Dark Entries

Written by Ian Rankin
Art by Werther Dell’Edera
216 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

When is a crime novel not a crime novel? Reading Dark Entries, one of the first two books in Vertigo’s new "Vertigo Crime" line, it’s easy find yourself asking that question. So far as I can tell, Dark Entries ended up in the Vertigo Crime line (instead of being branded as a Hellblazer graphic novel) by virtue of writer Ian Rankin, best known for his Inspector Rebus crime novels. Considering his name on the cover is three times the size of artist Werther Dell’Edera’s, it hard to not figure out what’s going on. Hopefully this bait-and-switch tactic won’t backfire for Vertigo Crime; while Dark Entries is firmly a horror story in terms of genre, it’s also an entertaining read.

I’ve heard people claim that the United States is the king of reality television, but when it comes to obsession I always thought that the United Kingdom had us beat when it came to the cult of Big Brother. Airing every day of the week, with multiple talk/analysis shows also running plus 24-hour feeds on the internet, Big Brother seems to grip an entire nation the way that even shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance can only dream of in the US. It’s with that in mind that the opening premise of Dark Entries, with a group of contestants in a haunted Big Brother house set-up, seems fairly believable. I can see producers in the UK pushing the series forward, and John Constantine’s bemusement at the idea is fitting. For the first half of the book, Rankin is performing a lot of set-up; having Constantine meet all the housemates, and try and figure out why they’re all seeing things even before the producers had planned it. Most of the characters are two dimensional, but it’s not really their story. Rankin uses them as part of the scenery, almost like objects scattered across the room that Constantine has to analyze and see how they fit together.

Once the halfway point hits, though, Rankin flips the story around a bit and lets the reader do a double-take. It’s not a bad fake-out—in some ways it’s actually rather clever—but at the same time I think it actually robs Dark Entries of what had up until then been the most clever part of its story. There’s a place for "not everything is what it seems" moments in stories, and when used right they can be quite effective. But in the case of Dark Entries, I feel that it actually is a detriment to the story. If you’ve ever read a Hellblazer story before, it’s hard to not have a been-there, done-that attitude to the second half of Dark Entries. The end result is a story that limps along towards its finish; aside from one or two moments that made me stop and wonder (is this the first Hellblazer story to include the existence of Limbo?), it ends up being slightly forgettable.

Dell’Edera’s art is a rough-hewn, block-like style that puts him in the same school of artists such as Guy Davis and Matt Smith. Dell’Edera’s art varies in the amount of refinement that he uses from one page to the next, though; on some pages, characters seem barely sketched onto the page, while on others there’s an extra level of care and detail to the people drawn. It’s a fairly standard, straight-forward sense of storytelling and layouts, although I did appreciate that once Rankin pulls out his great reveal Dell’Edera promptly shifts the background of the pages to match. I do think that Dell’Edera’s art would have been better suited in full color, though; there are a lot of pages where even a dark hue might have added a bit more depth and heft to the sparse backgrounds, and a gifted colorist could have accentuated the high points of Dell’Edera’s art while slightly compensating for any weaknesses.

When it’s all said and done, I was entertained by Dark Entries, but it’s not a memorable book. Between the halfway point reveal and the miscategorization of the book, it actually feels like Dark Entries is fighting against itself in places. As one of the two debut books for the Vertigo Crime line, though, it feels like a misstep. People looking for a crime story will be disappointed, and if anything there’s a good chance that Hellblazer fans might accidentally miss the book entirely. Hopefully future releases in the line will be handled slightly better than this.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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