With this debut, we get our first peek into a world of supernatural crime and thinly veiled social commentary. Is it good?
Darkness Visible #1 (IDW Publishing)
In a charged political atmosphere, science fiction and fantasy can take on a paradoxical urgency. We come to these genres for an escape from our everyday drudgery and frustrations, yet many of us also want the content to reflect our real-life anxieties. In a heightened world of heroes and villains and spaceships or sorcery, it’s possible to face down the forces that lead to war, prejudice, and injustice. That can make a world haunted by actual monsters seem strangely more appealing than the real one, where evil is more subtle, insidious, and likely to poll well with close to half of the country.
That brings us to Darkness Visible, a new series from IDW written by Lucifer and The Unwritten scripter Mike Carey in collaboration with film and TV producer Arvind Ethan David and featuring art by Transformers penciller Brendan Cahill and colorist Joana Lafuente. This issue caught my attention both because I’m a fan of Carey’s past work and because of the title. I recognized the quotation from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the epic poem on the Fall of Man that was a major source for the Neil Gaiman/Carey take on Lucifer Morningstar. Book One relates how the fallen angel Satan found himself in Hell, surrounded by flames giving off “No light, but rather darkness visible.” It’s an evocative title, suggesting a series with a measure of literary ambition and a goal to expose the depravity of the present cultural moment.
Certainly, the artists seem up to the task of portraying that darkness. Cahill’s clean draftsmanship, marked by iconic character designs and impressively grotesque creatures, has a lot in common with Carey’s frequent collaborator, Peter Gross. His storytelling is clear, with plenty of well-choreographed action. Plus, the artist contributes powerful flourishes on some of the more horrific imagery, like a demonic woman with a face for a torso and a mangled corpse in the street. With Lafuente’s able hand on the colors, the visual style nicely grounds the high-concept undertaking.
As for the story, this is one of those workmanlike first issues that make it hard to pass judgment. The utilitarian script introduces a world with humans possessed by demons living in London as a minority group, a concept explained both by a blurb in the front matter and, at length, in the dialogue. It’s an idea with clear cues from V or Alien Nation, but also one that seems increasingly relevant in the wake of Brexit and the U.S. travel ban. The “Shaitan” are definitely intriguing, even if Carey and David pound readers on the head with the political relevance: the first line of dialogue comes from an unseen patron at a pub on a rant that involves “the Muslims,” and the main human characters are introduced at a performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
Speaking of which, the scope of this issue means all the characters feel underdeveloped so far. We know our lead, Detective Daniel Aston, is a widowed father who has little sympathy for the possessed individuals he must police, and he’s good in a fight. However, that’s about it for the moment. With a skillful writer like Carey at the helm, it’s a safe bet Aston and all the other humans and demons glimpsed will be fleshed out as we go. Still, this kind of comic is a good argument for the virtues of a double-sized first issue. The one at hand is already over by the time the premise has been (mostly) established.
Is it Good?
The opening of Darkness Visible is solid, but not spectacular. The script connects the necessary dots to get the series started, while the art team turned in quality work – especially on the looks of the demonic characters. After another issue or so, it should be clearer whether the plot and characters live up to the high-concept ambitions.