REVIEW – Dark Horse Presents #2 (Dark Horse Comics)

24117Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Peter Hogan (Resident Alien), Brendan McCarthy (Dream Gang), Jim Palmotti and Justin Gray (Wrestling with Demons), Jordie Bellaire (Banjo), Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers), Chris Roberson (Aliens: Field Report)
Artists: Steve Parkhouse (Resident Alien), Brendan McCarthy, Andy Kuhn (Wrestling with Demons), Declan Shalvey (Banjo), Ryan Dunlavey (Action Philosophers), Paul Lee (Aliens: Field Report)
Release Date: 17th September 2014

With its episodic, 2000AD-style turn, DHP #2 has a typical mix this month of continuing series and one-offs, making it another decent jumping on point. These kind of comics always have the difficulty that a new reader always feels like they’ve missed something, so I was interested to see how this was tackled.

Resident Alien didn’t disappoint. Although slightly thrown by the change of pace at the start of the issue, the cracking cover hinted at where the narrative was going. By giving us some of the exposition that was missing from the first issue, it means that any reader could just happily slip right in. With tight scripting and strong characterisation, this seems to me to be the bellwether of DHP. The art’s good, not eye-popping but appropriate to the narrative and helps it move, rather than serving as a distraction. I’m definitely a convert to Hogan and Parkhouse’s partnership here. Individual Rating: 4/5

Dream Gang, by contrast, was a haphazard mess. The promise of the first issue was undermined by an impenetrable narrative that introduced yet more characters, went at breakneck speed, and left me utterly lost. The psychedelic art starts to make your eyes bleed after a while, and the discontinuity in it – whilst supposedly designed to make you experience the fragmentary nature of dream – is plain irritating. I’ll save a special mention, though, for the use of ‘Macbeth’: to quote Shakespeare blithely always smacks of arrogance to me, and here it reached new lows of pretentiousness. I actually stopped reading the whole DHP part-way through this story, and only went back to it grudgingly. A real-let down not only in and of itself but of the issue in its entirety. Individual Rating: 1/5.

As predicted, Wrestling with Demons really picks up in this issue. Last time, I noted that it suffered from being compressed into relatively few pages; read together, the two parts have a much better pace and flow. Interestingly, even individually this second part stands alone pretty well. The art’s deceptively simple in places and the dialogue’s pretty snappy. Whilst it’s still a bit contrived, a bit derivative, I’m looking forward to seeing where this Buffy-style cage match with demons goes. Individual Rating: 3/5.

For me, this issue is all about Banjo. A ghost story of sorts, telling us the tale of a young girl singing about her father teaching her the banjo before going off to fight for the Yankees. With beautiful art done on a subtle palette, it would alone win for me. However, the creation of a convincing piece of American folklore in the style of singer-songwriters of the heartlands is just a blinder. You can imagine it being sung by John Mellencamp or Grant Lee Phillips, with mournful bluegrass chords running though. It’s a powerful, evocative piece that works on every level, and the final frame is the icing on the cake. Individual Rating: 5/5.

Action Philosophers Presents: Action Philosophers! is wonderful fun. To condense the nature of argument and fallacy into a readable, engaging strip is a real challenge and this gave me some proper chuckles with its whimsical style. It’s a little bit earnest, and a little bit hectic, but a great piece. I can see myself throwing it at kids merrily, although it is trying slightly too hard (let’s not think too hard about the fact that the whole thing is black and white…) but it’s always encouraging to see the range of graphic narratives out there. Individual Rating: 3/5.

The issue ends with Aliens: Field Report. Perhaps sacrilegiously, I’m not crazy about colonial marines. I enjoy the Aliens mythos, but I’m content to settle for the various movie incarnations, and I’ve never been particularly sold on the comic spin-offs. However, I was happily impressed by the tension and dialogue in this, selling me a great story with a reasonably unexpected pay-off. I really enjoyed this, to the point that I would actively look for Aliens: Fire and Stone now. Its strength is really its characterisation, which was always where the movies were at their best for me, and this doesn’t disappoint. Definitely a high note to end on, and bodes well for other franchised comics from the current incarnation of Dark Horse. Individual Rating: 4/5.

DHP clearly deserves the accolades it receives, continuing to set the industry standard. Sure there’s a dud note here and there, but by and large this new incarnation of DHP is fast becoming a must-buy.

overall Rating: 4/5


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SAMDAVThe Writer of this piece was: Sam De Smith
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