Happy New Year, lovely readers! And what a new year it has been in the world of Dark Horse Comics. A pretty sleepy end of 2018 has given way to a plethora of new and soon-to-be-released comics from everyone’s favorite publisher, and the landscape is looking pretty awesome: think funky space adventures, thrilling mysteries about murder and madness, and a great creator anthology to help you prepare for the 2019 con season. Plus, several comic books have just been adapted into Netflix series this year, so I’ve taken the liberty of either reviewing their comic book origins or sharing some critic reviews of the new series. While there is little corporate publisher news at the moment, it’s all good. The year is still young, and I can already tell that Dark Horse Comics is gearing up for its greatest year yet.
So, let’s kick off 2019 with a bang. Upwards and onwards to Presenting Dark Horse!
New Comic Nibbles
Polar Vol. 1: Came From the Cold
Victor Santos (artist and writer)
Dark Horse Comics
January 23, 2019
Victor Santos is something of a regular member of Dark Horse’s roster, as it seems the highly successful international artist/writer regularly enjoys stopping by with a passion project or two. I first became acquainted with his work through Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case, a comic inspired by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and his titular fictional commissioner. My feelings on that work were decidedly mixed, to say the least. But I decided to give Santos another go with the release of Polar Vol. 1, a reprint of his popular series that has come back to life, in honor of the recent Netflix adaptation starring Mads Mikkelsen. And just like with Rashomon, I leave Polar with some complicated feelings—over the very same narrative and aesthetic reasons!
The premise of Polar is rather simple: after decades of great work, the legendary spy Black Kaiser has been ripped out of retirement by a gruesome assassination attempt. He is now being hunted by a torture expert and a former colleague, and the only way this chase ends is if he dies. Or, of course, if he kills everyone who stands in his way of peace, which is just what he does over a luxurious 200 pages.
Narratively, Santos has a thing for noir plots laced with violence and intrigue. Like any good action hero, Kaiser is a tough guy with a dark past, extreme emotional restraint, little dialogue, and thus little real personality beyond his immediate desires to kill his enemies and fuck the beautiful women who throw themselves at him. And oh, are there a whole lot of beautiful women down to fuck this rugged badass. Women in the worlds of Santos’ creation are always beautiful, seductive, and deadly, their slender, curvy features and frequent nudity weapons in their murderous toolbox as well as blatant fanservice for Santos’ readers. Their motives for doing anything plotwise are pretty much nonexistent, but Polar doesn’t dwell too much on making nuanced or interesting plots that make sense. Neither did Rashomon, really. That’s just not Santos’ style.
Where Santos and his comics truly shine are in his artwork. His comics are dipped in black and white, except for the carefully applied flashes of red that highlight significant moments—an assassin getting shot in the head, or the plush red lips of one of Kaiser’s lovers. These coloring choices perfectly heighten the drama of his work, and his skill at guiding his readers through his intended panel sequences is nothing short of utter mastery. He creates absolutely stunning comics, every single time. So in that regard, if you’ve read one Santos work, you’ve read them all, and the artwork makes it really enjoyable. But plotwise, if you’ve read one Santos work, you’ve read them all, and the plots are elementary in execution and complexity. The only thing Polar and Rashomon add to their respective genres are fascinating new ways to reduce women to manipulative sex toys, and men to violent robots. And really, that’s not something I look forward to from a well-known and prolific creator.
The Girl in the Bay #1
J.M. DeMatteis (writer), James Devlin (colorist), Corin Howell (artist), Clem Robins (letterer)
Dark Horse Comics
February 6, 2019
There was just no way I could read this little gem and not leave a review! That would be blasphemy folks, and I’m just not that rude. So the first issue of The Girl in the Bay gets a special space here in this Dark Horse Pubwatch, because it was one of the most happily surprising first issues I had the pleasure of reading.
We start this tale in 1969, a time of free love, free drugs, and little parental guidance stopping young Kathy Sartori from having a good time in her last year of high school. One fateful night after partying with her friends, she meets a beautiful man who she thinks will change her life—and he does, for the absolute worst. This man attacks Kathy and throws her body into Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, to what we presume will be her death. But Kathy miraculously survives, and she stumbles home to her family … fifty years after she was thrown in. Now, she must find her lost family and friends, try to solve her own apparent murder, figure out how and why she survived, and somehow piece together a life that has already passed her by. But she has a mysterious, mystical figure following her, and several other people popping up in her new life, who are making things much more complicated than they already are.
I’ve always loved a good murder mystery, especially when there are supernatural elements that may be involved. The Girl in the Bay is a great mix of both so far. Even if numerous variations of the “Murdered Girl Somehow Comes Back to Life” trope have sprung up before, DeMatteis and co. work to make this story stand out in several key ways. As a protagonist, Kathy is a true ’60s baby whose anger, confusion, and lust for meaning in life make her incredibly relatable. The washed out colors and psychedelic bursts of Devlin’s design work really help to ground the world around her in an interesting historical period in New York. While the issue itself is a little heavy with her narration, it does allow readers to immediately connect with Kathy and her struggles. The unsolved murder mystery somehow being connected to a mystical spirit is also an intriguing spin on, and acceptable explanation for, Kathy’s resurrection. Plus, all the hints that a larger mystical conspiracy is at play will really grip readers as the plot progresses.
But The Girl in the Bay has one major twist near the end of its first issue that really shook and surprised me. I really want to spoil it, but I also really want you to check it out yourself. Just know that it involves Kathy and her family, and explicitly deals with the life Kathy never got to live … ok, I really can’t say more. But it was excellent. I absolutely didn’t expect it, and I’m pretty damn genre savvy enough to know when a trick is coming. We’re in for a wild ride with this one, and I just can’t wait to read more.
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.
WWAC has been especially productive these last few weeks, so we were awash with all kinds of fresh Dark Horse content on the site. And out of all the great reads that I enjoyed from my fellow colleagues, I found the following four articles especially interesting (and I think you will too):
If You Wish Upon A Star …
Dark Horse Comics has a proud, three-decade tradition in manga publishing that is not very well-known among us comics nerds. Thankfully, Louis Skye recently delved into their collection to review Wish, a popular CLAMP series that starts when a successful, stoic doctor saves an angel named Kohaku. Louis praised Wish for its sparse and hilarious dialogue, beautiful artwork, rich romance, and highly imaginative world-building. At the same time, there were some sprinkles of fatphobic language, same-face syndrome, and plot holes that definitely took her out of the story. But for all its faults, Louis is in the market for more CLAMP stories.
‘Til Kingdom Come
WWAC also has a couple of proud traditions of its own. One recent one is Cover Girl, a roundtable where WWAC contributors analyze a comic book cover featuring one or more women. Last month, their pick was the absolutely stunning cover for G. Willow Wilson and Christian Wade’s Invisible Kingdom series. Our crew loved the cover’s warm colors, the main character’s practical desert gear/possible Handmaid’s Tale-esque apparel, and its hints at the story’s futuristic adventure. Of course, the cover also seems a little too vague and distinctly European, which might not be your thing. But if you do like the cover and are excited about this new series, Invisible Kingdom will be published under Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint starting in March 2019.
Con Season 2019 is Coming
Finally, we’ve mentioned Hope Nicholson’s upcoming anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons a few times on the site already, for better and for worse. But can you blame us? We’re really interested in reading this one! So much so that Wendy Browne set out to interview Nicholson and several of her anthology’s contributors with a fun game: “Three Stars and a Wish,” or three things each interviewee loves about conventions and the one thing they want to change. And as a casual congoer and non-exhibiting professional, I find these contributors’ responses fascinating glimpses into the other side of the con world. I highly recommend you check these interviews out, especially as the 2019 con season is just around the corner.
Dark Horse seems to be gently easing itself into the new year, because the last few weeks have been rather light in terms of publisher news. No scandals or cool business ventures this Pubwatch, I’m afraid. Instead, Dark Horse has a slew of cool new comic book announcements, a sneak peak at Free Comic Book Day 2019, and some exciting updates on the long-awaited adaptation of The Umbrella Academy. Not a bad way to start off the new year, I think.
Free Comic Book Day 2019 Goodies
The best time of the year is almost upon us, folks: Free Comic Book Day! This year’s fabulous celebration will take place on Saturday, May 4th, which leaves you a lot of time to plan your LCS route for the day. Just know that in the meantime, your favorite publishers are gearing up for May with all new content—like Dark Horse Comics, your favorite publisher of them all, of course.
This year, Jody Houser and Ibrahim Moustafa are writing a special Stranger Things issue that follows our protagonists after Eleven’s disappearance. Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and David Rubin are also joining the festivities with a new Black Hammer tour into the center of Madame Dragonfly’s mysterious Cabin of Horrors.
There will also be several free offerings for the kids, because Dark Horse is wonderfully inclusive like that. This year, Hope Larson and Meredith Gran will bring the world of Microsoft’s Minecraft to life in a kid-friendly comic book story, while Cavan Scott, Dan Jackson, Kawaii Creative Studio, and Comicraft join forces for a new story based on Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles 2.
Coming to Local Comic Shops Near You
Can’t wait for all the exciting titles coming to you for New Comic Book Day? Well, you’re in luck: Dark Horse has new comic releases all year, dear readers, and they’ve already announced a sizable variety of upcoming titles to sink your teeth into. Fully acknowledging my personal taste and preferences, here are some new series you should especially look forward to in Spring 2019:
If you had the opportunity to become one, what kind of superhero would you be? Would you be a Captain America soldier type, a Constantine-like magician, a brooding Batman knockoff? Or, how about a rebel monster slayer, a la The Witcher? You’re in luck if you chose the last poison, because Magdalene Visaggio, Corin Howell, Valentina Pinto, and Zakk Saam are bringing that slayer action to the West Coast with Calamity Kate.
After spectacularly messing up her life, Kate Strand is boldly going to L.A. to hit the restart button with a new outlook and a new career as a gun-toting monster killer. In a world overrun with zombies, vampires, demons, fierce competition, and complicated relationships, Kate’s out to prove that she’s finally gotten her shit together. She’s also out for the ultimate bounty: the Seven Fabled Beasts of Yore.
The first issue of Calamity Kate goes on sale February 13, 2019.
What do you get when you mix space, sexy pirates, and late 70s’/early 80s’ disco funk sensibilities? The coolest story concept this side of The Get Down, and you don’t even need a Netflix subscription to get it. Jai Nitz, Tom Reilly, Ursula Decay, and Crank! are bringing you all this conceptual greatness in a new Dark Horse comic book series called Astro Hustle.
This cool cucumber follows the misadventures of Chen Andalou, cosmic criminal extraordinaire and the black sheep member of one of the most prominent families in the galaxy. After accidentally being cryogenically frozen, as you do, Chen wakes up nearly a century in the future. Now his younger brother is the president of the galaxy, and he doesn’t seem too keen on supporting Chen’s life of crime …
The first issue of Astro Hustle goes on sale March 6, 2019.
Bad Luck Chuck
Some people are born lucky, others have luck thrust upon them…and some are so unlucky in life that they might as well be Mayhem from all those AllState insurance commercials. However, we as readers are very lucky to have the chance to read Bad Luck Chuck, a twisted noir tale from Lela Gwenn, Matthew Dow Smith, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Frank Cvetkovic.
Quite literally cursed at birth, Charlene “Chuck” Manchester rents her bad luck out ride-sharing app style to clients looking to cause a little concentrated mayhem. Things are working out pretty well until one bad disaster gets a dissatisfied crime boss client, a cult leader, and an insurance fraud investigator on her case. Sure, Chuck’s unlucky, but hopefully she’ll have just enough bad luck to survive this explosive confrontation.
The first issue of Bad Luck Chuck goes on sale March 27, 2019. If you can’t wait that long, I’d check out this cool WWAC interview with Lela Gwenn to tide you over.
She Could Fly: The Lost Pilot
If you’ve been reading WWAC’s Dark Horse coverage recently, and of course you have, we’re great, then you’ll remember that we absolutely loved the She Could Fly miniseries released under the Berger Books imprint last year. So, we’re very pleasantly surprised and overjoyed to see that our love of this series is damn near universal, as Christopher Cantwell, Martín Morazzo, Miroslav Mrva, and Clem Robins are returning this year with She Could Fly: The Lost Pilot.
After the harrowing events of the first series, this sequel finds our protagonist Luna trying to readjust to her life following her year-long stay at a mental institution. But rather than let go of the Flying Woman mystery that captivated her before her time away, she is now more dedicated than ever to finding out the truth. And this time, the truth might actually lead her to the Flying Woman’s familial origins … if a Russian mercenary, a Chicago guru, and a strange specter of violence don’t leave her in a shallow grave first.
The first issue of She Could Fly: The Lost Pilot goes on sale April 10, 2019
The Umbrella Academy is A Ray of Sunshine for Netflix’s Superhero Genre
Unlike another Dark Horse property (no shade though, Hellboy), the Netflix adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s The Umbrella Academy has been incredibly quick. I feel like it was only yesterday when Netflix first acquired the series, rousing fans out of the sad slumber they had descended into since the comic series went on hiatus nearly a decade ago.
Before we even knew it, incredible casting announcements were being made, production was in full swing, and even a few teaser trailers managed to peak our collective interest. Like this glorious one, for example:
And now, just as the comic series has come back to life with new installments, the first season of the Netflix adaptation is set to premiere this Friday, February 15th. Goodness, how time flies!
But was the wait worth it? Based on the early reviews rolling in about the premiere, The Umbrella Academy so far is something of a mixed bag. Den of Geek! praises the series’ ambition, though states it ultimately feels a little too grounded and exposition-heavy to really capture the comic’s wonderful brand of weirdness. Variety greatly disliked the series’ attempt at giving us superficially edgy superheroes against a backdrop of dull, mainstream, preppy pop sensibilities. Meanwhile, Collider found the series a “quick, quirky, and light” delight in a sea of heavily formulaic and intense superhero media. As for Rotten Tomatoes, that superior arbitrator of quality, the series sits at a cool 71% fresh rating so far. All things considered, it’s a pretty strong rating to herald a premiere.
Admittedly I wasn’t too interested in checking out the series until a bit later in my media-watching timeline. But based on all this feedback, The Umbrella Academy has definitely risen to the top of my To-Watch Pile.
Coming Soon …
Remember how I said during my last Pubwatch that I was going on a brief hiatus? Well, let’s call that instead a bit of an indefinite vacation. My reasons are boring and too long and no one really wants to hear all that, but let’s just say I truly feel my time as a Pubwatch writer has come to an end for now.
But fear not, my lovely readers, Dark Horse will still live on in the hallowed halls of WWAC! We review Dark Horse a few times a month, it seems, all because their comic book content continues to be one of the best in the entire industry. So even though this Pubwatch might be over, you’ll never find Dark Horse too far from our collective hearts and minds. Personally, I can’t wait to see what new gems my fellow WWAC contributors find—and I’m sure you’ll be just as excited to read them as I will be!