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ADVANCE REVIEW: Dark Horse Presents #7

A comic review article by: Zack Davisson

ADVANCE REVIEW! Dark Horse Presents #7 will go on sale Wednesday, December 21, 2011.

Remember when Dark Horse Presents was one of the most awesome comics on the stand? Remember when you got new episodes of Hellboy and Sin City exclusively through that venerable anthology? Well, I am pleased to announce that happy days are here again; After a rocky start and relaunch, Dark Horse Presents is once again one of the most awesome comics on the stand. Let the good times roll. 

Hellboy is back in Dark Horse Presents. That is huge. That is reason enough to pick this up. What's more, it is Mike Mignola writing and drawing Hellboy. That's right. Mignola art back on Hellboy. In Dark Horse Presents. Then there is Skeleton Key. Bliss. I haven't read Skeleton Key for… oh… probably about ten years. But I have never forgotten it. And a perfect Usagi Yojimbo that may be the first comic I have ever seen that gets Japanese ghosts correct. And -- shocked as I am to admit it -- Skultar the Unconquered, an awesome Conan parody that also does everything right. There are eighty pages packed into Dark Horse Presents #7, and every single one of them is worth reading. I won't promise they are all 100% great, but they are all worth reading.

And Dark Horse Presents, if you want to continue being awesome -- and I know you do -- keep in this direction. Give us some high-profile works, some treasured indies, and some new stuff. Delve into you amazing pool of talent to give us some gems.

I would love to see in future Dark Horse Presents:

  • Flaming Carrot -- Seriously, how long has it been since the last Dark Horse Flaming Carrot. Is Bob Burden really that busy? Tie him down into an 8-page story of the Strangest Man Alive. - 
  • Grendel -- Okay, so Matt Wagner is busy, but just the same…I would love some new Grendel
  • Groo -- You don't have a new Groo series out now. It would take Sergio like five minutes to draw one. Just do it.
  • Milk and Cheese -- Evan Dorkin has promised a return to the House of Fun. Let's see it here.
  • Sin City -- A long shot, I know, but you got Hellboy back into DHP.
  • Theme Issues -- Think about it. A Christmas themed DHP with all of the above. Or a Halloween themed issue with Scary Godmother

Just some suggestions. Whatever you do, keep up the good work.

 

Included in this issue are:

 

Hellboy Versus the Aztec Mummy

Story and art (Yay!) by Mike Mignola

Hellboy just can't seem to get out of Mexico, and frankly I am okay with that. This is yet another tale set during Hellboy's "lost years" when he drank himself to oblivion following a mission failure. But being Hellboy, he can't stay away from danger and the unknown for too long, and this story has him battling an Aztec mummy (if you couldn't guess by the title).

I LOVED this story. This is classic Hellboy. This is Mignola doing Hellboy in a way no one else can. There is a scene where Hellboy chases a giant bat into a church, and when he walks in a bleeding statue of Jesus says "Hellboy" to which Hellboy resonds "That's OK. I was just leaving …" Beautiful. And the folklore. Mignola seems to have been content with fantasies pulled from movies and his own imagination, but here he digs deep into Mexican folklore, Quetalcoatle and Texcatlipoca, and even has that cool explanatory text that always makes me feel smarter after reading a Hellboy comic.

 

Skeleton Key

Story and art by Andi Watson

I used to love Skeleton Key. I read it back in the '90s, where Andi Watson's simple art and wonderful storytelling were a perfect antidote to the wretched excess going on in mainstream superhero comics. When I saw that DHP had a new Skelton Key story, I gave a little whoop! of excitement!

The style of art is completely different from what I remember. If Watson's art was simple before, now it is even further reduced to just a few levels above stick figures. And it still looks great. If you have never read Skeleton Key before and don't know the story, I could imagine you getting confused in this Nemo-esque story adventuring in the Museum of the Lost. Personally, I loved it. And now I am going to have to go dig my old copies of Skeleton Key from the collection, as this was a reminder that it has been too many years since I read them.

 

Blood: Chapter Six

Story and art by Neal Adams

Neal Adams is one of the most influential artists to ever draw a comic book. Neal Adams defined the artform for the '70s, and drug comics out of the Silver Age into a grittier, more realistic and modern present. Neal Adams art is still visceral. Energetic. As an artist, Neal Adams has lost none of his power.

Neal Adams is not a writer.

And therein lies the problem. One of the few continuing story arcs in DHP, Neal Adam's Blood is confusing and dated. As beautiful as it is to look at, someone else really should have written it.

 

Marked Man: Part Seven

Story and art by Howard Chaykin

Off-topic, but I recently read Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! For the first time, and I was blown away. Then I went and r-read his version of The Shadow and Blackhawk. Conclusion: I love Howard Chaykin.

And unlike Neal Adams, Chaykin can both write and draw. His style may not be to everyone's tastes, but damn -- no one can draw a beautiful woman sneering like Howard Chaykin. Marked Man is pretty typical Chaykin, by which I mean it is very, very cool.

 

Skultar Chapter 1: The Unconquered

Story by M.J. Butler, art by Mark Wheatley

I love Conan. I have little tolerance for people who make a joke out of Robert E. Howard. I was gritting my teeth when I saw this title, and fully expected to hate it. I was wrong.

This is damn funny. This is Conan-parody done exactly right. I have never heard of M.J. Butler or Mark Wheatley before, but props to you both. This was damn funny. The art isn't spectacular, and the coloring was garish but really, who cares. It was hilarious. I am recommending this to the gang at conan.com.

 

Buntori

Story and art by Stan Sakai

As many people know, I have a Master's Degree in Japanese ghosts. Its kinda my thing, and I am "that guy" when people try to incorporate Japanese ghosts and folklore into their comics. I will tear a book apart, trash a writer or artist for shoddy research, and allow no flaw to pass my hyper-critical eye.

Stan Sakai got it perfect.

Really, I shouldn't be surprised. Usagi Yojimbo is pretty famous for getting things perfect. This is one of those wonderful comics that I know I should read, but never do because I would want to start at issue #1 and work my way through, and I don't have the cash monies to do that. But I know full well I would love it.

And this little short story reminded me of that. What a superb comic. You all should read it. So should I.

 

Concrete Park: Book 1

Story and art by Tony Purhear

This one really took me by surprise. I was reading it thinking "Okay … lame … lame The Road with urban black people … yowza! I wasn't expecting that! Hey … this is really good. This is nothing like I was expecting."

This is like a Hernandez Bros comic mixed with … I'm not sure. All I know is that I am looking forward to Book 2. 

 

The Speaker

Story and art by Brandon Graham

Ummm … Okay? There is nothing really wrong with this story. It is a clever, surrealistic little piece about a disembodied voice escaping from its dying owner. There are some clever puns here, some play on words. But ultimately it just lacked the punch of the other stories in the anthology, and is unremarkable.

 

The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy Chapter 4

Story by Filipe Melo, art by Juan Cavia.

I don't really know what's going on here, but I like it. An odd little opening about a fat kind and a comic writer turns into a full-blown battle with the Loch Ness Monster. Funny. Adventurous. Brilliant. Oh, and the colors by Santiago Villa were incredible. Dark Horse, give this guy a job. You can't have Dave Stewart color everything, and colorists of this caliber seem hard to find.

 

Finder: Third World Chapter 7

Story and art by Carla Speed McNeil

Finder and Carla Speed McNeil are those little indy darlings that everyone agrees are awesome but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who reads them. I have always heard Finder was great, but for the life of me I couldn't say one word about what it is about, what genre or art style.

After reading this, I still don't really. But as an isolated short story, this was great. The little old man in his time-travelling put-put car was fantastic, and I didn't see that ending coming from anywhere.

 

So that is they way you do it, Dark Horse! Keep those big guns in DHP, and keep bringing back those gems from the past and mixing them with gems from the future. A good anthology series is tough, and it is easy to get sloppy. So don't. You have your recipe, you know what works. Stick with this and you have a winner on your hands.

Bravo!

 


 

Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

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