The Casebook of Rabbit Black
This week I’ll be returning to my traditional review style with a look at a relatively new webcomic that combines a hardboiled detective story with a bit of magic, a la Harry Dresden. The Casebook of Rabbit Black is an interesting genre blend that pits a recently dead detective against the case that killed him, with the help of some friends. Written and illustrated by Kate Sherron, it is an ongoing series that is posted on Sherron’s website and the first three issues have been published by a new publishing company, Comicker Digital, which focuses on making it easier for creator owned comics to get published. Originally started in 2015, each issue in the series covers a different case (all with clever names) that reveal a bit more about Rabbit and his world as the story progresses.
Rabbit Black is a freelance detective in a world which appears to be somehow quasi-near future AND quasi-Victorian (a rather odd combination). While investigating the infidelities of an aristocratic wife, Rabbit gets himself killed. Fortunately for Rabbit (though he initially doesn’t appreciate it much), his downstairs neighbor, Ira, is a necromancer who isn’t too great at putting up wards and Rabbit finds himself in a not-quite-dead state. Since he can’t do much else, Rabbit decides to track down his killer. Since Ira accidentally raised him from the dead, Rabbit is on a leash directly connected to the necromancer and must drag Ira along as he attempts to solve his final case.
I spent the entire time that I was reading The Casebook of Rabbit Black scratching my head and trying to figure out what the hell is actually happening in this story. When I say quasi-near future and quasi-Victorian, it’s not because I have established these as fact. It’s because I’m taking a shot in the dark based on setting clues because the timeline/world building are never actually established. From the first panel in issue #1, Kate Sherron starts in media res and never bothers to slow down long enough to inform the reader of much of anything. It has a hardboiled detective feel to it due to Rabbit’s job and the cynical way in which he views the world but also elements of magic to it via necromancy and something vaguely related to theater. What that is, I still can’t tell you, even after reading four issues. If I can’t figure out at least the basics of your world after 4 issues, there’s a problem. That problem is that you’re a bad storyteller. While I admire that Sherron is self-publishing this series and think the concept is an interesting one, I have serious issues with authors who can’t be bothered to tell a full story and just expect the reader to be cool with not understanding what the hell is going on. As I’ve said in previous reviews, I think this kind of storytelling (unless done exactly right) is incredibly lazy on the author’s part and incredibly frustrating as a reader. The elements of magic and the intricate familial power struggles that the reader gets a glimpse of during the cases are compelling and made me what to know more, only to be smacked with some other element that never gets explained. And there were a few coincidences (not mentioned here to avoid any spoilers) that were just straight unbelievable. The art is done in a less realistic, more sketched out manner with light detail but heavy shadows and vibrant coloring. While the story almost constantly frustrated me, I did enjoy the art.
I found the experience of reading Rabbit Black, and writing this review, to be overall more than a bit frustrating. I admire anyone willing to put the time and energy into a webcomic and think that the Casebook of Rabbit Black has a concept with promise and characters who are at least interesting. I love that Comicker Digital is helping creators publish stories which otherwise might never see readers. But I’m extremely frustrated by confusion born out of poor storytelling and poor worldbuilding. While some readers may be okay with not understanding what’s going on in a story, I am not one of them. There is such a thing as too much in media res. However, if you’re interested in urban fantasy type detective stories and don’t mind not knowing details or having to puzzle out sections of the plot that aren’t explained, The Casebook of Rabbit Black may be a story that interests you. It’s not terrible and it does have promise, it’s just not an experience I particularly enjoyed.