Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dark Horse Presents #1 – Review

Many years ago, Dark Horse Presents popped up on the scene as an anthology to be trusted as far as quality and vision were concerned. Concrete was the first break out hit of the book but soon would be eclipsed by Sin City as the story everyone associated with this anthology over time. Truth is, DHP was a source for a little bit of everything. There was no true genre cue to get published in there, it was more about ‘anything goes’, and that is why it succeeded. Now, years later, it’s back. It’s still got Concrete and it’s joined by Star Wars, Howard Chaykin, Harlan Ellison, and of course more Frank Miller. It’s a mash up of what comics do best and is certainly worth your time. Hit the jump to see why.

Dark Horse recently hit gold with their Robert E Howard’s Savage Sword anthology, but that was a collection of tales built around the works of one man, and so there was a unifying vision and genre woven through every page. It succeeded because of the cohesion whereas this new incarnation of Dark Horse Presents, coming off an Eisner winning streak of being published electronically on the Dark Horse MySpace page, is a success because of the diversity and almost manic need to do something different on each page.

Let’s break it down quickly to get a feel for it all.

Concrete – Intersection – Paul Chadwick

Of course we had to open on this guy. Just an ordinary man whose brain is placed into the body of a brutish Hulk. You can take similarities with Marvel’s The Thing but the tone and character interaction is much different. Concrete is a simple guy, almost a loveable goon, but he always wants to do right.

In trying to help a robbery he stumbles across a homicide and he does what he can to set things right. One caption sums it up, as Concrete spots an oil leak amongst a police negotiation and points it out, by stating, “[Concrete] always tries to be helpful.” That’s the mantra of this tale and it’s good solid fun.

Marked Man – Howard Chaykin

Chaykin brings us a crime tale that offers a slice of the violence and then the dysfunctional people behind it. There’s some strange banter that flies somewhere close to Tarantino though doesn’t land as successfully, though it does manage to fill the pages until we get to the true hook of the tale.

This is like True Lies for crims. The guy has his everyday life, he hates it, and he makes with the nasty stuff after hours to pay for it all. It’s an interesting premise though nothing wholly sensational in base concept or delivery.

Blood – Chapter 1 – Neal Adams

This is an ugly tale that just goes weird. But to clarify, when I say ugly I mean it in the best sense of the word. Most pages are occupied with showing us the brutalised face of a man who has some sort of intellectual set back and then we see the violence coming down the line. This comic questions just what art should portray to us.

The tale itself starts on a cop who is unstoppable but soon tangents into a very strange intergalactic saga and I’m not certain the mash up is effective. It certainly is a tale I couldn’t look away from, though the narrative lost me eventually.

Finder – Carla Speed McNeil

This tale is off the charts insane. Well, maybe not that crazy, but it’s close. It’s about a hitman type cleaner character who’s looking for something new to do. He goes to an employment agency where his blood-splattered appearance doesn’t raise any eyebrows. This tale works exceptionally well because it doesn’t spell everything out for you. You make inferences about the reality of this tale, and the rules of this land, by what is presented to you and how the surrounding players react. You have to bring your own perception to this tale and I appreciate that level of assumed intellect in a creator.

The lead man finds a place in a delivery agency and his strange skill set is put into play to help him manage an unmanageable case in a most hilarious way. This tale just throws a lot against the wall and a lot of it is sticking. I’m definitely keen to read more of this.

Mr Monster Vs Oooak! – Michael T Gilbert

This tale is dedicated to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and rightfully so. That dedication sets the tone completely, as do the mock cover and splashy title page. The art is actually somewhere between Jack Kirby and Jack Davis but it most certainly is interesting and engaging. Despite the text heavy pages, this tale is a delight. It’s kooky and quirky and doesn’t mind not taking itself seriously as it depicts a gung-ho superhero, his scientific sidekick, and the bizarre tree monster that lands on Earth intent on rending it to sawdust.

It’s this sort of tale, the kind of obscure quirk that will rarely get its own title and even if it does won’t find sales success, that makes DHP the necessary commodity this market needs. This tale deserves to be read and here it will find an audience. I think that’s pretty cool.

Frank Miller Exclusive Interview and Xerxes Preview

Say what you want about Miller, he’s the cool one to hate on these days, but he’s still interesting even in interview form. He expounds on all the research he still has in his head for Xerxes. He’s a smart man, no doubt about it, and this interview makes for a good bridge between what we know of 300 and what we still don’t know about Xerxes, the book. It seems this will follow Xerxes’ next step on a grand quest. And he’s still the villain. It sounds pretty cool.

Then we get 4 preview pages and I have to admit they certainly aren’t for me. The art is a little too scratchy and loosely formed for me, but I can see how others might dig it. It’s just a little too ‘jazz’ for my tastes. The writing isn’t too bad, though. Spartan captions deliver staccato images through words and it’s effective. It certainly feels like a Frank Miller comic, so that’s good.

How Interesting: A Tiny Man – Harlan Ellison

Next up is a prose tale. By the master Harlan Ellison. It is very cool and hopefully not too many people will skip it because it’s easily one of the best things in this book. The story is about a person who creates a little man. The person carries him around, gets him some tailor made suits, and is delighted by what has been achieved. But soon society catches up to the whole affair and everything goes pear shaped. As most things do.

The tale is short, it skips over the narrative details for a more character focused dialogue and then the genius of Ellison shines as he selects two possible endings for the tale. Both are very different and both mean so much. To have come up with one of those is grand enough but Ellison has to rub our noses in it. This is a great tale of achievement and societal nerve and you must take the time to slow down in this magazine and read it all.

Murky World – Richard Corben

I didn’t like this tale very much. It involves epic battles with ‘deadlings’ and slaves revolting and some sort of familial reunion. But it all just didn’t seem clear. A shame because the art is decent in places. Perhaps more will come of this in the coming instalments.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire III – Randy Stradley and Paul Gulacy

I haven’t read a Star Wars comic since the 90s. I haven’t read any of the previous Crimson Empire comics. I don’t know who Mirith Sinn or Kir Kanos are. But none of that stopped me really enjoying this short little ditty set in a universe I still have great fondness for.

This is a short bounty hunter tale, and it includes one extremely strong moment, and it all comes together because it’s just character work. It’s setting up the next Crimson Empire and it feels like it does a very good job of it. I am impressed and can only think putting this tale in this collection is a smart move for all involved.

Snow Angel – David Chelsea

I’m not even sure I know how to properly talk about this comic. I probably can’t convey how and why I like it so much. This tale stands out from the rest because the art style, and narrative tone, is so drastically different. This is a child’s fantasy as thought by the child, or at least that is my very liberal interpretation. It is a picture book wrought to life through comic pages. It is the glee of imagination.

Snow Angel is about a girl who can do a snow angel and become a snow angel. She then does good deeds. It’s amazingly simple, almost too much so, and it’s so sweet you won’t need a snack for the rest of the day.

Verdict – Buy It. Dark Horse Presents is back and it’s still as off the wall as you hoped. There are slices off everything here so while you might not like everything on display you should be able to enjoy most of it and something will catch your eye and stay in your mind for a long time after. This book is the perfect gateway drug, buy it for a friend in hospital or a kid on holidays. This is the book lazy afternoons were made for and lifetime loves were built upon. Take a chance on this book, 25 years of history can’t be wrong.


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12 comments:

brandon said...

Do you like the material within the pages and the idea of it? In reading your review I can't tell if you truly liked the material or if you liked the idea of the collection of smaller stories more.

I personally didn't think there was much in there (especially for the asking price). I like the idea of anthologies and I want Dark Horse Presents to succeed but based on these contents I can't see myself buying another issue.

Maybe at half the price I would continue to support it but not at full price unfortunately.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Hey Brandon - oh, I thought I got my point across...here goes again. Some of the material I really dug, Snow Angel was awesome, as was Mr Monster, and Finder was near brilliant. I dug the Star Wars tale, and the Ellison tale is rock solid. I think with that many things I'm loving in the book that it's a definite win.

Thanks for asking.

Lee Sargent said...

My only complaint is that I've read that Concrete story before and I was expecting a new story.

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