Hello lovely readers! Welcome to the August installment of Presenting Dark Horse. After pushing through back-to-back Pubwatch posts about Dark Horse Comics’ shenanigans during June 2018 and July 2018’s SDCC, I needed a minute to regroup. And to sleep. It’s been a long few weeks, y’all.
Now that I’ve returned to a somewhat normal sleep cycle, it’s time to once again review what one of my favorite comic publishers was up to last month. And mostly, it’s been a lot of great new content. The second wave of Berger Books is in full swing, for example, and some incredible new creator-owned properties have just joined the Dark Horse family. There have also been some surprising licensed comic departures, unfortunately, but at least there’s a new licensed merchandise platform for all you swag collectors out there.
So let’s dive in, shall we? Upwards and onward to the latest over at Dark Horse Comics!
New Comic Nibbles
Dark Horse has one of the most robust publishing schedules in the industry. While that’s very good for the publisher, it does at times leave poor little me overwhelmed with too many wonderful comics to read every month. Luckily, I have help: WWAC is filled with Dark Horse fans eager to dog-pile all the love we can on their new releases through solo reviews and interviews. So, I want to put a spotlight on these articles in the monthly Dark Horse Pubwatch. Think of it as part conversation, part celebration of my fellow WWAC writers (and 100% reason to keep geeking out about Dark Horse, which is never a bad thing).
The Seeds #1
Ann Nocenti (Writer), David Aja (Cover and Main Artist)
Published August 1, 2018
This month, WWAC’s Zora Gilbert read and reviewed The Seeds #1 by Ann Nocenti and David Aja, the latest addition to Dark Horse’s Berger Books line. As Zora describes it, despite the poorer air quality and chunkier phones, the post-punk future of The Seeds “feels remarkably similar to our own: folks gather on street corners to talk shit about people who have left them, twenty-somethings meet intermittently over lunch or at seedy clubs, and the newspapers treat truth as a commodity instead of an obligation. There are computers piled into dumpsters, graffiti all over everything, and too many screens.”
Yet, the biggest well-known secret in this world is that the planet is dying, and the displaced acknowledgment of death becomes a focal point through which the people of this world try to cope and exist. So much of the subterfuge of truth in The Seeds is expressed visually, through Aja’s “incredible artwork…that’s less about the moments between moments and more about the details in nooks and crannies.” And what Nocenti and Aja have hidden there is what Zora calls a look “at mainstream news culture with an unforgiving eye,” as well as a balancing act between “responsibility and desire, truth and fiction, and potentially life and death.”
The Seeds #1 is a slow burn slide into dystopia, but Zora says that it carries the reader along through its plot. I encourage you to read Zora’s excellent analysis in full, and check out the series for yourself!
The Valderrama Bros: Carlos Valderrama (Writer), Miguel Valderrama (Cover and Main Artist)
Published August 1, 2018
If you’ve followed my writing with WWAC and Bookmarked, then you know that my favorite thing is monsters and monster stories (including, of course, My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris). There’s just something about their apocalyptic nature, their philosophy as metaphorical representations of humanity, and the potential for awesome fight sequences filled with unholy noises and cataclysmic destruction. The only entertainment property I can think of that satisfies this multilayered itch has been the Pacific Rim movie franchise, with its kaiju monsters inciting both deliciously intense human relationships and kickass robot versus monster battles in equal measure. But now, I’m happy to add another property to this woefully short list: Giants by brothers Carlos and Miguel Valderrama, their first American comic series just recently collected into an incredible trade.
The story behind this wonderful comic is simple enough: a race of interpersonally hostile creatures has somehow penetrated our universe, and humanity has been driven underground in an attempt to survive the consequences of their violent carnage. In this new normalcy, two young orphaned boys find one another and swear to stay together as their own makeshift family. But when they’re accidentally separated and each forced to survive on his own, they begin to wander onto two vastly different paths: one, towards love and vulnerability at the end of the world, and the other towards greed and a toxic ambition for power as vicious as the monsters that live among them.
The Valderrama brothers are quick to tap into the emotional meat of their morality tale, excelling in the development of their characters within the harsh landscape of their lives. The world of Giants features makeshift pockets of civilization run by tribal gangs, and the Valderrama brothers’ decision to cast young characters as the protagonists of this series covers every slightly underdeveloped plot point by focusing primarily on the youthful extremes of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. The how and why of things don’t really matter when, as a reader, we see the exuberant highs of the cast’s triumphs and the gut-wrenching lows of their failures (or worse, triumphs that come at the expense of these characters’ trust in themselves and one another).
Complementing Carlos’s skill in brilliantly poignant narration is Miguel’s artistic flair. Giants is awash with gritty linework and stunningly vibrant coloring, instantly helping it stand apart from the monochromatic environments typical in decaying apocalypse environments. Plus, I just like this style. Miguel is not afraid to show humanity at its dirtiest, its ugliest, and its most hopeful, and the way he can convey all these emotions on the page through unique facial expressions and body movements is incredibly fresh. Together, these bros are a force to be reckoned with in the international comics industry, and I need to see more of their work in every single comic shop (and a movie and television show, because how can these two NOT have a studio deal by now, come on) as soon as possible.
Dennis Calero (Writer and Artist), John J. Hill (Letterer)
Published August 1, 2018
Prior to its 2018 trade publication, Dennis Calero’s The Suit was serialized in the Dark Horse Presents 3 anthology series from 2015. Three years isn’t really a lot of time, and yet there’s something about this comic that feels incredibly dated.
Perhaps it’s the premise: the titular Suit is a war-scarred hitman with a picture-perfect home life, two young kids, and a beautiful wife who always has a smile and a martini on hand for her man. What are their names? It’s not important. The Suit works as the hired gun of a ruthless corporation in fierce competition with the Asia market. For what? Who knows. Or perhaps it’s the historical setting, an equally nondescript time in the 1980s when Donald Trump was nothing more than a foul business mogul in New York, young families hung their vinyl record covers on the walls, and sexism, racism, and homophobia were casual staples in everyday conversation. Do any of these have significant importance beyond window dressing in a plot otherwise dominated by ahistorical middle-aged white men? Of course not. My overall dissatisfaction with this series could also be the result of seeing similar themes and plotlines handled with better care, narrative nuance, and even cooler fights in numerous other entertainment properties throughout the years. Like, seriously take your pick of any movie, TV show, book, or video game that’s come out recently. Hell, Joelle Jones’ ’60s inspired assassin-by-day/mom-at-night Lady Killer series was published by Dark Horse in the same year!
The Suit almost could have gotten away with its run-of-the-mill plot if it had taken more care in developing its art style, but sadly that too suffers from the same inconsistent and uninspired treatment. It’s a little hard to describe, but simply put it feels like Calero took 3D photos of the real world and superimposed them into a digital 2D format. Background crowds and buildings are poorly rendered blurs of washed out color, while characters’ facial features strain to be noticed against heavily stylized and strangely plastic-looking skin. At the same time, the rarely drawn faces and fight scenes peek out from the corners of these pages in truly beautiful detail, which overall gives the entire comic an unfavorably disorientating feeling of unreality. Far from being a meaningful distortion of this fictional world, it’s the final nail in a bizarre, hobbled together coffin of boring action and little adventure.
Fox Pulls Buffy and Firefly Licenses
When Walt Disney and 21st Century Fox completed their merger a few months back, predictions about the event’s pop culture ramifications ranged from excitement to concern. Mostly, the focus of these responses was on each individual studio’s movie properties: will the X-Men and the Avengers finally meet on the big screen? What’s gonna happen to James Cameron’s Avatar series (and uh, who really cares, am I right)? Even I was caught up in these giant franchise shifts, my eyes cast too high in the sky to realize all the microcosmic changes happening around me.
I certainly never considered the possible comic book ramifications of this merger—at least until now—when creator Joss Whedon revealed in an interview with CBR that Fox is pulling its Buffy and Firefly licenses from Dark Horse. The publisher’s Buffy comic run will effectively come to an end on September 19th, following the conclusion of its current season 12 series arc. The comic future of the series is unknown, but it seems likely that Disney/Fox will relaunch the series under Marvel Comics, as they did after pulling the Star Wars franchise license from Dark Horse back in 2015. Meanwhile, Whedon will continue working with the publisher on his upcoming Dr. Horrible: Best Friends Forever one-shot later this year. One wonders what other changes The Mouse will enact on our increasingly shrinking entertainment landscape.
Dark Horse Launches A New Collectibles Service
While I’m quite comfortable in my comics and movie corner of fan engagement, the most visible and impressively lucrative aspect of modern fandom has to be merchandise collecting. For those not in the know, I’m talking beautifully crafted and often life-sized statutes statues, mint condition figures, and limited edition toys commemorating every and any popular entertainment property you can imagine.
For untold decades, fan collectors scour the floors of comic conventions or highly specialized online vendors for these coveted gems. Thankfully, the last few years have seen the owners of these aforementioned entertainment properties courting these buyers directly. And now, Dark Horse is throwing its hat into the collectors’ ring with its newest business endeavor: a direct collectibles service called Dark Horse Direct.
This new online storefront will offer fans high-end, limited production products from a wide variety of comics, television, and video game franchises. Not only will this lineup include properties under its purview, such as Umbrella Academy and Hellboy, but it will feature collectibles from popular external properties like Game of Thrones as well.
In describing the new service, former Dark Horse Director of Marketing and Dark Horse Direct’s new Director of eCommerce Melissa Lomax calls it “an exciting new opportunity for us to create fresh and unique collectibles that will delight our current fans, as well as new pop-culture enthusiasts, with premium concepts and formats. Get excited! Some really special items are coming and want a place in your home.”
Coming Next Month
1) Dark Horse Comics will be out, loud, and proud at NYCC 2018! From October 4 to 7, stop by booth 1636 for some great merchandise (like those highly coveted exclusive yellow swag bags), and watch Dark Horse online in the next few weeks as they finalize their panel schedule.
2) New comic reviews, featuring an original GN from Jen Bartel (*swoon at her coloring skills*), the new Stranger Things adaptation, and a futuristic, feminist take on Oliver Twist.
3) New publisher news! I hope you’re thirsty for this one, because I hear there’s some themed craft beer in Dark Horse’s future.