Tag Archives: Dark Horse Presents

5 issues in …

Well, technically 6, but so far all I’ve read are 5. That is, of Dark Horse Presents – the newly revived version.

I’ve discussed the title before on this blog, but when I did I mostly stuck to the crazy Neal Adams bit. This time, I want to look at the project more as a whole. And, yeah, I’ll probably break down one specific short as well because there’s one that certainly deserves the attention. But more importantly, don’t expect anything long here. I’m feeling this to be a short post.

Why? Well, it’s simple. DHP hasn’t really offered much as of yet.

I’m honestly disappointed to type that. I rooted for this return right from the get-go announcement. You can take it back to my previous post and understand why. I like anthologies. And this seemed to be the mega-ultimate of anthologies. A blend of classic talent meeting and mingling with a fresh supply of new faces, and comics being comics in all sense of the idea. But it wasn’t even just that. The “Dark Horse Presents” brand possesses a certain charm. The original incarnation lasted 157 issues, spanning almost two decades. Within it, a few modern classics found their feet, and eventual industry giants published their early works. The title was a constant of its time, and I’d say the last, successful comic book of its kind. But even then, the flagship managed to morph and make an impact through the mid and late-2000s via MySpace Dark Horse Presents. It didn’t last as long, but Dark Horse certainly took bold steps in terms of web comics and the digital direction we seem to be so hopelessly moving in. The web series also spotlighted some Umbrella Academy shorts. That’s good stuff.

So, yeah, point is, DHP has a legacy and a status as a brand. I thought I would see that carry over to this third revision.

I think it has somewhat, but I also see this book still in the process of finding its feet and becoming what its going to become. DHP’s main problem is its singular reliance on veteran talent, which seems to no longer surprise or impress. I like a lot of these guys, and I respect them. Many of them are forever associated with the field. When I read Richard Corben’s bit though, I’m not reading anything memorable. And not memorable in terms of long lasting impact, but memorable in regards to keeping it in my mind for longer than ten minutes. Same goes for Chadwick and Adams, whose work may be beyond me, but I do not understand what they are after. Most of it seems to blend in with the general anthology feel – these stories are “eh” and throwaways. And it was really those three names, at least for the first few issues, that the series was banked on.

The sure-fire foundation crumbled, obviously.

The “new” talent has yet to blow me away either. Most of the attempts I read feel like anything else. Decent high concepts told in orthodox fashion.

One vet has impressed me, though. Chaykin. “Marked Man” is a wonderful example of serial fiction with its pulpy roots covered in airbrush neon. This comic does a great job of representing the crime/spy genre in this collection, or anthology, or multi-genres. It’s like the perfect spokesperson. A keen voice over, dis-likable, scummy, yet kind of sympathetic lead, a grimy environment, seedy doings, and even an obsessed cop on the trail. The components are there as well as the aesthetic of Chaykin that follows all of his work. If I’d read more of it, I’d probably possess a term to describe it. “Marked Man” also moves. Chaykin realizes this story lives and breathes in short chunks, so he sets to work and every page takes the reader somewhere knew. None of it feels rushed, though. The sign of a master.

Some good does exist beyond Chaykin, believe it or not. A strip titled “Resident Alien,” which kicked off in issue 4, packs a voice worth investigating. It plays to a high concept, which you could consider a short cut, but Alien really seems to rely on moments of humanity. The plot involves a crash landed extraterrestrial who’s extremely anti-social. Forced to live upon Earth, he hides out in the country in a cabin by the lake, pretending to be a wayward doctor. We catch up with him when he’s forced into a nearby town following the murder of a doctor. In absence of a medical professional, our Alien protagonist is asked to stay and live among the people. The sensations of awkwardness are well written as well as well portrayed, and the piece has a solid overall vibe which only conjures up images of some good auto-bio comic. I’m curious of this one’s development.

But the return of “Age of Reptiles” takes the cake. Ricardo Delgado illustrates something like 5 pages of a beautifully crafted, yet short, dinosaur narrative in which the body of one dinosaur feeds many others and completes the whole “dust-to-dust” cycle. Sounds simple, and it is, but the manner in which Delgado draws it turns the entire beat into a very poetic thought. His artwork and storytelling showcases not just the beauty of death but also the influence one can have after passing on. You can also meditate on the thought of how death can bring us together, and it of course, too, lends itself to the myth of the phoenix. You know, rising from the ashes and all that. The entire piece stands out from both a stylistic standpoint as well as a sub textual peg. “Age of Reptiles” has, by far, packed the most punch in this new DHP.

So, some good exists. I can’t deny it, but even though my post my suggest different, the bad far outweighs the good in this comic book package. I’m still optimistic, though. At 8 bucks a pop, maybe I shouldn’t be, but something tells me DHP will improve in the coming year. Look at the solicits for upcoming issues. Hellboy, Brian Wood stuff, Fabio Moon has something in issue 6, and if the few positives I mentioned continue, it’s possible Dark Horse Presents could straighten out. I think Mike Richardson and co. are still figuring this beast out. It’s DHP, but I get the vibe, like with Myspace Dark Horse Presents, the publisher is trying to find this version’s niche or job. Or, more plainly, adjusting the title for the current times.

Dark Horse Presents does seem to be some sort of representation of comics, though. By that I mean, it’s not an anthology excluding itself to one specific genre or style. Between dinosaurs, marked men, Neal Adams’ wacked out shit and the post-apocalyptic bullshit they’re determined to run, I’d say Dark Horse is all about offering up a nice helping of variety. The consistency in quality just needs to improve. Cut and paste that.

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Neal Adams super-science. Dark Horse Presents. “And nobody listened.”

Dark Horse Presents once again. Does anyone care? I ask that out of sincerity rather than snark or rhetoric. Does anyone really care? Or, maybe “care” is the wrong word to place in that question. Maybe “like” fits better? Does anyone like this newly relaunched, anthology comic?

I only ask because most reaction seems either non existent or “meh.” Granted, I don’t read every blog or bit of comics criticism, but from the usual circles I follow I see little to no comment, and if comment appears it’s of the “meh” type. The most detailed comment my ears have stumbled upon sounded something like, “it’s a showcase of a bunch of once great creators doing mediocre stuff.” Not the most flattering critique.

Not that any of this upsets me or even remotely keeps me up at night (trust me, I ❤ sleep) because I follow the crowd in this case and really only offer the “meh” comment. It’s a “meh” kind of comic book. Frank Miller brightened the picture and gave DHP #1 some sort of flare and Chaykin’s Marked Man looks great, but the story so far does nothing for me. Corben, same case. I’m clueless as to what the fuck Paul Chadwick does in Concrete. The “new” talent feels like filler except for Carla Speed McNeil and Patrick Alexander. And Neal Adams…yeah.

I’m all for the concept of Dark Horse Presents, or really just the concept of anthology in general. I like short stories, and I like the idea of artists, new and old, telling random stories they see fit. Of the few anthologies I’ve read though, the case never works. I’ve read a few, though. Mainstream ones at that. Maybe you cool kids know where to find the good shit and can set me straight. I don’t know.

Point being, Dark Horse Presents could bring real energy to the medium via new talent and old school class acts, but the comic falls flat by way of its wonk content and finds itself largely overlooked. Again, overlooked from where I’m standing. DHP stood significant once. The anthology ushered in a new publisher and presented notable works like Miller’s Sin City and Byrne’s Next Men. 157 issues were published over the span of 14 years, and, through hindsight, DHP seemed to pump variety into the industry. Like a little blip where surely something interesting could be found. Now, it wafts about like the comic’s current line up of talent. There’s more of a connection between the artists and the comic than just sharing the same page. Both seem out of their era, yet oddly present hope for a desired quality or artistic push.

Neal Adams, as much as I respect this man, symbolizes such an idea more than anyone else.

Adams integrated advertising illustration with four color pulp and transformed the expectation of super hero visuals. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve had zero experience in the field of Neal Adams up until this year. His work affects me more through the pieces of criticism I read or medium lookbacks I hear on podcasts than actual comic books. Fucked up, maybe, but let’s face it, I’m 19. Neal Adams – the prime, industry breaking Neal Adams – came way before my time, and I only have so much money for comics.  Cut me some fucking slack. Still, I understand his place in comics lore. I understand, from a second hand account, what Neal Adams did. It’s not necessarily why I respect him, though.

My respect derives from Adams’ recent work, actually, as well as the man’s scientific reputation. We’re all aware of Neal Adams’ personal beliefs – the expanding Earth theory -, and we’re all aware that Batman: Odyssey is bat-shit crazy. Most now mourn Adams because of these choices in expression, but I don’t know, I see something fascinating and even respectable here. Here’s a man, a man who draws better than most, using comics completely for personal expression, as art is intended, rather than sloshing about in useless plots like most industry veterans seem to do these days (DC Retroactive, anyone?). This guy does what he wants and plays by no rule other than his own. This guy took Batman, in the current era of DC editoral comics, and made it completely his own. Neal Adams remains an artist – an honest to God artist and auteur producing content when most vets fade away.

Maybe I shouldn’t praise someone, especially a storyteller of all people, for having a voice – that shit should come standard – but, and maybe this speaks of our time, voice  has become more and more limited. Not every comic book or film for that matter presents an identity. Most forms of narrative are more common to follow the formula rather than an artist’s vision. The world finds fuel in product, and our commercial arts suffer. Voice, whenever present, deserves the recognition. At least a few points.

Especially when said voice shouts to the world, “planet Earth is expanding!” Takes balls to host an opinion most deem insane.

And this is where we arrive. Dark Horse Presents, volume 2, #2. The second installment of Neal Adams’ Blood. This 8-pager sums up the new era Neal Adams.

Here’s a base description:

-There’s a guy named Blood.
-He comes from an ancient source of alien power.
-This power known as the “animae,” which is basically a symbiote, attaches to selected humans and provides them with universal knowledge.
-Throughout time, the animae links itself to numerous people.
-Linked people have visions of a great oncoming threat and said people warn the human race
-Human reaction to warning is summed up by one caption – “And nobody listened.”

Then, at some point in this extended flashback, a Jesus stand-in instructs the Knights Templar on the notion of change. The comic then ends.

No grand points to take away from this. Another crazy Neal Adams comic with little narrative value. Except…guy with knowledge tries to warn the world and “nobody” listens…where have I heard this before?  Oh. Someone got self-aware. Blood chapter 2 is the Neal Adams reaction comic. Rather than ignore his reputation and the criticism he receives, Adams turns it around and fires back at us. The tone of this comic exemplifies a feeling of “I know something grand and world changing, but you and your ignorance prohibit anything outside the accepted norm.” If you could pin it down to a theme, Blood chapter 2 syncs well with “humanity finds comfort in conformity.” I feel the pseudo-Jesus speech says much.

Choose not to kill me? It would hardly matter. It’s a small thing not to kill me. At best, you will be stepping outside your machine, your premade place, for merely an instant of time. Everything you do after that decision will carry you back into the machine. You will be consigned to an obscurity of sameness. Men will know nothing of you.

To become an un-same, to make a change, an impact on history, you must find a path, a way of being that does not follow your preordained way. Only change brings new. How could you possibly learn to step out of your machine?

Does Adams, by way of his beliefs, feels he’s making an impact on history, or is that simply an exaggeration for sake of story? I mean, why use the Jesus image? It could be entirely for story purposes. A sense of symbolism. Or, maybe it says a bit more about this artist. There’s also the idea of men, men who conform, existing within what Adams calls “the machine,” and Adams, by way of the possible Jesus analog, suggests he’s outside or even above “the machine.”

It’s a loaded 8-pager, but as a narrative it fails. Adams tends to make the story’s message overbearing or “preachy” while allowing the actual plot, the fictional element, to drop into the background like it’s unimportant and almost in the way. The story really isn’t even the focus. The comic just reads like someone shouting at you. It’s an interesting way to execute a story, but it doesn’t work.

I still enjoy it, though. I’m a guy for which style overbears execution, and Blood chapter 2 is the poster child of such attitude. Even so, it’s only one section of the 80 page Dark Horse Presents, and I’m most likely alone in the enjoyment. As Adams puts it, nobody is listening. Listening to Blood or Dark Horse Presents. While both subjects could light a fire under the industry’s ass, execution is poor and holds back any attempt at game changing or award worthy quality. Once upon a time, Adams and DHP could do such a thing. Today, both Adams and DHP are revamped versions of themselves, laced with bits that sound tasty in passing, but when actually read pack no punch.

DHP’s only 2 issues in. Things could change. Maybe Brian Wood and The Massive can stir things up. Here’s hoping.

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