With the second issue of the all-new “Dark Horse Presents,” Dark Horse has a big task: Convince readers who came back for a second helping that they should make this a regular purchase.
Fortunately for all involved, the best three serials from the first issue are back for more. Paul Chadwick’s “Concrete” story both informs new readers about the setup of the comic (this time bringing up the aliens that put Concrete into his strange stone body, without dumping exposition at us) and also makes it dramatic and touching in its own right. It’s those latter two that are hallmarks of “Concrete” to me, and it’s nice to see them here. What seems like a simple enough story about a man at the bottom of a pit turns into much more, and it raises questions that don’t have a simple answer ahead. These “Concrete” stories make me more than ever want a new mini-series from Chadwick, and hopefully that’s where this is heading.
Carla Speed McNeil continues her “Finder: Third World” serial with another story of Jaeger as a courier. With this chapter, she lets the reader start to explore the strange world of Anvard, with its strange cast of characters and the things they’ll do to survive. You can have never read a single “Finder” story before and instantly understand what’s going on here, which is a nice feat. Then again, when you’ve got a dress covering bags of contraband tropical fish, you don’t need to worry about an overarching plot (although we’re seeing one start to form here about Jaeger’s place in Anvard society), you can just lean back and watch the mayhem erupt. The art is beautiful and matches the story well; this is, as always, a joy to read.
David Chelsea serves up another “Snow Angel” story here, where we start to learn why our hero’s parents don’t like her turning into Snow Angel, and more importantly how she’s going to deal with a pending move to Tucson where it never snows. It’s a short and snappy story, and it was hard to not laugh at Snow Angel’s solution to the problem of the pending move. There’s a level of whimsy here, not only in a story about a young girl who becomes super-powered by making a snow angel on the ground, but in how she is able to solve her dilemmas and how the rest of the world reacts. Chelsea has done stand-up comedy in the past, and this comic is a reminder that he’s a very funny man.
Two new serials debut this month, both with some promise. “Number 13” from Robert Love and David Walker follows some familiar ground in its plot (the young innocent child robot, the monstrous villain that unleashes the other side of said robot) but it’s the execution that grabs your attention. The young girl that Number 13 saves has a great character design, and in general Love’s art looks excellent; smooth lines, deliberately (and consistently) misshapen bodies, and a wasteland that feels like, well, a wasteland. Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene’s “Rotten Apple” likewise has a strong feel to its surroundings, giving you an instant impression on its world. The plot feels like it barely got started (those eight pages whip right by) but hopefully its second chapter will give us more to go on. Still, it’s not a bad start.
Of the remaining returning serials, it’s Howard Chaykin that managed to win me over with a new chapter of “Marked Man.” It’s not that I found myself rooting for the titular character (if anything, Chaykin makes sure to keep him from being a hero, here) but rather that I feel like Chaykin has a story to tell about him, now. He might be a jerk but at least he’s an interesting jerk, and I’m now on board.
Less successful are Neal Adams and Michael T. Gilbert; Gilbert’s “Mr. Monster” is inoffensive but ultimately uninteresting, but Adams’ “Blood” continues to tell rather than show, and what it’s telling is a bit of a jumbled mess. There’s still no hook for “Blood” and it makes me wish that Adams worked with a co-writer to try and turn his ideas into a more coherent and somewhat interesting story. Adams can still draw, but it becomes all the more frustrating that it’s tied to a dud of a story. And once again, Richard Corben’s art looks great, but there’s utterly no hook as a reader to care about anything that happens in it.
Last up is Patrick Alexander’s “The Wrath,” which is a funny little story about a guy in an awfully familiar looking outfit that is doing less than heroic things to everyone around him. The ending is a bit out of the blue and doesn’t really fit with the pages that precede it, but that’s the only problem I had with the story. Slice that last page out and it’s just page after page of havoc courtesy Alexander’s little imp of a character, and I could read that all day.
Overall, I enjoyed this issue of “Dark Horse Presents” a little more than the first, and that’s a good sign. It’s nice to see Dark Horse has some strong serials being lined up to keep it going as other ones wind down, and that’s even before we get things like the upcoming “Beasts of Burden” stories from Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, or a “Hellboy” story from Mike Mignola.
With less low points than the first issue, and more strong stories this issue, I’m pleased. Dark Horse’s goal was to keep readers around on a permanent basis, and they’ve achieved just that with me.