Current Reviews


Dark Horse Presents #1

Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2011
By: Danny Djeljosevic

Dark Horse
It looks like someone at Dark Horse read that one review where I said I'd totally buy a regular anthology series, no questions asked. So now we have a bimonthly (if the second issue's June release date is any indication) Dark Horse Presents, 11 years after the original series went away and four years after DHP went to MySpace for some reason. Not only that, but the new series is in a slick package -- a glossy, 80-page, ad-free, perfect bound magazine package, to be exact, complete with a preview of Frank Miller's Xerxes (which looks awesome, by the way).

This is something to celebrate, even as I review each story in the book, one by one:

"Concrete: Intersection" by Paul Chadwick

To me, Paul Chadwick's Concrete was a comic book that I saw Wizard talk about sometimes, but I was too dumb a kid to really bother paying attention to it or even try to seek out. As an adult, at least I have Wikipedia on my side to educate myself. The character -- a man whose brain was transplanted to a stone body by aliens -- debuted in the original Dark Horse Presents, so it's cool that Dark Horse got Chadwick to create a new story for the book, especially considering how rarely he seems to work in comics these days.

Despite not knowing much about Concrete, it's easy to imagine "Intersection" is a representative story for the character -- he helps people out and battles a personal issue. Especially great is the image of Concrete himself, a giant, Kirbyesque-but-not-frightening golem -- a design made even better by that fact that nobody in Concrete's world reacts to him. He seems friendly and helpful.

You can read some Concrete comics for free on Chadwick's Website.

"Marked Man: Chapter 1" by Howard Chaykin

Along with 80-page anthology books, any significant presence of Howard Chaykin pretty much calls dibs on the cash in my wallet. That's how I ended up buying that Magneto one-shot from a few months ago, and Chaykin also helped Dark Horse Presents #1 come home with me this week.

This opening chapter of Marked Man is mostly setup -- we meet Mark LaFarge, career criminal with an unknowing wife and equally oblivious kids waiting for him at home once he's got his score, but we don't get a sense of plot yet. That'll probably come with the next one.

Besides Chaykin's characteristic art -- as amazing at selling the noisy crowdedness of a strip club as it is rendering the sanitized quiet of the suburbs, going from beautiful, big-assed dancers to the grotesque, perpetually annoyed wife -- there are some great details in his script, from the lesbian cohort to LaFarge gaining weight despite a some liposuction in the past.

"Blood: Chapter 1" by Neal Adams

Neal Adams has to be insane. And not because he believes in the Expanding Earth theory. That's kooky, but people believe in lots of strange things. Believing in strange things is a foundational element of the human psyche.

This comic, however -- this tells me that Neal Adams is insane, and way more succinctly than Batman: Odyssey did. You see, it starts with a guy tied to a chair and being worked over by a -- let's call him a mobster, because it's more than a little unclear -- all while chair-guy incoherently rambles on about somebody named Blood, whom mobster rallies his army to take down.

It's in the final three pages that this opening chapter goes bonkers. Chair-guy explains his story: It turns out that, 2,009 years ago, some far-off space aliens sent parasitic creatures called Animae to disrupt human progress. And it looks like one of those Animae went awry, inhabited a cop, and became Blood, a professional urban avenger -- I say "looks like" because Adams' script (which feels absurdly free-form) forces the reader to connect the dots, but not quite in a "I'm going to let the readers think for themselves" kind of way. More like "I haven't supplied enough dots."

Say what you will about Adams' mental stability, but artistically he's still got it. This is Neal Adams as you remember him on such classics as Ms. Mystic and Mr. T and the T-Force. His "acting" is unparalleled, and chair-guy's beaten, bruised and bloody face is amazingly grotesque -- so much that it's actually difficult to look at.

I just feel like there should be some order forms for Dianetics stapled inside.

"Finder: Third World: Chapter 1" by Carla Speed McNeil

Excuse my ignorance, but I had no idea that Finder is actually a series that Carla Speed McNeil has been doing since the mid-90s, then became a webcomic and has now made its way to DHP with a new story.

Finder, it turns out, is also a sci-fi series, but it's easy to read "Third World: Chapter One" and just assume it's "just" a comic about a former lowlife who's worked in such lucrative trades as bouncing and corpse cleanup and now just wants regular employment. If you're not paying close attention, you'll miss that the buildings in the city are built with scaffolding that appears to hold up the roof of a domed city. I suppose this is McNeil's point -- to create a future that feels relevant to modern life, one so subtle that if you read too fast, you miss it.

There's also a great bit of magical realism at the end where the protagonist, Jaeger Ayers -- now a courier -- bounds between buildings to deliver a seemingly undeliverable package. I'm really curious to find out the internal logic of this story-world.

This opening chapter, despite being part of a long-running series, feels completely accessible. Looks like McNeil is easing unfamiliar readers into her world by slowly introducing the fantastic elements of her story. I can't wait to read more of this.

Mr. Monster vs. Oodak! By Michael T. Gilbert

Finally we reach our first standalone story in this anthology, featuring Michael T. Gilbert's classic Mr. Monster character -- another old standard I'm completely unfamiliar with. Apparently Gilbert took a Golden Age Canadian comic book character and turned him into a monster-fighting superhero/inventor, which sounds right up my alley.

The execution -- at least in this story -- disappoints. Gilbert's anarchic "Lee/Kirby monster comics meets Looney Tunes" pastiche is clear, and his art nails the latter half of that equation, with big-chinned heroes, ridiculous monsters and the brainy, childlike sidekick. However, the result is fun, silly, but not funny. As a story, the lack of a proper ending actually grates a little.

"How Interesting: A Tiny Man" by Harlan Ellison, illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon

Harlan Ellison makes me mad. He ruined The Rocketeer for me with a cranky forward in the original trade paperback edition that made me despise Dave Stevens' retro adventure comic. He trademarked his own name, which I don't understand at all. Does he sue parents who name their child Harlan Ellison? I don't care if he wrote "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" -- that is ridiculous.

That said, this story is an amusing four-page fancy about a person who creates a five-inch-tall man because "it seemed an awfully good idea at the time," and of course there's fallout. There are also two alternate endings on the last page, which is hilarious.

Harlan Ellison still makes me mad.

"Murky World: Chapter 1" by Richard Corben

To call "Murky World" a black and white story feels like a misnomer -- "grayscale" is a more accurate term for the look of Richard Corben's fantasy serial, which gives this new Dark Horse Presents an awesome Heavy Metal vibe, but without the needlessly gratuitous T&A. More importantly, it's got swords and zombie killing and cool wasteland sunglasses. Plus, the boobs in it are comically gigantic. Decent stuff for an opening chapter.

As a teenager, I hated Richard Corben's art for the same reason I hated a lot of art as a teenager -- because he wasn't Bryan Hitch. Nowadays, I appreciate his unique style and the fact that he's been around forever yet still draws comics (even for Marvel, sometimes) on a semi-regular basis. Plus, he drew the cover for Bat Out of Hell.

"Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: The Third Time Pays for All" by Randy Stradley and Paujl Gulacy

Remember when I said that the new Finder chapter is totally accessible for someone like me who had no familiarity with the story? Well, "The Third Time Pays for All" is the opposite of that. From the title and the "To be continued in October!" note at the end of the story, one can easily gather that this story is a prelude to a sequel to some previous Star Wars miniseries. One that, it turns out, debuted in the late '90s.

And it must be pointed out that I'm no Star Wars virgin. I know my Figrin D'ans and Ponda Babas when I see them in a comic -- I just could not follow this story's mix of contextless bounty hunting and rote third-person exposition. If this is supposed to make me want to read a Star Wars comic, I'm sad to say that it fails dismally.

"Snow Angel" by David Chelsea

A mostly silent comic about a little girl who turns into a "Snow Angel" when she, well, makes an angel in the snow. It's the sort of story you have to actually read to appreciate -- it's a colorful and cute take on little kid superheroes.

"It's cute." That's all I got.

"AAAAAAAAAAH" and "Personality Quiz" by Patrick Alexander

Two very funny one-page strips from Patrick Alexander, who's probably the youngest creator in this first issue. I dunno if this was intentional, but the two strips show off his impressive range -- one has very expressive art, while the other is two people talking, both of whom have dots for eyes and no mouths or noses, forcing you to focus on the dialogue. I'd love to see more from this guy.

The Whole Shebang

Dark Horse Presents #1 is a mostly solid collection of stories and a promising return of a series that can serve as a platform for readers to discover new talents or get acquainted (or reacquainted) with established ones. This opening issue falls way too heavily on the established talent, but maybe that's for the best to grab readers and keep them coming back. The original Dark Horse Presents gave us comics like Sin City, so it's exciting to see what future classics will debut in the pages of this new series.

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