Given how many crime comics Image is publishing right now, “Dark Corridor” #1 has to do double the work to stand out, and it tries to accomplish some of that with format. Rather than following a single plot, “Dark Corridor” contains multiple stories linked by place and theme (think “The Twilight Zone,” urges the back matter). Issue #1 includes two stories, each tied up neatly and drawn in Rich Tommaso’s simple indie style. “Dark Corridor” #1 is enjoyable and cleverly, almost whimsically executed, but it doesn’t quite leave the reader craving the next installment.
The first story in the issue, “The Red Circle,” includes some twists and reveals, but — because of its more linear structure — I wasn’t as satisfied when things got resolved so cleanly. The second story, “Seven Deadly Daughters,” unfurls like an onion, with each layer of the plot unveiled within another. Tommaso’s neatness really works with this structure, resulting in a wonderful Russian nesting doll of a story. Both tales hint at a larger plot, but neither goes too far afield from its own self-contained setup.
This is both a plus and a problem for “Dark Corridor.” In giving the reader what are essentially two mini-comics, Tommaso shows the diversity and fun of a shorter format, but he doesn’t necessarily give me a strong reason for returning for the next installment.
In both his artwork and his plots, Tommaso draws on old detective tale and noir tropes. The cops are crooked; the bad guys are known actors with checkered pasts, extensive crime networks and storied run-ins with the law. In general, the retro elements of the plot work well with the retro elements of his artwork, and there’s no denying the uniqueness of this series’ look and feel. However, it should be said that some of the “retro” tropes are more welcome than others; the portrayal of black characters is stereotypical at best, with people in the street shouting “Jed Clampett” and calling a dog racist.
Tommaso’s style is simple, with clean inking and blockier, expressive figures, but the world of “Dark Corridor” is also deceptively detailed. For example, in the first panel of “The Red Circle,” the reader can see every item inside the fridge door; Tommaso has even drawn the Land o’ Lakes logo on the butter. The lettering is also done in Tommaso’s recognizable hand, adding to the issue’s sense of self-contained completeness. It was a pleasure to revisit the meticulous cityscapes and interior panels to catch little pieces I missed. A style like that can sometimes feel too precious, but Tommaso’s work never looks too clinical or controlled.
I’m curious to see how “Dark Corridor” operates going forward, but I don’t know if I’m intrigued enough to pick up issue #2. I appreciate the tidiness of Tommaso’s detailed, well-plotted tales, but I wish I had a better sense of where things are going. Still, “Dark Corridor” has reminded me just how wonderfully comics can work in a short format — and that’s no small gift.