For fans of short horror stories, "The Darkness: Shadows & Flame" #1 is the book you possibly overlooked this week that warrants some attention, as Rob Levin crafts a creepy story about a man, Salvador Gomes, tortured by the deaths of his wife and child in 1897 New England. He now seeks the Shadow God to send him back in time to repair his failure to save them. A man named Teo tries to warn him off his insane quest, urging him to accept what has happened and move on as best he can.
Salvador, of course, doesn't listen and forces Teo at knife-point to bring him into contact with the Shadow God. The sequence where Salvador is to stand on a beach for seven days and never once look away as the Shadow God displays horrors in front of his eyes as a test is the best part of this issue. Levin draws upon a specific Lovecraftian influence that's reflected well in Jorge Lucas's art, though, sadly, the preview pages don't go far enough to really show that off. However, in those preview pages lie the whole story, as Levin foreshadows the truth of what happened the night Salvador's wife and daughter perished and how Teo is connected to it.
"Shadows & Flame" is a well-crafted horror story, but is also very obvious in its twists and turns. Even if you miss the clues Levin plants in that initial conversation between Teo and Salvador, it's not too difficult to see where the story is going. The journey is an interesting one, but the tension lies in Salvador's desperation and his confrontation with the truth, which does lose some of its power by being somewhat obvious.
More than that, this issue fails in one larger way: it's not even close to as scary or creepy as the writing of HP Lovecraft. It certainly takes its cues from Lovecraft, but relies too heavily on stilted psychology and Lucas's lush, gorgeous renditions of the Shadow God and his creatures to create that mood. If anything, this feels more like the psychological horror of Edgar Allen Poe with some Lovecraftian traits thrown on top. That doesn't make it a bad read, it simply means that it never succeeds in one of its stated goals.
Lucas uses lots of shadows, taking advantage of the inherent darkness of late 19th-century New England at night. He cloaks his characters in darkness and sets the mood well. Both men look creepier and more foreboding than one would expect. And, his detailed renderings of the Shadow God's display just stopped me dead as I looked them over. Lucas has always proven himself a talented artist, but never in this vein.
"The Darkness: Shadows & Flame" takes advantage of the dynastic nature of the Darkness character to tell an interesting and entertaining horror story. While obvious in places, it is nonetheless a well-crafted issue and something for horror fans to keep their eyes out for.