Set in 1970s Seattle, Black Hole features teens awash in adolescent angst, experiencing all the boy-girl, geek-jock troubles that make high school such a joy. Most scenes center around finding or ingesting drugs, with characters constantly pulling out thin joints, drinking beer in the woods, and putting quick distance between themselves and their parents. When in packs, the boys treat the girls like shit; individually, they fumble declarations of love and inwardly cringe. A nasty sexually transmitted disease complicates things, as one of its symptoms is a face blurred beyond recognition. Unexpectedly, those typically afflicted are geeks, who, banished to the woods, retain their sense of kindness -- all except the primary killer (yes, there's more than one), a former chess-club kid who pines for a girl to the point of murderous rage.
The weirder manifestations of the disease -- one girl grows a tail, another sheds her skin, a boy develops a second mouth in his neck -- place the book safely outside the familiar, undercutting comparisons to today's STDs. And in sharp contrast to his usual realism, Burns in-cludes plenty of surreal panels highlighting dreams, inner dialogues, and drug-induced paranoia, which visually capture the emotional battles occurring within high-school minds. His style is also a wonder, bold black-and-white pages with characters' faces shining from dark backgrounds or cast in slanting shadows. Black Hole may be a fast read, but its art takes sweet time to appreciate.