Review – Dark Ark #2 (AfterShock Comics)

Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Juan Doe
Release Date: 25th October 2017

After a stunning opening issue which saw co-creators Cullen Bunn and Juan Doe capitalising perfectly on their million-dollar “Noah’s ark for monsters” premise, the tumultuous voyage of AfterShock Comics’ Dark Ark continues this Wednesday.

The first chapter introduced us to Shrae, the captain of the titular Ark, and the menagerie of beasts and monsters he has been tasked with rescuing from God’s flood and transporting to the new world.  But the ship has rapidly become a bit of a floating powderkeg, with the inhabitants bickering back and forth, each trying to stake their claim at the top of the food chain while simultaneously showing their disdain for being treated like ‘cattle’.  And with Maldroom the Naga Matriarch being brutally murdered by a mystery assailant at the end of issue one, it looks like the fuse may have been well and truly lit on this truly explosive situation.

It’s a fascinating series on a number of different levels, and it’s impressive just how much Cullen Bunn has managed to pack into the first two issues in terms of tantalising sub-plots.  I mean, we have the complex hierarchical rivalries between the Ark’s inhabitants; the conflicted relationship between Janris, one of the human sacrifices being kept below deck and Kruul, a seemingly barbaric manticore; not to mention Shrae’s tense relationship with his family, who he only wants to keep safe in spite of the deadly situation he has put them in.  Oh, and that’s before we even get to the other Ark floating out there somewhere.  An Ark that must be allowed to reach its destination unharmed, or Shrae’s voyage will have been for naught.

Bunn does a solid job of weaving these plots together in an unobtrusive and natural-feeling way.  There aren’t any unwieldy exposition dumps, and situations are allowed to unfold of their own accord, making it feel like we’re a heck of a lot more than two issues into this new series.

That said, as strong as Bunn’s writing undoubtedly is here, comics are very much a visual medium, and this story wouldn’t hit anywhere near as hard as it does without the stellar artwork of Juan Doe.  There’s a kinetic energy to Doe’s work that really helps the story to sizzle, and his use of bold, invasive colours throughout really gives the scenes below deck a tense, claustrophobic feel.  The character design of the various monsters is top-quality, and even little things – like the choice to use black for the gutters of the pages – all help to give the book its distinctively oppressive aesthetic.

The cliff-hanger on the final page confirms, somewhat worrying, that not all of the monsters are inside the Ark, and as the tensions continue to rise, it’s going to be utterly fascinating to see how the various sub-plots intertwine and how the hell Shrae is going to keep things together.  I’m also hoping we eventually get a look at the other Ark, not only from a storyline point of view but to see just what Doe does to bring Noah’s floating zoo to life.

It’s often the case with high-concept stories that the writer doesn’t actually bother to include any real story, happy to let their headline-grabbing idea do all the heavy lifting.  Thankfully, in the case of Dark Ark, Cullen Bunn has simply used the premise as a backdrop to what is fast becoming a tense, gripping ensemble drama with some utterly mesmerising artwork.  Don’t miss the boat on this one, folks.  You have been warned.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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