Review – Dark Horse Presents #1 (Dark Horse)

24116 - CopyPublisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Geof Darrow (Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot), David Mack (Kabuki), Peter Hogan (Resident Alien), Brendan McCarthy (Dream Gang), Jim Palmotti and Justin Gray (Wrestling with Demons), Damon Gentry (Sabretooth Swordsman).
Artists: Geof Darrow, David Mack, Steve Parkhouse (Resident Alien), Brendan McCarthy, Andy Kuhn (Wrestling with Demons), Aaron Conley (Sabretooth Swordsman).
Release Date: 20th August 2014

Straight away, Dark Horse gives us a confession: this is DHP reformatted, and in truth it’s issue #194. But reboots, reimaginings and reformattings being all the rage, I suppose it’s a legitimate claim, and a reasonable way of drawing in “new-starts” to the Dark Horse stable. With a very reasonable pricetag for a 56 page comic with 6 tales of varying lengths ($4.99 or equivalent), it immediately has a kind of old-school, classic feel to it that makes my 2000AD-loving heart sing.

The cover with its catchy design owes more to Osamu Tezuka than Frank Miller, quite deliberately setting the tongue-in-cheek tone of what’s to come. The massive, page-spread art doesn’t disappoint, with its apathetic hordes of beachgoers blithely ignoring the apocalyptic battle taking place in front of them. The actual narrative’s pretty non-existent, though, and apart from some wry digs at Americana there’s not much substance here – but it is very, very pretty… The pin-up section that ends this has a great, old school “posters I want to pull out without ripping my comic” feel to it, and confirms the sense that this is eye-candy: cordial, not terribly substantial, but setting a tone for future romps. A more telling criticism might be that giving over a quarter of the issue without really much of a story to speak of could be off-putting to some. Individual Rating: 3/5

Mack’s Kabuki is another beast all together. Visually reminiscent of McKean’s work on ‘Alias’, he presents us with a elaborate yet intimate composite tale, a scrapbook of memories that elegantly covers the character’s history in a few short pages and drives forward future narrative. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this, but it is extraordinary, beautiful, compelling. Individual Rating: 5/5

Resident Alien’s another tale in a fresh reboot. Straight away the art is visually compelling – Las Vegas neon done (consciously) hypnotically, background characters with a universality that’s hard to pinpoint but feeds into their anonymity – and our protagonist, Icarus, a bald, purple, pointy-eared alien with a need to repay unspecified debts. We don’t get much back story, but it’s not necessary – it’s enough to know that he feels compelled to do this, to do “right”; the fact that he remains relatively unnoticed, or at least as an alien, doesn’t even seem to odd thanks to a throwaway comment about other psychic abilities. It’s intriguing, and will be interesting to see how it continues. Individual Rating: 4/5

Dream Gang tries to achieve something impressive with a contrast between grim, grinding, monochrome “reality” and lurid multi-colour dreamscapes. With elements of Lovecraft (always a winner with me) and a Morrison-like narrative, this manages to reveal very little indeed whilst drawing us in. Certainly, the idea of a character having a totally separate life in dream is nothing new, but there’s something bold about this (albeit very brief) introduction. Indeed, I’d like to see more of this, and I think it suffers slightly from the reduced format of DHP. Individual Rating 3/5.

Talking of tropes, ‘Wrestling with Demons’ tries to cram an awful lot into a few pages: father/preteen daughter relationships, a literal ghost town, demons, convincing dialogue and a cage match. It comes up a little short because it feels rushed (there’s that criticism of the format again) although it has enough space for the narrative it’s trying to tell – I actually would have liked a slower build, with this split over 2 issues, to develop the relationship so that we empathise more strongly with the characters before the inevitable demonic smackdown ensues. The colouring’s a bit brash for my taste, and it jars with the intention of it as a horror comic (ish). Certainly the weakest offering here, but has potential nonetheless. Individual Rating 2/5

By contrast, Sabretooth Swordsman is quite simply one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever read, but in all kinds of good ways. The art is staggeringly intricate, the dialogue perfectly minimal, and page after page had been snorting with laughter. In theory, a story about an anthropomorphic sabretooth tiger in some variety of mystic Araby recovering his trousers from a pack of giant beetles is something that would just make me sigh and get through as hurriedly as possible – but I loved this, it’s totally bonkers and completely wonderful. It’s as if someone’s taken Blacksad and inverted everything, and has one of the best single page spreads I’ve seen in a curious homage to Pacman (no, really), along with some really effective use of frame-within-frame close-ups that are more Kazuo Koike than anything. It’s a fitting way to end the issue: it picks up the tone from the opener, and goes out with a glorious bang. Individual Rating 5/5.

Like any collected issue, this was always going to have hits and misses. But there’s nothing terribly wide of the mark, and there’s an awful lot of very impressive efforts in here. Well worth picking up!

Overall Rating: 4/5


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The writer of this piece was: Sam de Smith
You can follow Sam on Twitter

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