The revival of “Dark Horse Presents” (which in its first incarnation was the first comic published by Dark Horse) is a little over two years old now, and that makes it a good a time as any to check in and see just what it’s up to. The book seems to have found its rhythm, offering up a wide variety of tales, most of which are well-suited to the anthology format. Because, contrary to what one might otherwise think, there’s more to an ongoing anthology comic than just chopping up a bunch of longer stories into pieces and calling it a day.
David Lapham’s “Juice Squeezers” is a good example of a comic that is perfect for inclusion in “Dark Horse Presents.” It’s got a wonderfully odd premise — high school students whose after school club is really a cover for them to fight mutated massive bugs — but one that could use a little boost to find its audience. By letting us ease in, Lapham’s able to use the eight-page installment structure to his advantage; we’re only on the second chapter but there’s already been a big “gotcha” moment in each of them. I like the slow reveal that nothing is quite what it seems, and Lapham’s pacing it out well. This is a fun little adventure, and by now I’m ready for an eventual full-length comic with these characters.
I also appreciate that Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber know how to use the anthology format in “Alabaster: Boxcar Tales.” Not only is it one of the longer-running stories currently in the book, but it’s used both its length and the episodic format well. Kiernan story’s zoomed back and forth from a horror-infested version of the present day to a bizarre science-fiction tale in the future, to the point that it’s getting harder to tell what’s real and what’s imaginary in this saga. That’s half the fun, and with new chunks released once a month, it keeps you guessing rather than just racing to a final revelation. It doesn’t hurt that Lieber’s art is great as always, with tight lines to create faces that are just as good at a sidelong glance as overt shocked horror. Lieber’s also able to shift from the startlingly realistic to the cartoonish creatures in the boxcar, which if anything just makes them that much stranger and bizarre. What’s going on? Just sit back, relax, and enjoy.
While on the whole I’m not a huge fan of the licensed comics sneaking their way into “Dark Horse Presents,” I do appreciate the inclusion of Jane Espenson and Karl Moline’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” story, thanks to it starring Billy the Vampire Slayer. There’s not much room for him in the main series’ big finale currently running, so getting space for this little side step with the character that ultimately worked the best in the current series is a good thing. It’s a nice little drama about what it really means to be a Slayer as well as how to handle relationships with those who aren’t fighting vampires. Moline’s pencils are tight and well-shaped, and Espenson’s characters sound like real people with real problems that also just happen to fight vampires. The main series is currently limping about once more, but this is a winner.
I appreciate that “Dark Horse Presents” isn’t afraid of the occasional one-shot, too; in fact, I think we should have at least one or two each issue. Donny Cates, Eliot James Randal, and Melissa Curtin’s “Hunter Quaid: The Only Thing We Have to Fear… are Nazis and Creepy Monsters” is just as ridiculous as the title sounds. The story is silly and over the top, but it’s Curtain’s gorgeous art that pushes the bonkers level up to eleven, with deliberately exaggerated moments and a great, loose style.
Steve Niles’ and Menton3’s “Nosferatu Wars” is the sort of comic that makes me wonder why it didn’t just make the jump straight to graphic novel. Nothing against its inclusion here — I’m all for more people finding out about it — but I can’t help but think that Menton3’s beautiful art is better suited to a large, oversized graphic novel (like his and Niles’s collaboration with the Kickstarter-funded “Lust” hardcover). Menton3’s usage of color and shading here is just beautiful, and I love that the blazing eyes and porcelain faces of the vampires are in some ways less terrifying than those wearing the old-fashioned plague masks. Menton3’s art also is just as impressive when it’s simple ink lines or a more painterly approach; it brings Niles’s story to life and I’m eager to see more of this serial, too.
There are a few stories that don’t work quite so well, which isn’t that surprising; it’s rare to find an anthology with a 100% success rate. Peter Bagge’s “Hate” may have been one of the great indy comics of the 20th century, but his latest “Founding Fathers Funnies” about Alexander Hamilton is sadly not funny at all. It’s a little too whiny and a little less clever than it wants to be, and there’s a sameness to Bagge’s art here which keeps the energy level quite low. Michael T. Gilbert’s “Mr. Monster” remains a mystery to me on how it keeps coming back; with rough art and garish colors, plus a dull and overly familiar story, it’s easily the low point of “Dark Horse Presents” #27.
Add in a few more stories that are perfectly reasonable if also not that noteworthy and you end up with 80 pages for $8. I’d call that a great deal, especially knowing that we’ll have another issue this time next month. It’s not perfect, but on the whole you more than get your money’s worth. Give a random issue of “Dark Horse Presents” a try and I’ll bet you’ll find more than enough fun to make you happy, too. And of course, the longer you stick around, the more stories you’ll get to read from their starting points, too. Having bought this revived series since its return, I don’t regret a thing. Come on board and see for yourself what you’ve been missing.