After a 36-issue run, the second volume of “Dark Horse Presents” recently came to a close, despite winning multiple Eisner Awards and running a number of top-notch serials. With the swift re-launch of the anthology into a third volume, I think that Dark Horse’s management and I were in the same agreement on why it never got the critical sales level it needed; despite being a great bang for your buck, the 80-page length/$7.99 price point was scaring readers off. So with that in mind, how’s the new “Dark Horse Presents” looking?
The one serial that we had in the previous volume of “Dark Horse Presents,” Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s “Resident Alien,” is back and it’s always a pleasant experience. Their “The Sam Hain Mystery” is no doubt leading into a new mini-series by the same name, and it bridges the material from the last mini-series by including material both in the present and the past. Hogan takes care to keep this new-reader friendly — you can figure out what’s going on without having exposition dumped upon you — and you get that feel of small town life (with the occasional murder) with the looming hand of the government reaching towards our titular alien-hiding-as-doctor in the background. Parkhouse’s art is attractive as ever, with its sharp, angular inks and particular attention to the clothing that people wear. It’s a smart choice to open “Dark Horse Presents” #2, leading with one of the issue’s strengths.
Brendan McCarthy’s “Dream Gang” looks as trippy as ever, with its art crammed full of crazy detail and a psychedelic color pattern swirling behind the panels. “Dream Gang” feels like a comic you’re reading more for the art than the story. Creations like the Reverie of Raymonde — a day-glo sun with sunglasses, nose, and mouth — look so fantastic that it grabs your attention. Add in a mohawked bipedal dog and how the “real” world is a dreary black and white, and McCarthy’s creation looks great. It’s a shame the story isn’t quite compelling, but eight pages of McCarthy art regardless of the story still makes me happy.
The second installment of “Wrestling with Demons” by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Andy Kuhn unfortunately loses a bit of the charm from last month’s opening chapter. There, part of the fun was watching Matty and his daughter Penny interact; with her kidnapping in the previous chapter, though, this is mostly Matty yelling a lot about how he wants his daughter back. There’s still some good potential here, with Kuhn drawing all sorts of interesting looking demons and Palmiotti and Gray’s basic concept of demonic fight club, but this drags as it serves the sole purpose of getting Matty from the normal world into Hell’s ring.
Jordie Bellaire and Declan Shalvey’s “Banjo” is an example of a comic story that gets in and out in its 8 pages and tells a complete story in a stylized way with a great deal of skill, but at the same time doesn’t stand out in the grand scheme of things. Bellaire’s writing is solid here, and Shalvey’s art looks fantastic as we see a daughter sing about her father who’s heading off to war. It’s quality work, but there’s not quite a strong enough hook within it to make you remember it a year later. As someone who’s known for her coloring, though, Bellaire does enough good here that I definitely want to see her write more down the line. She’s someone to watch in that arena; Shalvey’s art and Bellaire’s colors were already strong known quantities.
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey bring back their old “Action Philosophers” comic for a one-off focusing on all of the different types of annoying people that argue incessantly on the internet. This is a peculiar piece because it’s amusing, but at the same time feels like it shouldn’t have been an 8-page story. Having all of these different examples back-to-back makes them all blend together; it’s a shame because if they’d done this as a series of one-page shorts that ran on the inside back cover of “Dark Horse Presents” I think this would have knocked it out of the park. It’s funny and good, but it should be read in bits and pieces.
“Dark Horse Presents” #2 closes out with an “Aliens” story from Chris Roberson and Paul Lee. It’s a strange story because it’s actually set within scenes of the “Aliens” movie itself, even as it sets up an “Aliens: Fire and Stone” mini-series that won’t feature any characters (save for the titular monsters) from “Aliens.” Roberson’s tactic on how to connect his spin-off mini-series to the film is smart, and it gets in and out in its 8 pages just fast enough so that the gimmick doesn’t grow old. What helps is how great Lee’s art is; he’s become more and more realistic-based over the years, but his likenesses here are excellent. I also love his usage of color, muting most of the hues and then peppering it with small bursts of color at just the right moments. For something I hadn’t been interested in reading beforehand, “Aliens: Fire and Stone” now looks a lot more attractive.
In the end, “Dark Horse Presents” #2 doesn’t have a single dud, which is a relief. I wish more of the stories were memorable, but in some ways I think that’s the one downside to the lower page count; at 80 pages, you had a lot more room for editorial to experiment and try some crazy things out to see what worked. Still, it’s a nice read, and you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s good to have “Dark Horse Presents” back on the stands, and after all, one of the best things about anthologies is that if you don’t like everything in one issue… just wait until next month and you’re guaranteed a different mix.