By Mike Mignola, Andi Watson, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, M.J. Butler & Mark Wheatley, Stan Sakai, Tony Puryear, Brandon Graham, Filipe Melo & Juan Cavia, Carla Speed McNeil
80 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Here’s a New Year’s Resolution for all you comic readers out there: support titles that reflect what you want the industry to look like.
One of the most common wishes I’ve heard about the North American comics industry is for there to be more anthology titles out there. A regularly published, ongoing series that runs a number of one-offs and serials that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. (Japan’s ongoing anthologies like Shonen Jump are often held up by way of comparison.) To that, I’d like to hold up Dark Horse Presents, the revitalization of Dark Horse Comics’ premiere title. Every month it’s offering up 80 pages of creator-owned comics, and while not every story in it is perfect (it’s hard to find an anthology where that is the case), there’s enough bang for your buck that this is a series that more people should be reading.
The new Dark Horse Presents uses the return of Mike Mignola to writing and drawing Hellboy as its lead piece this month, and rightfully so. It’s been a while since Mignola drew a Hellboy story, and this eight-pager is a great way for not only Mignola to dip his toe back in before (eventually) going to a new Hellboy mini-series. "Hellboy Versus the Aztec Mummy" is a flashback to 1956, when (as established in an earlier story) Hellboy went to Mexico and had five months missing from his memory when the dust finally settled. Mignola’s art is gorgeous as always, with panels devoted to background details like church iconography, or broken statues. And when Hellboy grabs the snake that’s slithering away and its true face is revealed? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason why as much as I’ve loved Duncan Fegredo’s work on the various Hellboy series over the past few years (and it really has been fantastic), I’ve missed Mignola’s art a great deal.
Of course, that’s not the only strong contribution to Dark Horse Presents #7. Andi Watson has been writing and drawing new "Skeleton Key" stories, and this latest one about a museum devoted to lost property is my favorite yet. Watson uses white backgrounds as a deliberate tool here, the void having an eerie nature, helping establish the dangerous emptiness of the museum quickly. And when Tamsin and Kitsune find other travelers, the detail on them is fantastic; from tourists to explorers, after all, everyone gets lost sooner or later. Also on the theme of things being lost is Brandon Graham’s "The Speaker," where a lost voice that escaped through the phone lines returns home upon discovering that his host has died. It’s a wonderfully imaginative piece, letting us learn about the deceased man through his ideas, his doubts, and his secrets. The ideas behind "The Speaker" are clever enough, but Graham’s execution of the ideas seal the deal; I love how he brings things like the man’s shadow or his cool ideas to life on the page. Even tiny details like a happy song spilling out of its word balloon bring great joy, and it’s a great DHP debut for Graham.
Carla Speed McNeil offers up another chapter of "Finder: Third World" this issue as Jaeger continues to work for a delivery service, only find that just because’s found the fastest way across the city-state of Anvard doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t found a more unique mode of transportation. Jaeger’s staggered look as the driver shows him up is just marvelous—a perfect expression of shock and awe—and this rare usage of computer graphics works startlingly well for a series that has never relied upon them. Like Graham and Watson, McNeil turns in a lot of great little background details here; the "putt putt putt" and "brmm" as the car lurches forward, or the way that the building curves up and away from us as we see it tower over the chauffeur’s vehicle. And the mess of pipes in the background as Jaeger jumps off the roof? It’s work that most people will just skim over, even as it registers in your subconscious and helps define Anvard just a bit more.
Two new series debut this month in Dark Horse Presents. Tony Purhear’s "Concrete Park" is one of them, and while I’m not familiar with Purhear, it’s his art that instantly grabbed my attention. His thick, heavy inks are striking, forming his characters with a great deal of confidence and force. Through his art, you instantly get a feel for this near-future Los Angeles; the swagger of his characters and their surroundings just burst off of the page. The story itself feels a little minimal, barely finishing the introduction the characters before it’s over; this is a chapter that I suspect will work better in a collected edition than on its own. There’s enough here that I want to see more; partially just for Purhear’s attractive art, but also to see what will happen once the plot fully kicks in.
The other is "Skultar" by M.J. Butler and Mark Wheatley, a strange twist on the fantasy epic. There’s something funny about Butler’s script, with Zakurai the sage using a book of prophecies about Skultar to help the barbarian down to the finest detail. ("Thrust to your right! Duck! Above you!") As the prophecy suddenly goes horribly wrong, though, it turns into black comedy, and it shifts from merely amusing into, "I have no idea where this is going next" territory, and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t hurt that Wheatley’s art looks great, looking like a combination of painting and computer coloring over his sharp lines. This is a promising new series that I want to see a lot more of.
Stan Sakai serves up a new Usagi Yojimbo one-shot here, and it’s always such a pleasure to not only get more Sakai comics, but in color thanks to the under-used Tom Luth. It’s a short and to the point story involving ghost samurais haunting a battle site, but Sakai’s deft touch makes it both emotional and interesting; as always, it’s not so much the idea here but rather the execution. Sakai’s a treasure of modern comics and this is a firm reminder why. Filipe Melo and Juan Cavila offer up another chapter of "The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy" as well, with its fourth-wall breaking manner that over time has come to grow on me. It’s a little strange in places, but there’s something about its unreliable narrator that is making me laugh more with each new installment. If nothing else, the revised version of how they destroy the Loch Ness Monster is worth the price of admission.
Of all the serials in Dark Horse Presents, it’s only "Blood" by Neal Adams and "Marked Man" by Howard Chaykin that fail to hold my interest. "Blood" is just a mess, both in story and art; this is something that feels like it’s strictly for Adams completists. "Marked Man" in comparison isn’t that bad; the art is pleasant, but the story just doesn’t engage me. With the story this far in (there’s only one chapter to go), though, it’s not a big worry.
Overall? There’s a lot of great material in Dark Horse Presents #7. I feel like I’m getting a great deal with each new issue, uniting me with creators that I already love as well as introducing me to new ones. And if that’s not enough, we’ve still got more great creators on deck; more Beasts of Burden from Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, a new Andrew Vachss and Geof Darrow collaboration, preludes to upcoming series like Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s The Massive and Caitlin Kiernan and Steve Lieber’s Alabaster… You get the idea. (There’s even a spine on the issue so you can stick them on your bookshelf if you so wish.) You want a strong anthology of comic shorts and serials every month? The time is now, and Dark Horse Presents is the answer.