Presenting Dark Horse: October 2018

Presenting Dark Horse: October 2018
Welcome to the Dark Horse Comics Pubwatch by WWAC! This Pubwatch will recap all the latest comic releases and publisher news from October 2018.

Hello lovely readers! Welcome to the October installment of Presenting Dark Horse. We’re back with a snazzy new logo (courtesy of our fabulous DC Pubwatcher Cori), some cool new comic reads, and the hottest publisher news that Dark Horse Comics has to warm up these suddenly frigid November nights. This Dark Horse Pubwatch has all

Hello lovely readers! Welcome to the October installment of Presenting Dark Horse. We’re back with a snazzy new logo (courtesy of our fabulous DC Pubwatcher Cori), some cool new comic reads, and the hottest publisher news that Dark Horse Comics has to warm up these suddenly frigid November nights.

This Dark Horse Pubwatch has all the standard goodies, so I hope you’re not too full from Halloween: first, we have new comic nibbles featuring everything from mature postapocalyptic dystopias to YA coming-of-age magical girls. Our WWAC Read of the Month goes to the latest continuation of cult favorite The Umbrella Academy, which is starting just in time for the upcoming Netflix show. Finally, we return to our regular news cycle, which is a little different from what I thought it was going to be last month but still includes some interesting updates on the Hellboy film, another incredible business partnership, and a book I’m especially eager to sink my teeth into.

Now, upwards and onward to the latest over at Dark Horse Comics!

New Comic Nibbles

Conspiracy of Ravens

Anita Magana (designer), Leah Moore (co-writer), John Reppion (co-writer), Sally Jane Thompson (cover and main artist)
October 3, 2018

Cover for Conspiracy of Ravens: A figure with dark, wavy hair looks down at the necklace floating between their hands, surrounded by a border of black birds

Full disclosure: when I first saw this title, I thought that Dark Horse had finally gotten the rights to graphically novelize The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. Of course, I only know about the series and its key plot points through cultural osmosis and not actually, you know, reading it. Plus, I don’t even know if there is a book by Stiefvater of that title. But it’s all the rage in the YA book scene, so I just made my many assumptions and dived right into this story. And sure, I’ll place the blame for some of my mild disappointment onto myself for not doing a bit more research into this new book before I read it. But a good portion of my mild disappointment also lies with Conspiracy of Ravens itself, for a variety of small reasons.

Conspiracy of Ravens stars fifteen-year-old Anne, who is struggling to adapt to her parents’ recent divorce, the various cliques of her new boarding school, and the sudden news that a previously unknown aunt has died and dedicated all her belongings to Anne in her will. Anne finds herself the new owner of a mysterious raven-decorated locket and a rundown English mansion, which at first doesn’t seem out of the ordinary besides the perky female butler, the unusual technology, and the strange men who lurk around the mansion offering Anne their cleaning services. But Anne soon discovers that the locket holds magical powers, and that several girls in the area also possess bird-themed family heirlooms of immense power. The origins of this power spans centuries, and those who have wielded it in the past might not be as long gone, or as good, as Anne first believed.

Overall, Conspiracy of Ravens is the kind of cute coming-of-age story you’d find on, say, the Disney Channel back in the day. It’s all about growing up, gaining friends, dealing with increasingly adult problems, and learning to stand up for yourself and your values. Coupled with Thompson and Magana’s charming blue and white artwork, Moore and Reppion have created a sweet tale more than entertaining enough for a younger audience. At the same time, it doesn’t do much to break away from the conventions of its magical girl genre predecessors. But I’m a firm believer that this isn’t a bad thing in general. The important thing is taking a well-known plot and doing something unique with it: marrying two different genres or focusing on the interesting inner lives and interpersonal relationships of its characters, for example. (Conspiracy of Ravens tries to do the former by adding some steampunk sensibilities to old Auntie’s household.) But my biggest gripe with this story has to do with its poor attempt at interpersonal drama.

There is little diversity in Conspiracy of Ravens, save for two girls of color who are part of the mean popular clique at the boarding school. The black girl leader of this group named Felicity serves as Anne’s direct antagonist for the first half of the story. Sure, Anne finds out that Felicity also has a magical heirloom, thus launching Felicity’s Defrosting Ice Queen storyline that allows her to become a heroic protagonist, but I’m personally tired of seeing the mean black girl stereotype used in middle grade and YA literature in this way. It in no way adds nuance to the character, it’s demoralizing to see the onus of being a good person and a hero rest on the black girl’s need to fix her apparent “attitude problem,” and its prevalence points to some pretty unsavory issues about the way white writers depict nonwhite characters in their work. Its inclusion in Conspiracy of Ravens detracts from its otherwise average pleasantness.

Death Orb #1

Alejandro Aragon (cover and main artist), Ryan Ferrier (writer), Chris O’Halloran (colorist)
October 3, 2018

Death Orb #1 Cover: A figure on a parked motorcycle is seen from behind looking at a huge mechanical structure shaped like an upside-down cross; the setting is a barren orange-tinted desert with a few cliffs

In response to the dark timeline we’re currently living through, there has been an interesting schism in art and fiction lately. Some creators have firmly pushed aside the negativity in order to create and promote more positive content—sweet stories about found families, true love, and minimal conflict—because who really needs a reminder that the world around us sucks? Others, however, have translated their various frustrations into ferociously cynical fictional environments. Think dystopia, barren wastelands, and violent encounters at every turn. While I’m partial to either product, I’ve found myself lately gravitating toward these darker tales and the brutal joyrides they promise. In October alone, I read several comic books and watched far too many hours of TV that shared these bleak themes. But none piqued my interest, or secured my continued attention, as immediately and strongly as Death Orb has.

The flavor of this comic’s dystopian future is a well-loved exploration into environmental degradation and subsequent technological abuse. The Earth is dying, and most remaining civilization has been hoarded into crowded cyberpunk cityscapes ruled by the Lords cult and their mysterious Father. Humanity’s remaining survivors exist as outlaws in the Earth’s wastelands, where a life of lawlessness and gang warfare wait for them with bloody open arms. It is here Death Orb finds its protagonist Rider, who is on a one-man hunt to find the Father and save his abducted pregnant wife from his sinister eugenic experiments. Throw in a few bar fights and groups of magical biker assassins, and you have Death Orb’s stunning first issue.

The surface details might make one skeptical about this series, given how quickly you might recall several other properties released in the last few years that closely follow these same narrative beats. But I personally doubt they match the deftness of Ferrier’s storytelling. His plot is simply breathless, allowing readers no respite from the onslaught of horrors that now describes everyday life on Earth. Aragon and O’Halloran masterfully capture this harsh intensity through their artistic collaboration, and they particularly shine when depicting the horror vacui clutter and decay of this sad new wasteland. Rather than overwhelm, this packed aesthetic and narrative landscape holds the perfect momentum to keep readers eager for the next scene, which gets progressively more zany, heartbreaking, and terrifying as the plot goes on. Taken together, this issue is a near flawless blend of Mad Max, Blade Runner, and Cast Away all rolled into one… if Wilson the Volleyball was the disemboweled head of one of those aforementioned assassins, I mean. Death Orb is a beautifully rendered mix of science, magic, madness, love, and survival, and I cannot wait to see how it all plays out in this truly unique lone avenger adventure.

WWAC Reads…

Dark Horse has one of the most robust publishing schedules in the industry, which means there are far too many fantastic comics for little old me to read every month. Thankfully, my fellow WWAC writers are always interested in checking out a new release or two, and I want to celebrate this collaborative spirit in my own monthly Pubwatch reviews.

The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1

Gabriel Bá (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Gerard Way (writer)
Published October 3, 2018

Cover for The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1 - A plate, knife, and fork resting on a white background, with a red cockroach on the plate

This month, Mackenzie Pitcock read and reviewed The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1 by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, Nick Filardi, and Nate Piekos. For many comic book readers, this new series is seen as Way and Bá’s triumphant return to their cult classic franchise, which saw an almost ten-year hiatus since the publication of its second installment, The Umbrella Academy: Dallas, in 2008. For more casual comic book fans, this new series should be a fantastic introduction to this superhero universe since the first installment is being adapted into a Netflix series in February 2019. While Mackenzie believes Hotel Oblivion #1 succeeds in the former goal, they express some doubts that this series will succeed in this latter goal.

Hotel Oblivion brushes off the dust of time and picks itself right back up where it ended a decade ago. Sir Reginald Hargreeves has sent enemy Dr. Terminal to stay in the titular and mysterious hotel. A disillusioned Number 5 is an assassin-for-hire out to kill a young, morally corrupt CEO. The Kraken and Spaceboy are on a trip to Tokyo to meet Hargreeves’ former friend Dr. Zoo, who holds an interstellar ship that can travel to a strange place called The After Zone. The Rumor is helping her sister Vanya relearn how to walk after Number 5 paralyzed her. Seance is currently missing in action, while there are several superpowered characters squeezed into the end of this first issue.

Mackenzie found this issue to be a “solid foundation for what [they] hope to be an interesting story,” even while the narrative in this issue is a little basic. Hotel Oblivion’s biggest strength rests in the admirable internal consistency within its plot overall and specifically through Bá’s stunning interiors, which helps this new series capitalize on the nostalgia of its own mysterious coolness. However, that seductive draw only works if you’re familiar with the series. Many comics readers (myself included) might not know much about The Umbrella Academy if they missed the series’ early Aughts tour, when My Chemical Romance was at its heyday and Way’s associated goth/rock aesthetic was an entirely new atmosphere in the world of superhero comics. I agree with Mackenzie that this might not be such a successful selling point in today’s highly saturated comics market. But we both share the hope that Hotel Oblivion will continue to gain attention for its tight storytelling and compelling plot, and may eventually serve as a wonderful comics introduction to the TV series’ new fans next year.

Publisher News

Last Pubwatch, I mentioned that I’d be taking a quick look at lots of random Dark Horse news: its fruitful manga line, a review of the new Incognegro: Renaissance trade, and all the latest Hellboy news. Well, to keep myself honest and accountable, I’m only going to deep dive into one out of the three: that crazy thing called life seems to have derailed a full review of the recently released Incognegro sequel’s trade, but we do have a great reviews of the first and last issues of Renaissance on the site from over the summer to whet your palate. As for the manga, I tried checking out Dark Horse’s offerings and to be honest… I’m not sure if I like them too much, which probably deserves a space in an upcoming Pubwatch. But for now, let’s at least get to Hellboy and bask in all that great news!

Which, uh, surprisingly has few updates too.

Where in the Hell is Hellboy?

Now, why is this (lack of) news surprising? Well, Hellboy fans have been thirsty for any kind of information since the movie was first announced in Summer 2017, but the only thing they’ve been able to pry from Lionsgate’s hands have been casting announcements and controversies (sigh…). Dark Horse Comics has been at several high profile cons this year, like SDCC and NYCC, but they barely breathed a word about the upcoming Hellboy cinematic reboot beyond announcing its April 12, 2019 premiere date and releasing some choice images like this admittedly sexy poster with new lead David Harbour.

Poster for Hellboy, starring David Harbour: A red-skinned, muscular man with two large horns coming from his forehead and an oversized, club-like right hand carries a flaming sword over his shoulder

With only six months left until the premiere and not even a public trailer to gush over yet, fans have been getting a little worried. It certainly doesn’t help that test screenings have been held in the last few weeks and have reportedly been “pretty bad,” with poorly balanced humor and apparently such bad acting that some early viewers question why original Hellboy star Ron Perlman wasn’t brought back instead. Things look a little discouraging for the film right now, but as a casual fan and observer, I’m not too worried just yet. After all, everyone thought the new Venom movie was going to be a shitshow… and I mean, it was, but in the best possible way ever. Maybe the new Hellboy will be the same.

Dark Horse and Vanguard Join Forces

But fear not, Dark Horse fans! Even if Hellboy turns out to be absolutely abysmal, that won’t prevent the comics publisher from making any future ventures into showbiz. Quite the opposite, in fact, now that it’s been announced that Dark Horse Entertainment has entered a new business partnership with Vanguard Visionary Associates. The Hong Kong-based company sponsors and promotes pop culture and entertainment products, and it plans to help Dark Horse expand its brand internationally through a variety of different entertainment mediums. Notably, Vanguard will enable Dark Horse to fully fund any film and television series it wants to produce based on its extensive library of current and future properties.

In announcing this new venture, Dark Horse CEO and founder Mike Richardson expressed that “this new arrangement will allow us to accelerate our growth and extend our reach worldwide. The deal will offer resources that will take our company to the next level. It will also present new opportunities for our employees as well as the talented content creators we work with.” Further, Vanguard Visionary Associates Chairman Stanley Cheung, who is the former Chairman of the Walt Disney Company in Greater China and will now join the Dark Horse Entertainment board, stated that this venture is “a great fit” between the two companies, as “our goals are similar, and we feel that by combining our efforts we will be able to enhance Dark Horse’s visibility internationally on the way to making it a leader in the film business, while also making its publishing and product offerings available to new fans around the world.”

The excitement is practically dripping off my pores, y’all. I cannot wait to see what this kind of financial power allows Dark Horse to achieve in the future.

Comic Pros Explore the Pros and Cons of Comic Cons (now, say that three times fast)

Cover for Pros and (Comic) Cons: A young girl and teen line up at an artist booth at a convention as the artists smile back at them; in the background are cosplayers and other convention-goers

Comic cons are the true bread and butter of the comic book industry. These annual events occur in every corner of the world, bringing together geeks, press, actors, pros, and entertainment executives into a shared space absolutely packed with fun, merch, exclusive news, and cosplay. It’s a magical world of idealized wonder for attendees, but what does it feel like being at a comic con as a pro in the industry? I’m not part of that golden circle yet, but I follow enough creators and PR folks on social media to know that it’s an invigorating, exhausting experience often difficult to put into words. Nevertheless, editor Hope Nicholson has been able to do just that, as she has invited numerous diverse and talented creators from the comics industry to share their stories of comic con madness in Dark Horse’s forthcoming anthology, Pros and (Comic) Cons.

Dark Horse and Nicholson together have a strong foothold into these kinds of niche publications, as in recent years the two have collaborated in releasing The Secret Loves of Geek Girls and The Secret Loves of Geeks. This new anthology will tackle “personal stories by writers, artists, cartoonists, and professional geeks around the globe,” from “surprise celebrity run-ins, fan encounters that changed creator’s lives, costume malfunctions, and practical advice for both new and experienced convention attendees.” The anthology will include contributions from Brian Michael Bendis, Greg Pak, Jenn St-Onge, Sina Grace, Amy Chu, and Bryan Edward Hill, among other fan favorites and indie up-and-comers. It will go on sale May 29, 2019.

The response to this book announcement has been pretty positive overall. However, legitimate critiques about the book’s seemingly limited inclusion of marginalized creators have been noted already, particularly in relation to its inclusive book cover. For what it’s worth, I too hope that this book is not all talk when it comes to portraying all the unique experiences of being a comic book professional, and I look forward to reading the book and seeing if it achieves this lofty goal.

Coming Next Month

  1. The new Aliens 3!!!
  2. That’s it. That’s all I’m going to talk about. I’m so serious.
  3. … Might throw in reviews of some other books too, just because I like y’all. Stay tuned!

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