Presenting Dark Horse: November 2018

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

Come one, come all, to the November installment of Presenting Dark Horse! We’re in the thick of holiday season, folks. So, whether you’re still recovering from Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, you’re prepping for the several late winter holidays about to bring in good tidings and cheer, let this pubwatch give you a nice little break in

Come one, come all, to the November installment of Presenting Dark Horse! We’re in the thick of holiday season, folks. So, whether you’re still recovering from Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, you’re prepping for the several late winter holidays about to bring in good tidings and cheer, let this pubwatch give you a nice little break in your currently busy lives.

All things considered, November was a pretty quiet time for Dark Horse Comics. Our new comic nibbles this month feature a tenth anniversary special one-shot in the Dr. Horrible franchise and a new space opera that has the potential to be epic. Our WWAC Read of the Month goes to the comic book adaptation of William Gibson’s Alien 3 screenplay, which is a legend in the world of Hollywood projects trapped in development hell. Finally, official news from the publisher has mostly been promos for future books, so you’ll hear more about them as we get closer to their respective release dates. Otherwise, we have a cool Dark Horse holiday gift guide for the fans in your life, a new announcement about Hellboy, and a surprising and frustrating publishing situation involving one of Dark Horse’s most beloved creator-owned series.

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

New Comic Nibbles

Dr. Horrible: Best Friends Forever

Jose Maria Beroy (artist), Dan Jackson (colorist), Fabio Moon (cover artist), Sara Soler (artist), Joss Whedon (writer)
Dark Horse Comics
November 14, 2018

Cover for Dr. Horrible Best Friends Forever, featuring Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer standing back to back with cheesy smiles

Full disclosure: I know absolutely nothing about Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible franchise. I’m dating myself here, but my first exposure to Whedon came from his involvement in the first Avengers film… and then his involvement in Justice League, so I’ve always been a little conflicted about his work as a creator. That also means I know nothing about the cult classic Dr. Horrible beyond what I’ve sort of picked up through cultural osmosis and several Megamind references from friends. With all that being said, I came at this tenth anniversary one-shot with fresh eyes and not a lot of expectations. Luckily for me, I found Dr. Horrible: Best Friends Forever to be pretty great in all its flawed glory.

From what I’ve gathered about previous events in this franchise, Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer were longtime arch-nemeses who were both in love with a woman named Penny, who tragically died due to their longstanding feud (because of course she did. I know that much about Whedon’s work, don’t worry). Penny’s death inadvertently brings Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer together, and now they’re best friends with an unlikely truce. However, their fragile new bond is threatened when the casually villainous Hourglass begins messing with the timestream and releases time worms into present reality. Will our Best Bros be able to beat back the worms, save the day, and still get to see Dear Evan Hansen together on time??

It’s the kind of silly premise that I wish more comics indulged in, honestly. Whedon’s narrative voice absolutely shines here, with all of his sexual innuendos and meta quips about mansplaining and toxic masculinity almost making up for the narrative’s reliance on helpless damsels in distress, fridged women inspiring epic manpain, and an inability to describe a woman’s period as anything other than “lady moon time.” The artwork in this issue is pretty excellent too: the main characters are near perfect interpretations of Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day, and the colors have a very welcome vibrancy that the dark grittiness of our current era of mainstream superhero media lacks. Plus, the employment of two artists allows for a clear visual shift between Best Bro Time and the reality of the situation, which was a nice extra touch. I don’t know how longtime fans of the series will react to this one shot, but new and casual fans will easily fall into this world. This is Whedon at his finest, most fundamental, and most enjoyable components.

Lightstep #1

Andrej Bunjac (letters), Milos Slavkovic (co-writer and main artist), Dave Stewart (colors), Mirko Topalski (co-writer)
Dark Horse Comics
November 21, 2018

Lightstep #1 cover - A light-skinned blonde woman in a skin-tight blue outfit with glowing white stripes flees outstretched multicolored alien hands against a galaxy backdrop

Upon seeing this cover, I had two immediate thoughts: “Man, do I love science fiction that explores alien cultures!” and “Can a woman’s spine really do that? Also, isn’t she cold?” So encompasses my experience with Lightstep #1.

Our protagonist January Lee is part of the ruling class on a “Lightstep” world, where time is so greatly accelerated that one day for her is an entire lifetime on a planet of a lower intergalactic social status. This first issue deals primarily with laying out the morality system that rules January’s culture: the privileged on this world are all descendants of one ruler, who became obsessed with genetic purity and specifically declared his bloodline the purest in the galaxy. The result of this mad king’s reign is a tradition of ritualistic slaughter against the unpure, which is seen as a purification process in and of itself. It’s a complicated and thorny topic that Slavkovic and Topalski are engaged in, and they deal with it through January’s perspective. She is only just beginning to grapple with her culture’s moral obsessions, and so her narration lightly and naively probes into the horrific implications of her life and privilege. It’s a way to subtly explore and condemn these issues at the same time, which is an incredibly fraught tightrope to traverse for even the most experienced of writers.

Surprisingly, this creative team is pretty successful in their endeavor. If they had developed the people around January just a little further to make readers care about them—like her family, friends, and especially the less privileged people her class preys upon—then this issue honestly would have been a slam dunk. It is likely that these groups will be further explored now that January is off-world, so I’m interested to see where this team takes these themes.

With that said, the art and concept around these character designs were the only things to really bum me out about this first issue. For one thing, Lightstep is dealing with Human Aliens—despite being several millennia into the future, for some reason, nearly everyone on this Lightstep planet looks like a thirty-year-old white supermodel. January is the primary target of this design, though all the women of this comic have their breasts and asses highly rendered and emphasized in latex grey outfits. I’d be much less offended by this level of cheesecake if:

a) the men also had their asses and bare chests vacuum-sealed into their clothes, or

b) the concept designs were distinctly not-human

As such, we’re left with a boringly unimaginative (and specifically female objectifying) aesthetic, which is a huge disappointment in a world where the Mass Effect video games exist. At least Stewart’s bright color scheme is the right relic of a 1970s low budget space flick that this issue exploits.

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.

Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay #1

Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Daniel Chabon (editor), Johnnie Christmas (story adaptation, art), William Gibson (story), Nate Piekos (letters)
Dark Horse Comics
November 14, 2018

Alien 3

This month, our awesome publisher Wendy Browne read and reviewed Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay #1. This comic has a uniquely long history behind it, given that it is an adaptation of an over thirty-year-old screenplay by Neuromancer author William Gibson that failed to make a splash in Hollywood. Gibson originally pitched his script in 1987 as a sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens, but producers at the time weren’t happy with the direction Gibson wanted to take the beloved Xenomorphs franchise. Additional rewrites failed to pique their interest, so producers turned to several other writers who together helped create the polarizing David Fincher film Alien³. Gibson’s script thus lived on as an internet relic until Johnnie Christmas decided to adapt it for the comics world.

And so we have this adaptation attempt by Christmas, Bonvillain, Piekos, and Chabon. Immediately following the deadly events of Aliens, the spaceship Sulaco carrying the sleeping bodies of Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and Bishop is intercepted by the Union of Progressive Peoples. Unfortunately for the UPP forces, there is another deadly passenger aboard the ship… and that encounter goes about as well as you would expect in this series. But the bigger threat may just be two antagonistic governments on the brink of war, who each want to harness that passenger as the ultimate Cold War weapon of mass destruction.

Now, Wendy is a longtime Aliens fan, and after the “disappointment” that was Alien³ she was eager to see what the Gibson version was going to be. From the beginning, Alien 3 #1 pulls readers in with its “very distinctive style, [which] immediately immerses you into the feel of the films with a credit page that calls back to the high tech computer screens of the Sulaco.” The issue succeeds in this immersion thanks to Christmas’s clean, highly detailed artwork and Bonvillain’s focus on drumming up the suspense with a dark color palette.

At the same time, this issue features a lot of new characters who aren’t given much time to develop. The franchise’s heroic trio is already well known by even the most casual Aliens fan, which means the rest of the cast is nothing more than fodder for their surprise guest on the Sulaco. However, this fact does prevent us as readers from engaging with the text and caring about the characters beyond their gruesome future deaths. This lack of narrative focus also prevents readers from realizing the importance of certain characters to the Xenomorph mythos. Even with that minor caveat, Wendy thought Alien 3 #1 offered “a reasonable amount of action, suspense, and just enough character development” to be an interesting new exploration into this universe. As first issues go, that’s all you really need to “make fans old and new want to know more.”

Publisher News

The Beastly Burdens of the Comic Book Industry

As several famous comic book creators once said, “Comics will break your heart.” For all the passion, creative energy, and hard work put into the medium, it is a rather precarious profession no matter how well known you are.

Take writer Evan Dorkin, for example. Under Dark Horse alone he has several popular GNs and comic series, none more popular than the Beasts of Burden franchise he writes and co-owns with artist Jill Thompson. The first volume about this intelligent animal detective agency was published in 2009 to universal acclaim, which has earned the creative team numerous crossovers and one-shot stories over the last several years. However, there has yet to be any progress on a second volume to continue the main storyline since about 2013.

Dorkin has been pretty vague about the breakdown in collaboration between himself and Thompson, at most citing her busy work schedule but assuring fans the material is ready and will be in production soon. However, in several recent Twitter threads, Dorkin more explicitly criticized Thompson for delaying their book. He refers to the situation as “comicblocking” and states that he and Dark Horse have tried for years to get Thompson to continue her work on the second volume, to no apparent avail. As a result, Dorkin states this situation has been a financial and emotional burden that has soured his outlook on comics writing as a career.

While Dorkin says he will not give up on comics or the Beast of Burden series—the latter of which currently has a new mini-series running with artist Benjamin Dewey—he is taking the time to focus on his mental health and the elements of his career he can control. If he’s learned anything from this ordeal, it is to “always have a co-creator agreement between you and your collaborates on a creator-owned book. Even if it’s a good friend you’ve known for decades. Because you don’t know what could happen, and without one, you’re fucked.”

For her part, Thompson hasn’t said anything on social media about Dorkin’s tweets. Whatever her reasons might be for not working on Beasts of Burden, it truly seems like a sad and frustrating situation that we all hope will be resolved soon.

Hellboy Day Is Coming…

Hellboy Day 2019 promo banner - an illustration of Hellboy standing against a dark background with a red flame behind him; the words HELLBOY DAY, MARCH 23, 2019! take up the top of the image

…Eventually. Last Pubwatch I lamented the frightful lack of news about the upcoming film series reboot. Despite a release date of April 12, 2019, the only things we’ve gotten to see are a few BTS photos and an admittedly pretty cool movie poster of the titular demon.

However, Dark Horse Comics just announced that they have big plans for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mike Mignola’s legendary franchise. On March 23, 2019, Dark Horse and retailers will celebrate Hellboy Day in honor of the milestone. There will be comic book store events nationwide where fans will have the opportunity to buy books, posters, and various swag items related to the series. Mignola will also hold a special Hellboy Day signing at Earth 2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, L.A.

Sure, Hellboy Day is primarily focused on the comic book series. But since it’s so close to the movie premiere date, it stands to reason we’ll get some more promotional information on the Hellboy reboot by then. Is it sad I’m so cynical that I don’t expect to hear anything about the movie until a month before its premiere? Maybe… but I call it covering my bases and not getting my hopes up. Let’s see how things go.

Dark Horse Holiday Gift Guide

Finally, Dark Horse has a special treat for all your friends and family! The publisher was kind enough to create a handy holiday gift guide of its most popular items for every kind of nerd in your life. Are they into video games? Try giving them one of the publisher’s books on the world of Zelda or a shot glass etched with The Witcher. Stephen McCraine’s Spaceboy Vol. 1 is a perfect gift for the young comics reader in your life, and Dark Horse has a wide variety of manga selections for any dedicated fan. Check out the guide and see what goodies you can find!

Coming in 2019…

A brief hiatus, actually! I’m trying to level up in adulthood, so I’m taking January 2019 off to get all my ducks in a row. I’ll be back in February 2019 to share what you might have missed in December 2018 and January 2019. But fear not, Dark Horse fans! The great writers here at WWAC are always checking out Dark Horse’s latest publications in their reviews, and they will continue to do so as usual next month.

Have a very Happy Holidays, my lovely readers. I will see you again very soon!

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