Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: The Calamitous Black Devils

By Lyndsey Holder

Schmalke, Joseph. The Calamitous Black Devils. Comixpress, 2012.

There’s a thick miasma of awesomeness that surrounds this comic, to the point where it makes you feel as if just holding onto it will give you superpowers. It oozes cool – it’s the kind of comic book that you can carry around without any fear that someone is going to see it and start talking smack about comics at you. Anyway, I have a suspicion that if someone did start up with the smack talk, it would jump out of your arms and slap them in the face with all of its pages. I mean, just look at the cover: a badass dude in a gas mask, rocking a devil-may-care stance, and a blood splatter smeared over the title – and what a title it is. The Calamitous Black Devils. It sounds like the most badass gang ever, or a rock band that would make Zeppelin and the Stones seem like a bunch of hacks.

The Black Devils, or Devil’s Brigade, were an actual commando unit of American and Canadian badasses that were trained in WWII to be able to fight in winter conditions behind enemy lines. At least, that’s what the history books will tell you. The Calamitous Black Devils picks up where the books leave off, postulating that this team of fearless butt-kickers was also gifted with psychic powers. If you think that sounds improbable or unrealistic, you haven’t been reading enough history. The Second World War was full of government-approved psychic groups who were all trying to influence the war in their favour and to counter the influence of the enemy psychics. It’s the perfect breeding ground for supernatural pulp, simply because the truth of the matter is so completely bizarre that there really isn’t much that we could imagine that would seem out of place, which is why WWII is one of my most-loved settings. Perhaps there will be a day when Nazis with supernatural powers aren’t my favorite bad guys ever, but it isn’t today, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be tomorrow, either.

It’s clear from the very beginning that The Calamitous Black Devils is the darling of its creator. There’s a sense of pride and love in it that you can feel on every page. It positively overflows with far-reaching goals. It lays plot like seeds, cultivating them in a manner that is both self-assured and unhurried. There are big plans for this comic, and it shows in the meticulous way in which the story unfolds.

As great a first issue as this one is – and it is great – it could use a bit more polishing. I’m all for being conservative with commas, but this comic is positively stingy. I think we need to have some sort of mediation here to get back on speaking terms with punctuation.

The art is similarly in need of a shine. It’s absolutely functional and, even when it’s at its lowest point, it’s certainly nowhere even close to the worst I’ve seen in comics. Sometimes, it’s fantastic – it plays with angles and perspectives in a way that is quite intriguing, and it’s something I hope is kept up in the future – but there’s also some weird proportioning and bodies bending in ways they shouldn’t.

With the amount of love that has been poured into The Calamitous Black Devils by its creator, I expect that these issues will be resolved quickly – that these are simply growing pains, and that each future issue will get better and better until nothing remains but an immense awesome that threatens to infect everything – and everyone – nearby with an incurable dose of terminal coolness.

You can buy The Calamitous Black Devils directly from the author’s webpage.