Dark Horse Presents #6

"Dark Horse Presents" is a rarity in North American comics; an ongoing anthology series with some top-name creators. And while almost no anthology is perfect (by probability alone, the chance of liking every single story is awfully small), there's enough going on here to have enough value for just about everyone.

Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse's "Resident Alien" is on its third chapter, although it says a lot about their skill that you could jump in here and not be confused. Following an actual alien who lives on Earth, the ruminations of Vanderspiegle about everything he observes about humans is worth the price of admission alone. Sure, there's a murder mystery to be solved, but in this chapter it seems almost secondary as Hogan and Parkhouse show us his observant nature and how he's able to pick up so many things about the humans all around him. Their team-up is strong, and it's a great opener for the latest issue.

Some other regular serials make return appearances too. Carla Speed McNeil's "Finder" continues to get more out there and awesome as Jaeger (still working for a delivery service) gets sent on his strangest assignment yet. McNeil mixes the real and fantastic here, with a nod toward pop culture in a way that will make almost any reader laugh hysterically when it shows up. Jaeger as process server sounded good, but the sort of papers that he's serving is part of why one can't help but fall in love with "Finder." Likewise, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson continue to serve up strong "Beasts of Burden" stories with another short stories about dogs and supernatural occurrences. This new story is primarily a story being told to puppies about a dog in the Dark Ages who defeated a basilisk; the washed out colors of Thompson's flashback pages set the scene perfectly, and both the end of the flashback as well as the story itself from Dorkin carry strong punches.

Fabio Moon contributes "Change," a one-off about taking a chance and exploring the unknown. His story is a charmer, switching between three different people even as the theme remains the same, and all coming together in the end quite nicely. But as for the art, well, it's the most beautiful piece in all of "Dark Horse Presents" #6 (and that's saying a lot). The lush watercolors, the beautiful depictions of jungle and outer space and Venice, every single page is a jaw-dropper. The full-page second-to-last page is so beautiful that you'd dream of having it hanging in your home, carrying so much visual punch in a single, silent image. Moon and his brother Gabriel Ba did a fantastic job with their "Daytripper" mini-series last year, and it's a pleasure to see this new project from him.

Some stories feel like they're still finding their footing, like Filepe Melo and Juan Cavia's "The Adventures of Dog Mendoza and Pizzaboy." It's not a bad idea (with supernatural creatures hiding and a special code to stay hidden), but the self-referential nature of the framing sequence ended up being a little too meta for my tastes, and it never quite feels like it all comes together. When the final panel of your story is a mystified Mike Richardson and you find yourself in empathy with him, it's a bad emotion to wrap things up with. And as the new Cal McDonald story from Steve Niles and Christopher Mitten comes to an end, it feels like it's trying to reach for too much at once; I liked Niles' earlier Cal McDonald comics, but this one is just all over the map and it weakens the end result (with some admittedly nifty art from Mitten) to just be all right. And while the ideas in "Number 13" from Robert Love and David Walker are interesting (and Love's art is beautiful), we end up with an abrupt ending for now to the serial, one that is slightly unsatisfying by its too-quick conclusion.

In the end, only two stories outright don't work, Neal Adams' "Blood" and Howard Chaykin's "Marked Man." Both serials have been around since the first issue, and they both feel like an outdated mixture of machismo and highly oversaturated colors. Adams' story doesn't even feel like it's trying to work as a serialized piece either, with the latest chapter not coming to an ending but just stopping dead in its tracks.

Fortunately, "Dark Horse Presents" #6 ends with another Andi Watson "Skeleton Key" story, as Tamsin, Kitsune, and Mr. Raccoon continue to use the Skeleton Key to hop dimensions trying to find their way home. The haunted hotel story here is adorable, and it reminds me of Watson's "Glister" comics with its airy, fairy-tale storytelling nature. I was sold when Kitsune demanded payment in the form of doughnuts, but between the nature of the ghost and the fact that it keeps raiding the mini-bar, I found myself even more in love with the story with each passing page. And in terms of coming to a conclusion, well, how can you not love it? It's a great way to wrap up the latest "Dark Horse Presents."

This is an anthology series that has been definitely getting stronger the past few months, and with each new issue you can see them editorially fine-tuning the end result. Add on the fact that the issues each have a spine (so you can put them on your bookshelf) and really, you should give this series a try. There's enough strong material to make it a bargain, and that's even before (for example) Mike Mignola's promised return to drawing "Hellboy" shows up next month. "Dark Horse Presents" in its initial incarnation was Dark Horse's flagship title, and there's no reason why it can't be again. Check it out.

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