'It is the early 1920s. The Volstead Act has recently prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol, which means that an active black market has sprung up—a market controlled by legendary gangsters such as Al Capone. Supplies must be secretly shipped from France to its outpost in Saint-Pierre, Newfoundland. This dangerous and illegal trade involves aviators flying primitive sea planes—aviators such as Bessie the “Black Angel,” whose mixed heritage also makes her the target of the flourishing Ku Klux Klan. Based on the historical figure of Bessie Coleman, she flies in the face of injustice, prejudice, and discrimination.'
I was curious to read Black Angel when I read the blurb and saw that it was based on Bessie Coleman, an amazing figure from history that I'd read about in the past and thought was a brilliant woman to base a book on; but I was surprised to see that it involved smuggling alcohol during prohibition, as this was something that Bessie never did. This seemed to be less a retelling of Bessie's life, and more a original story that drew some inspiration from her, and that was much more interesting.
The Bessie of this book isn't like the Bessie of history, and the story opens with her piloting seaplanes for Al Capone, carrying illegal alcohol, and his accountant, to and from the island of Saint-Pierre, sometimes flying through fierce snow storms and extreme conditions. It's a strong introduction to the character, one that shows she's not only an incredibly capable pilot, but a young woman who doesn't let fear or the possibility of danger hold her back.
After performing her delivery for the mob Bessie travels across country, returning home, where she keeps her own plane hidden away in her barn. This is where Bessie is able to feel the most free, where she is able to take to the sky and feel truly alive. Unfortunately, whilst out flying Bessie is still unable to escape the horrific racism of the time, coming across a KKK plane. After a brief altercation in the air the other plane is damaged and crashes, killing the Klansmen inside. This leads to the local KKK members beginning a hunt for Bessie.
It seems like this is going to be one of the main plots for the series going forward, Bessie and her troubles with the KKK, and I'm definitely up for that. Let's be honest, we all hate the KKK (and if not you should probably worry a bit) so seeing them getting shit is always enjoyable, and the panel with a Klansman impaled on a tree is one of the best comic panels I've seen in a while. It also adds a lot of danger for Bessie, as these are people who will without hesitation kill her.
Through flashbacks we discover that this isn't the first time that Bessie has had issues with the Klan either, and that they seem to be connected with her love for flying, with another Klan aeroplane being the one that seems to have played a part in inspiring her to fly herself. It makes for an interesting story dynamic, where these people who she hates may have played a part in giving her the inspiration to do the thing she loves.
These ideas don't get explored a whole lot here, as this volume is really all about setting the stage and establishing Bessie as a character, which it does well, but hopefully this will get more of a focus in future volumes. But, as a first book this was a really enjoyable read, one that got me interested, made me smile and cheer, and got me invested in the character.