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I don’t really know how to talk about Black Hole. For a comic that feels like the unholy lovechild of Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Lynch’s Lost Highway, there’s a certain coherency in it with regards to basic human emotions, specifically love, fear, and hatred. Despite being focused around self-centered (and sometimes super obnoxious) high-schoolers, Black Hole really knows the human condition. But this isn’t a feel good story in any way. It dredges up the worst of humanity by illustrating the way we treat people who are marked as different than us. There are moments of amazing intimacy, but they are tinged with a very sharp pain.
Okay, so for those possibly uninitiated to Charles Burns’s Black Hole: it’s a story about teenagers who contract a certain disease whenever they have sex with somebody who is infected. So, essentially, it’s a story about STDs that manifest as elements of the grotesque: your skin can molt, you can grow a tail or extra mouths, or have your entire skin become reformed and unrecognizable. Just to name a few. And as comes as no surprise, people who are not afflicted with this disease reject and ostracize those who are known to be infected. At its core, Black Hole shows us the horror involved in our treatment of people we view as unhealthy (and immoral because of so).
As others have noted, the context for Black Hole’s original pub date of the mid-1990s is important to understanding what Burns’s grotesque tale is doing. (The original four issues are also missing from the collected edition but for the purposes of this article I’m just focusing on the elements that were included in the collection.) Set in the 70s, but written in the 90s, Black Hole’s context is one explicitly about our changing attitudes towards sexuality and STDs, specifically AIDS. So Black Hole effectively becomes a visual treatment of how we, as a society on a whole, view and treat those who are ill. We are not always compassionate. We are a species governed and motivated, in a large part, by fear.
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