I remember reading “Dark Horse Presents” some 20 years ago and being utterly taken with the anthology, so it’s a thrill to see it back in a print form. “Dark Horse Presents” was the first comic published by Dark Horse, so seeing it back feels like a return to form of sorts. And happily, it’s a mix of old standbys as well as a new wave of creators.
It’s apt for the comic to open with Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, since the character made his debut in the original “Dark Horse Presents” #1. It’s also one of the stronger stories in the anthology, a reminder that Chadwick’s off-beat slice-of-life stories (that just happen to star an eight foot tall rock behemoth nick-named ‘Concrete’) are impossible to replicate. Chadwick over the years has shown that he can hit just about any genre or style in “Concrete,” from a meditation on nature to an action thriller, and half the fun of “Concrete: Intersection” is trying to figure out which we’re ultimately getting. It sets the tone well, and the rest of the comic unfolds from here.
There are a couple of other instant gems in “Dark Horse Presents” #1. The first chapter of “Finder: Third World” from Carla Speed McNeil sums up in just eight pages her protagonist of Jaeger Ayers, gives you a hint as to the world he lives in, and has a strong punch line. If that’s not enough, though, it’s beautifully drawn (the slouching, suit-wearing, bloodied Jaeger in the opening splash speaks volumes), to say nothing of his former employer’s hand as it moves to and then away from a certain person’s shoulder. Also a real charmer is the opening of “Snow Angel” from David Chelsea, whose autobiographical “David Chelsea in Love” still entertains me decades later, and who jumps genres and styles radically to present a story that’s part fairy tale, part whimsy, and part superhero. I love the almost wordless approach to storytelling he takes here; no dialogue is needed to carry the story to its final page, and it has such a mix of joy and wonder as we watch Snow Angel make her imprint in the snow and chase after a bicycle thief. It’s quite different from anything else I’ve seen from Chelsea, and I’m dying for the next chapter.
But like all anthologies, “Dark Horse Presents” #1 is a mixed bag. Some stories only half of their entry working for them; Neal Adams draws the first “Blood” chapter beautifully, for instance, but the story felt repetitive (not a good sign at just eight pages) and slightly stale. And likewise, Richard Corben’s “Murky World” is interesting to look at (as is just about anything Corben draws, with its exaggerated features and somewhat unnerving sterile overall look) but the story just isn’t jumping out.
Those expecting a huge “Xerxes” chapter from Frank Miller might also be disappointed. It’s just a four page preview, but while we don’t get much in the way of story, it is a pleasant surprise to see Miller back in black and white, and to get those strong, primal smears of ink to give us the ocean, or the stark look of the oars slicing into the water. It’s the nicest art from Miller I’ve seen in a while, and it gives me some small hope that “Xerxes” will work out.
Ultimately only two pieces didn’t work for me at all, and one of them is simply due to the fact that I don’t care about “Star Wars” comics. Fans of “Star Wars: Crimson Empire” will no doubt eat up this prologue (it’s certainly got a strong creative team in the form of Randy Stradley and Paul Gulacy) but the subject matter just isn’t for me. And while others might be fans of Michael T. Gilbert’s “Mr. Monster,” this is the sort of parody that always makes me wonder if the humor works better for someone else. To me, it’s just not funny, and Gilbert’s art likewise comes across as unattractive.
Like so many anthologies, “Dark Horse Presents” #1 is a big mixture of hits and misses. That said? The hits easily outweigh the misses and the “not quite” entries. If each issue of the new “Dark Horse Presents” has stories by people like Chadwick, McNeil, and Chelsea, I’ll keep buying each issue, guaranteed.