Be gay, do crime
Occult noir. Miami sleaze. These four words from the series’ synopsis brilliantly distill the tone of Sins of the Black Flamingo series relating an adventure of one Sebastian Harlow and several others caught up in his narcissistic orbit fighting ages old evil in Miami, quaintly nicknamed Magic City in the late 1890s by freelance writer Ethan Vernor Blackman. For all its sunshine, beaches, and palm trees, Miami and its environs are full of magic though hardly quaint in Andrew Wheeler’s interpretation as brought to life by artists Travis Moore and Tamra Bonvillain.
Sebastian Harlow is the Black Flamingo, a thief – a queer update on the gentleman archetype of times past – who steals and deals magical artifacts. Cursed with a second sight. A scoundrel of some repute with men or just a “messy bitch” if you ask a plain talking ex lover. By his own admission he is not a good man. For all his conceits though Harlow possesses a strong belief that causes him to resurrect a golem created by a radical queer mystic before finding himself rescuing an impossibly beautiful and unworldly being. In turn Harlow will face peril and discover a small break in his cynical heart.
That belief which drives Harlow is the raison d’etre for the story itself and Wheeler sums it up in a line of dialog. To a Jewish couple who want to secure Harlow’s assistance to do right for the husband’s grandfather who died in Nazi Germany, Harlow replies: “I doubt you have anything I want, but acts of defiance are their own reward.” Acts of defiance for Harlow, as I suspect they may be for Wheeler, Moore, Bonvillain, and Bidikar, is the simple act of living one’s truth in a society that is intolerant and hostile to one’s very existence and what that truth means on the deeply personal individual level and as importantly as part of the fabric of the larger cultural tapestry. A bare chested Harlow with lips as if speaking, eyes peering through a gleaming domino mask stylishly teases this radical queer philosophy on the series debut issue which happened during Pride month of 2022.
The evil to which Harlow defiantly acts against is recognizable. It is the fear and loathing that would restrain queer people, of heinous white supremacy, of fascist genocides, and of political hooligans whose actions speak of a desire to diminish or destroy democracy for money and power. Ah, I fear that by not dressing up those words I may have put off the graphic novel for some readers though I hope otherwise. Wheeler is much more masterful at crafting the malevolence into the supernatural themes of the story.
A narcissist needs people. To that end Wheeler created Ofelia Grace, not to be a sycophant, but rather to be a foil to Harlow’s ego and to speak truth to the man. An intriguing character in her own right – a witch, a seer, a helper or fixer in a metaphysical sense. She holds Audre Lorde and James Baldwin in high esteem. Abel and Ezekiel are more than visual eye candy. Abel, whose name is derived from the Hebrew word for life, becomes Harlow’s reason for living while Ezekiel (God’s strength) will challenge Harlow’s cynical heart.
Visually speaking Travis Moore and Tamra Bonvillain are the perfect match to illustrate Wheeler’s script. Certainly admirers of Moore’s sensuously drawn men will find much to appreciate here with his depictions of Harlow, Ezekiel, and Abel. Moore took advantage of having more artistic freedom in drawing an especially erotic scene which is certain to grab attention. A peek inside of Harlow’s dreaming mind is drawn as an homage to Tom of Finland’s art style. Of course Moore’s keen sense of anatomy is not limited to the male body. Ofelia Grace’s character is stunningly beautiful and her wise and acerbic personality perfectly captured through Moore’s lines and expressions. Moore’s equally adept with representing the sleaze factor in several ways: small vignettes of people acting strangely; a racist cis gay guy demanding attention; and Merrilee Pepper and Thorndike Scar as the embodiments of evil.
Bonvillain is in high demand as one of top colorists working in comics today. Her skill and dedication to her craft as evidenced in the thoughtful sense of color and lighting make for a visual feast. Aditya Bidikar’s name in the credits always means top notch lettering. The stylistic flourish and similarities in his word balloon designs for Ezekiel and the Mothers of the Swamp are much appreciated
A deeply necessary story for the times in which we live, Sins of the Black Flamingo will appeal most to the kindred souls who understand the “Be gay, do crime” attitude and to those who are generally curious enough in life to want to peek behind the veil of what passes for normalcy.
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