The second issue of the new series from writers Mike Carey and Arvind Ethan David and artist Brendan Cahill slows down the action and thickens the plot, bringing readers a clearer sense of what they have in store.
Darkness Visible #2 (IDW Publishing)
After reading the first issue of Darkness Visible, I was intrigued by the premise of the world it presented. We were introduced to a London much like our own, except people possessed by demons – significantly called Shaitan, a term for the devil in Islam – lived in that city and throughout the world as a feared and heavily policed minority. I felt, however, the introductory chapter got a little too caught up in explaining the premise to readers instead of showing its consequences and portraying the main character, Detective Daniel Aston, in by-the-numbers comic book action. As a result the story came off as shallow overall despite the strong design work and storytelling from artist Brendan Cahill. The underwhelming nature was exacerbated by the degree of contrivance necessary to place both Aston and his daughter Maggie in jeopardy by the conclusion.
Now that the rocky beginning is out of the way, the second part digs deeper into what makes the world imagined by Carey and David tick. Fortunately, these painstakingly constructed aspects do a lot to overcome my initial misgivings. We start to get a sense of the political intrigue driving both the human and Shaitan factions, both of which are more divided than was immediately apparent. We particularly hear a great deal from Aston’s superior, Lt. Devereaux, who is both mistrustful of the miraculously recovered detective and quite willing to send him right back into the field. In addition, there’s another round of exposition from a newly introduced demonic figurehead, the Vivicos. Fortunately, this batch of information is presented in a much a more interesting fashion than Aston’s conversation with Maggie in the previous issue.
Cahill and colorist Joana Lafuente continue to do a nice job of visualizing the heightened, yet grounded, world of the book. Once again, the artist gets to show off his horrific skill at depicting a human’s mangled innards in this issue’s opening. He also contributes several more intriguing character designs when we get a peek into the criminal underworld of the Shaitan. We may still have a lot to learn about the various demons involved in Ulescu’s mob, but each has his or her own monstrous look to ensure they’re in no danger of blurring together. The level of detail in many of the backgrounds stands out as well, particularly in the lavish home of the Vivicos. The queen’s residence is stocked with paintings and photographs hinting at a history likely to be elaborated upon as the story goes forward.
Indeed, the politics and mythology involved are quickly growing in complexity , using demon possession as a way to discuss issues like immigration, racism, and consent. As it turns out, the human host’s decision in agreeing to accept possession is a vital part of how the operation takes place. However, this installment immediately raises questions about whether it’s really possible to consent to an action that compromises your entire consciousness and if there are meaningful age limits on that concept.
At the same time, the writers wisely keep the central issues elegantly simple. Aston is not dead when he should be, and his daughter is seemingly unlikely to recover from the wreck. The personal side gives the story a straightforward emotional crux even as it goes down some inventive routes with wider resonance. Unfortunately, the greatest weakness of the book is still the man at the center of it. Though Aston now has some tense conflicts to face, he still lacks a fully developed personality. An occasional wisecrack and the conventional signs of a tortured father’s pain are the only signs of life.
Placing an Everyman who’s basically a blank slate against a colorful background is far from a novel concept in genre fiction, but it seems like the writer of Lucifer and The Unwritten could do more with his protagonist. There’s still time for that to happen, and with Aston becoming more deeply involved with the demons he holds in contempt, he might stand a chance to become as fleshed out as the bizarre, yet all-too-familiar, world around him.