Black Mane is a meditation on hyper-masculinity, racism, misogyny, and the dangerous situations that arise when the three are left to percolate unchecked. In his introduction, LaRiccia notes the work is both fiction and autobiography and this explains the disjointedness of the violent episodes encountered by Michael, the protagonist, during a sweltering city summer. Violence, unscripted and as it works out in the real world, is both sudden and senseless; a fearsome truth that the novel captures well.
Black Mane opens with Michael day dreaming as he drives, causing a slight fender bender and inciting the wrath of a bat-wielding motorist. It's an excellent introduction to both the protagonist and the book, setting the tone and establishing Michael as a mild-mannered, thoughtful young man horrified by the random violence he witnesses on the daily. Most of the violence portrayed is against women, including threats, stalking, sexual harassment, and rape. LaRiccia is quick to highlight the racism inherent in many of these incidents, especially the derogatory, sexualized insults lobbed at women of color by white men. Michael, a man of indeterminate heritage, is also the target of telling racist insults. What is interesting about these moments is the varied assumptions of those attacking Michael; he's pegged as both a 'spic' and a 'camel fucker'. What LaRiccia makes clear is that, even in the so-called post-Civil Rights era, having a darker complexion is still very much a danger.
As I said, Black Mane is a mediation on violence, and the novel is framed by Michael's fantasies and dreams of avenging the scenes he witnesses. His alter-ego is a hulking, monstrous version of himself, who viciously murders the perpetrators he's encountered. Yet, Michael himself is a retiring, peaceful man, slow to intercede and riddled with doubt about his own strength and efficacy. It's apparent that he realizes the futility in responding violently to violence, but does justice to the complexities of human nature, illustraing the swift, natural impulse to strike out (or to envision doing so) upon witnessing aggression. The central message of Black Mane is made clear during these dream sequences: that one must make a concentrated effort to break out of cyclical violence, which Michael does toward the end of the book, demonstrating a quiet heroism far removed from The Maxx-style fantasies.
LaRiccia makes good use of shading and murky, darkened panels to highlight the grave issues he explores. He is particularly adept at creating grotesque caricatures of the dangerous and enraged: their faces drawn bug-eyed and beastly, with exaggerated, menacing teeth more akin to hyenas than humans. Though the novel is rather verbose, it's certainly no crutch as his art is expressive and LaRiccia has a talent for conveying complicated emotions in a single panel.