friend, Archie, are in a world of trouble. The duo is being held prisoner by a sinister little scientist with a platoon of ape soldiers and a strong desire to inject a human with his experimental serum. Of course, they do their best to escape unscathed, in no small part thanks to the help of a mysterious young girl and beautiful Ilsa, who makes a startling comeback after meeting her destiny in the last episode.

I'm sure that I've missed most of the subtle references to monster films, but one thing I did catch in my reading of Castle of Shadows was how easily Livingston and Tinnell have developed the perfect balance between action, horror, and humor. Their story never quite takes itself too seriously, and that's what makes it so fun. It's as if the heroes themselves understand that they're characters in a B movie and that some of the ideas and dialog border on being silly. And I can see the bad acting in my mind as if the scenes are developing on screen in front of me. Yet at the same time, the action and classic horror elements are never left to flounder as the story gets moving quickly and continues its frenzied pace right up until the perfectly realized cliffhanger.

The Black Forest 2 Page 2I loved the use of large, thuggish ape men as soldiers, and the introduction of the bald, spectacled Dr. Bosch, but the highlight of the story was certainly the return of Ilsa. Because this sequel is so short (it clocks in at 48 pages) I don't want to give any of the story away, but believe me, there are some great and shocking scenes involving this beautiful enchantress.

For those who haven't yet enjoyed original or for those who have forgotten some of the key story elements, Livingston and Tinnell have used flashbacks and dialog in their storytelling to get readers caught up. Luckily for all of us, they do so expertly as these moments never halt the flow of the current story.

Perhaps my only complaint is that this graphic novel simply goes too fast. That's probably the creators' intention: keep it short, fast, and fun. Still, I wanted more. There seem to be so many avenues left unexplored and so many details to fill in. Sure, I know that most likely would've ruined the whole "classic monster film on paper" theme they have going, yet I can't help but think that drawing out some of the mystery surrounding the young girl or the book of Dr. Frankenstein's notes would've elevated the quality of this tale even higher.

Art

The Black Forest 2 Page 3Neil Vokes's art truly captures the magic of those old black and white monster movies. I can hear Dr. Bosch's slimy voice and I can smell the musty, dank air in the castle thanks to his heavily-shadowed imagery. I wouldn't say that Vokes' art is overly detailed, nor would I consider it cartoony. Instead, it's a happy combination of them both and usually depends on the emotion of the moment...the artist really makes sure to propel the story forward by making his art match the scene.

Plus, Vokes creates some lavish backgrounds, which helps create a real setting for the characters to move around in. In this story, the castle is another character, so making the architecture and dark corners stand out is very important.

Perhaps the coolest aspect of his art is that he manages to draw the terrifying villain as well as he does the sexy girl...and sometimes they're the same character.

Bonus Features
You know you're going to get some nice extra features when you're reading a Livingston, Tinnell & Vokes production, and The Black Forest 2 ain't no different. First up is "The Magic Forest," an afterword by Frank Dietz that perfectly sums up what these creators have done. Then there's "The Black Forest and the World Newton Universe," an interesting look at the connections between pulp characters. Of course, the big bonus is the short story, "Return to Javers." This western/horror combo features the hero of The Wicked West and is about as fast-paced as you can get. Wear your seatbelt.
Final Words

Another great book. If you're a fan of old monster movies, then this sequel is for you...you're the prime audience and you won't be disappointed. While some of the humor or storytelling might be lost on those who haven't enjoyed those old black and white flicks, The Black Forest 2 should still be an entertaining read.

Highly Recommended


James has written for such fine web sites as DVDtalk, Broken Frontier, and Paperback Reader. He lives in Denver with his lovely wife and two cats who wake him up at 3 a.m.
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