ADVANCE REVIEW! Dark Horse Presents #9 will go on sale Wednesday, February 22, 2012.
In the introduction to the latest issue of Dark Horse Presents, publisher Mike Richardson asks the question, "What is wrong with licensed properties?" He has a point that comics that originated in another medium — like a TV show, a video game, a book, or a movie — can seem less legitimate than a character specifically created for comics. Even when the original creator is still working on the project, like Joss Whedon with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, somehow the comic version is still not the "real" Buffy Summers.
Richardson makes a good point, but then he doesn't follows through. Because as actively as Dark Horse pursues licensed properties, there is scant evidence of them here in Dark Horse Presents. There is no Conan story. No Star Wars. No Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We do get a chunk of a Tarzan tale. And some more Young Adult Fantasy drivel from Caitlin R. Kiernan (House of Night). But that's it. Dark Horse is doing great things with Dark Horse Presents; there are some phenomenal stories by top talent in here. But there is filler too. And I would love to see Dark Horse leverage their stable of licensed properties to hook new readers and make Dark Horse Presents a real powerhouse must-buy on the comic stand.
With that said, onto Issue #9.
By Paul Pope
Granted, I have a thing for the space program in general and the Moon Shots in particular, but I still award Paul Pope's "1969" with Best in Show for this issue. This quiet, reflective, and humorous little eight-page comic is a perfect example of the power of both the short story and the anthology.
"1969" is about Apollo 12, the second Moon Shot when Pete Conrad and Alan Bean became the third and fourth men to set foot on the Moon. By this second trip, there was less trepidation about going to the Moon. We had already done it. And that meant Conrad and Bean got to do something that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin didn't really get a chance to do; they had fun.
I loved Pope's approach to this story. It is so very human. All the little details like Alan Bean trying to fix a camera with a hammer, or the prank pulled on the astronauts by the mission crew who snuck Playboy bunny shots into their Mission Book… and the melancholy note at the about how the promised future brought on by the space program and the Moon Shots never came about, as mankind lost the ability to look up and dream.
Tony Masso's Finest Hour: A Lobster Johnson Adventure
Story by Mike Mignola
Art by Joe Quiero
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Clem Robins
I love it when Mignola plays with Lovecraft. He does it just often enough that it doesn't become a "thing." Whenever he rolls out Lovecraft you know that he is just having some fun, and a writer having fun with his characters is always a good thing.
Like many Lobster Johnson adventures, this story barely features Lobster Johnson. The real story is Tony Masso, a gangster who knows the Lobster is coming for him, and so makes a deal with an otherworldly power. And as Rod Sterling might say: "A word of caution. When making a deal with otherworldly powers, be sure to choose your words very carefully. Especially if that otherworldly power has a face full of tentacles."
Like Pope's "1969," Tony Masso's Finest Hour is just a perfect little eight-page comic. Everything you need is there. And I don't know if Mignola is trying out new artists or not — I don't think I have ever heard of Joe Quiero — but the art is beautiful. Quiero has a much more realistic style than you find with a lot of Mignola collaborators, but it works. I hope Mignola adds Quiero to his stable (if he hasn't already).
Edgar Allen Poe's The City in the Sea
Adapted by Richard Corben
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot
Richard Corben doing Edgar Allen Poe. If I have to say more than that, I worry about your tastes in comics. You see, Richard Corben is very well known for doing Edgar Allen Poe. He excels at it.
I have one of his Poe collections, and it is brilliant. I would have bought this issue for this story alone, just to see Corben adapting and drawing Poe again.
And you don't know The City in the Sea? Well, it is a poem, for one thing. But Poe's poems were bursting with story, and Corben drags that story out and displays it in full splendor. A slaver on trial by mysterious black-robed figures, on trial for the dumping of his "cargo" when the weather started to rough.
This one is a powerhouse. Read it.
THE REALLY, REALLY GOOD
The Massive: Bay of Bengal – 1984
Story by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
This is the second story in The Massive. Like the previous episode, Bay of Bengal – 1984 tells of some atrocity that happened to a specific person, followed by a vague To be continued…
I confess I know nothing Sri Lanka, or the Bay of Bengal, or the history of 1984 in that part of the world, but Wood's story and Donaldson's art drips authenticity, and I am completely convinced that they are delivering an accurate portrait. Accurate, at any rate, until a mysterious ocean goddess shows up and you realize this story will have its fantasy elements.
Special props to Donaldson on this story. His drawings of the fisherboy Mag Nagendra are full of soul.
The Once and Future Tarzan, Chapter 2
Story and layouts by Alan Gordon
Concept and Art
by Thomas Yeates
Colors by Thomas Yeates and Lori Almeida
Letters by John Workman
I am enjoying this Tarzan tale, although I don't know what is going on. I have never been a huge Tarzan reader — never read the original books and I have only dipped into the comics a few times. But I know that his world is so much more vast than "Me Tarzan. You Jane." This story seems to take place in some post-apocalyptic future where the world has reverted to a jungle-like state with only a few industrial objects traded as reminders of the past. Tarzan is 300 years old, and the sole survivor of this past.
I don't know if this is a part of the regular Tarzan mythos or some new take, but it is a fun read. And the art by Thomas Yeates is gorgeous.
Concrete Park, Chapter 3
Created by Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, and Robert Alexander
Story and art by Tony Puryear
Concrete Park is no longer the unexpected surprise of Dark Horse Presents. Now that we are three chapters into the story, I expect it to be good. And it is.
Screenwriter Tony Puryear is making his debut in comics with this series, and he is doing damn fine double-duty as writer and artist. Every time I think I know what is going on in Concrete Park, Puryear throws me for a loop. Like the "Welcoming committee" in chapter three. I have to read more.
Skultar, Chapter 3
Story by M. J. Butler
Art and letters by Mark Wheatley
Skultar crackes me up. Probably more than it should. This Conan parody about a fake barbarian savior is right on the money, and has great comedic timing. Unfortunately, the art isn't really great, and that lowers the score overall.
Amala's Blade: Skull and Crossbows, Part 1
Story and letters by Steve Horton
Art by Michael Dialynas
This was forgettable. As in, when I was writing my review I had to go back and look at it again, because I couldn't remember a thing about it after I had read it.
The Many Murders of Miss Cranborne, Chapter 2
Story by Rich Johnston
Art by Simon Rohrmüller
Letters by Jim Reddington
I should really like this more. I love this kind of detective story. And the story is fab. But the whole thing is just kind of lackluster, and the art brings it down.
Story by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Art and letters by Steve Lieber
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
I almost feel bad for not liking this, because everyone involved is doing such a great job. Great art. Well-paced story. It is just the genre I can' t stand. Werewolf/Vampire pre-teen girl romance. Blech.
That's right. Nothing. Because nothing is really bad in Dark Horse Presents #9. Sure, there are a few stories that I could do without, or I would like to see improved, but overall this is a wonderful anthology comic. If Dark Horse just keeps them coming like this, and applies a little more quality control to weed out the lesser series, then Dark Horse Presents will continue to be a must-buy for all discerning comic book readers.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.