I like anthologies. Some stories will inevitably be better than others, but when done right, an anthology should present a satisfying assortment of flavors. The Eisner and Harvey award winner for “Best Anthology” two years in a row, Dark Horse Presents has been on my radar for quite some time but the $7.99 price tag for each monthly issue intimidated me. Luckily, being a critic has some perks, so now that I’m writing for Adventures in Poor Taste, I had an excuse to jump on to DHP with #30. Is it good?
Dark Horse Comics Presents #30 (Dark Horse)
In addition to the cost, the serialized nature of Dark Horse Presents has also kept me away from it for over two years. Whereas many anthologies appeal to me for the one-and-done nature of their stories, the serialized nature Dark Horse Presents suggests that it isn’t quite as newcomer-friendly. Of course, serials try to benefit from giving readers reason to come back on a regular basis, but that too intimidates me—if I like it too much, that’s eight dollars added to my monthly comics’ budget!
It’s smart, then, that DHP #30 would welcome a first-timer like me with the first chapter of a new story. The cover feature, “Saint George: Dragonslayer,” written by Fred Van Lente an illustrated by co-plotter Reilly Brown, has a fun action sequence, but doesn’t have much story to offer. Van Lente and Brown seem intent on telling a large-scale pseudo-historical adventure, but at this point it’s difficult to imagine that Dark Horse Presents is the proper venue for it. Plots and characters suggested, not introduced. The premise is interesting enough, so I hope that Van Lente and Brown find a way to give themselves, and their story, more room to breathe.
Another story begins with “Integer City: Power in the Blood” by writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Brent Schooner. I don’t know if whether or not Jonny Kilmeister had been a recurring character before this point, but I love the noir/sci-fi premise of a detective in a mathematically-designed city where “numbers jump out of line.” It’s not a math lesson, but maybe I wouldn’t have hated studying math so much as a student if algorithms had been explained to me by future-Humphrey Bogart. I’ll be keeping an eye out on Schooner, too—his style reminds me of Chris Samnee, which is definitely a good thing.
Next up is “The Return of the Wizard” by Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai. It’s not marked as a “chapter” to anything, and it even ends with “the end,” but even if it’s meant to work as a standalone story, it’s clearly part of a continuing tale. The art is charming, but the story didn’t do much for me.
Then we’re dropped mid-story into “Alabaster: Boxcar Tales Part 2” by writer Caitlin R. Kiernan and artist/letterer Steve Lieber. It seems like the kind of bizarre, moody horror story that I would enjoy, especially given the appeal of Lieber’s creepy visuals, but that’s the best I could say for a story that (through no fault of its own) I couldn’t follow.
The same goes for “Nexus: Into the Past part 6.” Steve Rude’s art is fantastic, and Mike Baron seems to have a good handle on juggling all the weirdness of his story, but again, I wish I could follow it.
“Monstrous: Dirty Work after the Apocalypse” is another “part one” of a story that I suppose has had previous arcs. The art and colors by Ryan Cody were impressive, reminding me of Mike Mignola in some places, but the story by Steve Horton didn’t make me any less tired of post-apocalyptic sci-fi.
“Crime Does Not Pay Presents: Phil Stanford’s City of Roses part 9” is much easier to follow than the other mid-story chapters in this issue. The experience of reading it was not unlike stumbling upon an in-progress movie on TV that you can’t stop watching, even when you keep telling yourself to change the channel so you could watch it in its entirety the next time it plays. And despite the “Crime Does Not Pay” branding, it’s smart that Stanford doesn’t try too hard to mimic the style of those classic EC comics of the 1950’s.
Then there’s “Dark Stern Chapter 4” written and illustrated by Michael T. Gilbert and co-plotted by Janet Gilbert. As a tribute to “Brain Bats” created by Basil Wolvertin it was easier to follow than expected, with a fun Golden Age tone.
“The Silver Angel” part 3 of 3 by David Lapham, comes “From the Pages of The Strain” by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. As the final chapter to a story I haven’t read (set in the world of a book I haven’t yet read, but plan to eventually), it didn’t impact me as much as it should those who have been following it from the beginning, but I was still able to recognize it as a well-drawn, well-written horror finale.
- Variety of talented artists.
- Some interesting ideas and techniques.
- Appeals more to the initiated than newcomers.
- Not much room for stories to breath.
- No truly exceptional or memorable moments.
“Now and Then” by writer Chad Lampert and artist Tom Williams is a melancholy, even poetic done-in-one by creators that I hadn’t heard of but will be sure to keep an eye out for.
Is it Good?
Maybe? If you’ve been following this series, you may want to defer to critics that have as well. If you’re a newcomer like me, I’ll tell you this: there are enough interesting moments here to make it worth a try, but I’m not holding my breath for the next issue.