It takes a special kind of interest to venture into the history of Shakespeare in the Park to comment on 1950’s America and its complicated political culture. Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido have proven to have that degree of curiosity in spades, and at a near academic level of historical understanding and fidelity at that, with their already classic series Blacksad. Their latest entry, They All Fall Down, considers less explored historical real estate as it settles on the tumultuous union disputes of the mid-twentieth century and the public defacements laws of New York City that threatened to undercut the development of art in public spaces.
Blacksad stands as one of the best explorations of American history and Americana in the stands, due in large part to its anthropomorphic animal noir stylings and classic Hollywood cinema flavors. The books are always a panel or two away from jumping out their pages as Disney-like animations with the same magical energy as the material they reference but with a very mature incline that creates a stark contrast between the subject matter and the characters they involve.
They All Fall Down sees Blacksad, a black cat detective (whose race has played a big role in previous story arcs), investigating political conspiracies at a local level as union leaders for the workers who toil underneath the city are put in the crosshairs of powerful people who want to possess even more control over them.
The classic noir tropes are in full display, with secret power plays manifesting themselves in the form of murders, requiring Blacksad infiltrate a tight community of working-class people with its own culture to attempt to catch those trying to abuse their power in the act. It’s an approach to story that echoes in some of the most recognizable works of noir, namely Chinatown (1974) in terms of how important a location’s identity is to the narrative.
They All Fall Down makes each story thread speak to the secret dealings that led to the creation of some of the city’s most colossal structures, as is the case with one of the bridges to it presented in the story. There’s a sense of bad things being responsible for the existence of some of the most iconic places in the city. In a sense, Los Angeles is to Chinatown what New York is to Blacksad this time around, a place built on blood and corruption in spectacular fashion.
On top of that, there’s a very timely take on the state of journalism in late 50’s/early 60’s in a rapidly changing social environment. The mid-Twentieth century in America can be described as a clash of traditionalist and iconoclasts that either tried to survive the tides of change or who tried to ride it all the way through. This part of the story focuses intently on that and feels like an independent chapter of the book in its own right. It’s rich enough to warrant a spinoff comic, something inside the Blacksad world.
New readers will be happy to know they’ll find a strong standalone story that does the work to help anyone feel immersed in the world it creates. It’s speak to one of Blacksad’s greatest strengths: its worldbuilding. Skyscrapers, parks, train stations all look and feel authentic to the city in question and they do achieve a kind of time jump for readers to go imagine what everything was like back then, regardless of the talking animals driving the story. It’s the secret ingredient, really. Research breeds believability. Blacksad excels at this. The anthropomorphic animals add their special charm to the experience, but they never break with the very real elements of the world it represents. No other comic achieves this with this setup.
Díaz Canales and Guarnido remain at the top of their game with their award-winning series. They All Fall Down is setting up to be another great entry in the series with an eye to comment on topics that resonate with a combative fire that still burns bright in terms of the historical problems on display. There’s just no reason not to read Blacksad. It’s one of the pillars of the comics industry. They All Fall Down further solidifies that.