Blokhedz: Keeping It (Magical) Real(ism)

March 6th, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s a tale as old as time. (Pardon the slight Beauty & The Beast reference.)

There is a child, sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, with a hidden talent and a good heart. They may not recognize this talent at the beginning of the story, but others see this potential in them and attempt to nuture it. Outside forces discover this talent and attempt to either take it away or control it. Eventually, the child realizes his or her worth and takes control of that power.

There are a lot of reasons why this story is so old. It speaks to the idea that we’re all special, and if only we can find that special thing inside of us, we’ll be happy forever. It’s a cautionary tale from parents to children, warning them to stay on the straight and narrow. It’s a fun adventure romp about a relatable person doing great things. It’s a morality play, will you or won’t you abuse that power? There are dozens of interpretations.

This is a classic story. It’s straight out of Campbell. It’s Spider-Man, Superman, Star Wars, Snow White, and a thousand other stories. It’s a story we all know and can appreciate, and a story we’ll likely be telling for hundreds of years to come.

This is also the story of Blokhedz.

First, some info and errata. (I’m trying out these new Amazon links and info formatting. Good idea, bad idea? They seem a little large, which could make formatting a pain.)

Title: Blokhedz #1: Genesis
Creators: Brandon Schultz and Mike and Mark Davis
Homepage: Blokhedz.tv
Publisher: Street Legends Ink/Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books
ISBN: 1416540733
Book Info: Blokhedz #1: Genesis collects Blokhedz #1-4, originally published in 2004 by Street Legends Ink. It is going to be released on March 20, 2007, and will be followed up by a straight to graphic novel volume 2 in Fall 2007.
Misc. Info: Interview with Format Magazine. Publishers Weekly article on the move to Pocket Books.

Extra special thanks to Ed Schlesinger at Pocket Books for getting me one of the last comp copies at New York Comic-con last weekend!

Blokhedz is the first offering from Pocket Books’s graphic novel line to my knowledge, and it’s a good start.

The hero of the book is Blak, a young black kid in Empire City. He’s extraordinarily skilled at rapping, both from written rhymes and freestyling. The book opens on him telling the story of a tragic shootout. From the first scene onward, it’s clear that he’s torn between two things. Is he going to be a smart rapper and speak the truth, or is he going to play dumb and rap about things he was never involved in? Is he going to be true to himself or is he going to “keep it real?”

The person he was rapping about is his older brother Konzaquence, who cautions him to stay true. He doesn’t want to see his little brother fall down the same path he did and gives him his lion medallion as a kind of contract between the two of them.

The hook in the book is that the words in rhymes can alter reality. It’s a little bit Dr. Strange, a little bit Biblical, and, to me at least, a little bit Invisibles. The first time this power is shown is when Vulture, a rival rapper and gangster, has his crew attack Blak. This causes Blak to lose his medallion and pride, but gain new abilities. His words become reality.

Blokhedz #1: Genesis is an engaging read. The story is familiar, but tilted to a new angle. Blak has to dodge the allure of gangs, thug rap, and life in the city in order to survive. His older brother has been there, done that, and did the time for the crime, literally. One of his brother’s old running buddies has gone from drug-dealing to running a rap label, bringing to mind Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves, wherein Mr. Large, the guy who runs all the crime in the city, also dabbles in rap management. He courts Blak and, unbeknownst to him, uses his rhymes to create Crypt, a drug that hits the streets hard.

It’s about choices. Blak is torn between good or evil, God or the Devil, and vengeance or justice, but he must choose one side or the other. Both sides are tempting, but Blokhedz presents one side as being right. Good and evil are clearly delineated in the book, even down to the bad guys looking sinister. Vulture, for example, looks more than a little like his namesake and behaves worse than that. It’s simplistic, but it works. It’s also kind of refreshing in today’s comics landscape to see this kind of black-and-white viewpoint, particularly when pulled off without being either preachy or overly adult.

This is a good read, and a pretty good book for kids, despite a little bit of salty, but censored, language. There are a few gaffes, such as a handful of main characters appearing on-screen and having speaking roles without actually being introduced. I didn’t know the name of Essence, the spoken word poet and inner city crusader, until a chapter and three scenes after she was introduced, if memory serves. The focus of the book is on Blak, of course, but it would be nice if his supporting cast didn’t feel quite so not-there. A brief introductory bit of dialogue, or even a caption presented with the same flair and style found in the rest of the book would be great and enhance the read. We get that Blak has friends, but they’re a group of friends, rather being distinct individuals.

Still, this is a great start. It’s easy to read and the art is quite attractive. It’s a blend of American and anime-inspired art and it works really well. The characters can convey emotion easily. The book looks a lot like a cartoon, but in a good way. I’ve got to give them props for the backgrounds, too. Even in Marvel or DC produced comics, the “Big Two,” the backgrounds tend to be pretty bland, nondescript, and sometimes even nonexistent. These backgrounds are busy. They’re cluttered. They’re almost completely covered in tags. They have character. You really get the feeling that Empire City is a genuine city thanks to this attention to detail.

Blokhedz #1 is a good showing, and it’s cheap, too. It’s well worth a read.

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3 comments to “Blokhedz: Keeping It (Magical) Real(ism)”

  1. Just looked at their site. Good stuff. What’s the deal with the sergeant’s emblem?

  2. Just looks cool, i figure. It’s got no bearing on anything in the book so far.

  3. […] Blokhedz? I reviewed it a couple years ago after NYCC2007, shorty after its animated series was announced. The animated series is here, and […]