Black Hole (Black Hole #1-12) by Charles Burns

Black Hole (Black Hole #1-12)
By Charles Burns
Publisher:  Pantheon
ISBN13: 9780375423802
Pages: 368
Genre: Graphic Novel/Horror


Suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the out-set that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back.

As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don’t, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn’t the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it , or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself — the savagery, the cruelty, the relentless anxiety and ennui, the longing for escape.

And then the murders start.

As hypnotically beautiful as it is horrifying, Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it- back when it wasn’t exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird.

To say nothing of sprouting horns and molting your skin…


*Warning – This GN includes heavy elements of sex, violence and drug use.

Where do I start with this whirlwind of a read that left me with an unexpected and odd sort of satisfaction? I admit that I jumped into Black Hole almost fully blind. I had to make myself slow down and read through the synopsis. As someone who is developing a rapidly insatiable appetite for graphic novels, the deal was solidified when I noted the literary awards attached to the work and its author.

Black Hole is set within the high school scene of the 70’s in Seattle. Needless to say there are drugs, alcohol and sex involved. We are thrown right into the lives of several teenagers who are not only tasked with the challenges of becoming young adults and self-discovery but doing so in the midst of a plague. A plague that happens to be transmitted through sexual contact. Yes, I think you can see where this is headed..

The sexually transmitted disease is spreading rapidly and causes mutations that range from minor to extreme abnormalities. During the course of the story, there is no cure. Students who acquire the disease become outcasts that are quickly ostracized by their peers upon discovery. Some have chosen to hide their subtle afflictions, while others have moved to isolated areas in attempt to achieve a safe and “peaceful” life. What ensues is a graphic tale of love, hate, sacrifice and violence.


I want to address the artwork of Black Hole first because it was a huge success with me. Depicted solely in black and white, the illustrations still manage to provide a surprisingly rich and somewhat noir experience. No amount of detail has been sacrificed with lack of color and each scene transitions beautifully. I found this to be a strangely, aesthetically pleasing journey that set the appropriate atmosphere. I really cannot share too much due to the graphic nature of the concept – plus why spoil the fun of discovery?

The plot falls together quite well and manages to accomplish something remarkable in the end. If you are going to choose to write a graphic tale centered around drugs and a plague transmitted through sex, I can think of no better setting that high school during the 70s. The concept brilliantly increases in effect as you dive further into the story, connecting with the main characters and grasping the reality of just how catastrophic such an event would truly be while placing a new spin on the real alienation and self-consciousness that is being a teenager.

“I felt like I was looking into the future… and the future looked really messed up.”

Dripping with teenage angst, rebellion and exploration that is on a one-way collision course with a total nightmare, Black Hole delivers a welcomed experienced that infected me the very moment I picked it up. Solid dialog, atmospheric art and smoothly transitioning narration bring to life a surrealistic combination of youth in the throes of a terrifying plague that has quickly climbed the ranks to one of my top graphic novel experiences to date. Yet, I am not recommending this to all. Why? Simply and only because of the nature of the content.

Purchase Links:

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44 thoughts on “Black Hole (Black Hole #1-12) by Charles Burns

  1. I really love this review. I read this book for a course in college, and while I appreciated it for all the reasons you discussed, the nature of it really horrified me. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t have finished if I hadn’t needed to for a class. So I really appreciate how you are wary of recommending it to all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It was such an odd read that it took a bit for me to fully grasp it all. I may not have ever looked at this had it not popped up in my feed with the mention of awards to be honest. Definitely not for all. In fact, a lot of readers I know would not enjoy the content 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m really glad to have read this review. 🙂 This is a cover I’ve seen several times at my local comic shop but have never picked up to give it a look. I had no idea what the story was about and I certainly would never have guessed this. lol It sounds really interesting (and disturbing). I might just have to give it a chance! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This book was not my book. At all. I also made the mistake of packing it in my bag so I was sitting in public trying to obscure the views of passersby because I didn’t want them to judge me if they saw the illustrations. :b

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my haha. I am so sorry Krysta. I can see how that would be awkward! I had to keep this in the bedroom because I certainly did not want the kids viewing. Of course they know that they are not allowed to access my books without permission and GNs are off limits. Definitely not one for everyone.


          1. I really like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, which is a wordless graphic novel about a man who immigrates to a new land. El Deafo is a great middle-grade graphic novel about a girl who worries that the other kids will make fun of her hearing aid. And I like some YA graphic novels that are admittedly violent but I think provocative, like Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints duology about the Boxer Uprising. I’ve only read book one of John Lewis’s March series, but I also think it’s a really illuminating look at the Civil Rights movement and certainly educational. I think that’s often shelved as YA, too, though it probably doesn’t have to be.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. I think GN can be tricky because sometimes even if the content isn’t necessarily more mature than it is in a novel, just SEEING it and not being able to look away or just not imagine the scene in your head can make it more disturbing. If I read a fight scene in a book, I’m not visually imagining the gory details, but if I read it in a GN it’s all right there.

                Liked by 1 person

  4. So glad to hear you loved it. This brilliant review definitely conveys your love for it. I’ve kept it in my TBR to this day without ever checking it out cause I have the feeling I’ll adore it but I don’t want to lose that “first time read love” with it!!! Maaaaaaan, your review doesn’t help restrain my desires, Danielle! *anger* On a side note, I wonder how you’d like the Walking Dead series (graphic novel), since, from what I remember, you are already a fan of the show! With the black and white artwork + more insane events, I’d really love to see if your love for the series will simply explode or something! This is not to say that the Walking Dead comic series is on the same league as this stand-alone graphic novel (Black Hole)! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have seriously contemplated picking up the first TWD Omnibus multiple times. I have a feeling that I will adore them! But I am torn being so far into the show. Should I wait maybe? Do you watch the show and read? I could really use some insight or thoughts on whether to wait until I complete the series or not haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually don’t read because of how I might end up SLIGHTLY not liking the direction of the show compared to the comics. I hear only GREAT things about the comics (plot, characters and GORE). I fear that seeing amazing things happen in the comics might make me go something like: “Maaaaaan, why didn’t they just do like the comics?!?!”. I’m up to date with the show though and TWD has been one of my guilty pleasure shows. But I feel like anyone who REALLY adores the show (looks at you) might end up REALLY loving the comics and not be as much affected by the “changes” that were made in the shows compared to the comics. I think my desire to hear your thoughts on the comics is what would ultimately make me want you to check out comics even if you’re far ahead in the show! 😀 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha look at you trying to push me over the ledge 😉 I am afraid I hold the same fears though. I do not want to find myself questioning changes. Because you know it will happen at some point haha. I wonder how many seasons are left with the show?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh boy… I have the feeling they’re going to milk that series forever! 😀 Even the comics haven’t finished yet (even if that doesn’t mean anything anymore since they don’t really plan on staying loyal to the source material). I actually don’t even know what would be a “good” ending for this show. With how the latest season ended, we can expect things to focused on this “turf war” rather than the bigger “zombie-cure” picture.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I have wracked my brain a million times over regarding how they could possibly end the series at this point and I cannot come up with a solution that would satisfy everyone 😉 It will be a difficult one to conclude and they are making so much off of it right now. A lot the die hard fans such as myself are not ready give up TWD Sundays 😛 I am going against the grain and really enjoying the “turf war”.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. A super graphic graphic novel! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Am I weird for liking that kinda stuff? Oh, well. I love it! And I’ll be checking this one out for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Before you mentioned it and after having read the synopsis I thought black and white would be the best way to go with this story, and I’m happy it was the case and that you agree! 😀 This sounds so heavy but good, I mean, I’m not reading a lot (none actually xD) of graphic novels but there’s something about this one that is very special and you managed to hint it and make me very curious! Amazing work, my Twin Pea! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Dripping with teenage angst, rebellion and exploration that is on a one-way collision course with a total nightmare, Black Hole delivers a welcomed experienced that infected me the very moment I picked it up.”

    INFECTED… I see what you did there 🙂 I am a GN virgin, so I am not sure I should start with this series lol BUT it does sound gritty and dark, which I like…

    Liked by 1 person

        1. It might be! Interesting to say the least. A lot of what I read currently is probably not a good intro. I have heard wonderful things about Monstress though. And many who have read it are not general GN fans. Maybe check it out and let me know haha 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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