‘Dark Horse Presents’ Has What Comics Fans Need, Whether You Know It Or Not [Preview]
An anthology’s greatest asset is its diversity. Having a wide variety of creators or subject matter increases the odds of someone really falling in love with your book. A diverse line-up can draw in fans from several different directions. Diverse anthologies are opportunities to discover new creators or series, too. The relaunch of Dark Horse Presents, whose fifth issue arrives in stores today, has been particularly good to me on that front, giving me a chance to discover classic series that I never got around to reading and learn about new, and talented, creators.I’ve been hearing people say I should read some of the series in DHP since I was a kid, like Paul Chadwick’s Concrete since. ComicsAlliance boss Laura Hudson is an ultra-fan of Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder, and I really should have gotten into both series before now, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. It’s the eternal plight of someone who buys and reads too many books: there’s never enough time for everything, so something has to give. Dark Horse Presents #1 solved that problem for me. It featured one-shot stories from both series, among others, and gave me a chance to check those series out without committing to a more expensive trade paperback.
I had only the loosest idea of what Concrete was about. I knew there was a rock monster in it, so I assumed it must have been like Hellboy kind of series or a modern-day Frankenstein. It sounded like a series about a big, rocky guy who would probably break stuff or fight monsters and sometimes feeling bad about being a rock monster. As it turns out, I was only half right. Judging by the stories that have appeared in Dark Horse Presents, it’s a tale about a normal guy trying to get by after being transformed into a rock monster. He has a lady, a dog, and all he really seems to want is the same thing we all want: happiness, a place to rest his head, and to live the life he deserves.
Concrete is an unexpectedly sweet series. Concrete spends some time wondering why men go to extremes over, or for, women, and what it means for him, since his new body is sexless. He tackles the danger of tasers and alternative ways to subdue hostile criminals. Concrete is very much a comic about a normal guy with extraordinary looks doing normal things. He doesn’t fight monsters, and he isn’t nearly as unflappable as Hellboy. He’s just a guy who is trying to go about his life. Imagine the life of a Benjamin J. Grimm who didn’t have a Fantastic Four to join, but still manages to do okay. That’s Concrete.
I’ve never been too clear on what Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder is about. Now that I’ve read a few chapters from “The Third World,” the story being serialized in DHP… I’m still not sure. There’s no easy way to box it up, and I can’t put my finger on the high concept. I’ve read stories about delivery companies, ghosts, and more. They’re funny, touching, and sometimes pretty sad. McNeil’s art, with colors by Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron, is very, very nice. Her characters are expressive, like those of Amanda Conner or Kevin Maguire, but sort of… beaten up and drab at the same time. I don’t mean that as a pejorative, either. Jaeger, the main character of these short stories, starts out in a rough spot. His clothes are bloody and stained, and it’s clear that he’s completely fed up. The drabness fits, and the cloud of smoke that gathers around his head like a thundercloud in one scene really tells you everything you need to know about him.
My nebulous grasp on Finder is part of what makes it so attractive. I know what type of story I’ll get with Concrete, for example, or at least what constraints that story will work under. With Finder, I’m always surprised. I know it’ll be good, but I’m not sure which angle it’s going to come from. McNeil has built a world that, to my virgin eyes, is full of fantastic potential.
That sort of pleasant surprise carries through to other stories in Dark Horse Presents, too. I know of and have enjoyed works by Sanford Greene and Robert Love before, but hadn’t heard anything from them in a while. It’s all too easy to lose track of people who do comics. They may do unannounced work on series you don’t read or spend some time doing storyboards or concept work for Hollywood. Sometimes, they just take a vacation. If you want to keep up, you have to stay plugged in, and even that, that isn’t always enough.
Again, DHP came to my rescue. Robert Love and David Walker created a story called “Number 13” for DHP, featuring colors by Michelle Davies & Diego Simone and letters by Thomas Mauer. Sanford Greene and Chuck Brown have a story of their own, “Rotten Apple,” running in the series, as well. DHP‘s diverse content led me back around to two people I enjoy.
“Rotten Apple” is filled with all the swagger and attitude I’ve come to expect from Greene’s work. It’s set in a dirty future where bombed out cities are infested with zombies, hoodlums, priests, and more. It’s a wild land, kind of similar in theory to Brandon Graham’s King City, but executed almost completely differently. I’m not sure if my favorite image from the series is the cover Dark Horse Presents #2, featuring San Gee on a motorcycle, or the last page of the first chapter, which features the Suits, a crew of goons with fancy masks and fancier suits.
“Number 13,” strangely enough, also works the dirty future setting, but in a different way. Rather than a city that’s gone to ruin, Love and Walker deliver a good old-fashioned post-apocalyptic wasteland, “sixty years after the world ended.” The titular character is a young boy who is much more than he seems, and he gathers friends and falls into danger while wandering the wasteland. It flips from melancholy and troubling to goofy and wondrous and back again with ease. It reads similar to a young adult novel due in part to the two young people who are its main characters, and in part to just its tone. It’s a strong little adventure tale, well-drawn and well-written.
I missed out on Dark Horse Presents when it was originally run, but I’ve grown pretty fond of its latest incarnation. I’ve gotten to rediscover people whose work I dig, find out exactly why my friends are so fond of other books, and get the latest and greatest from a few comics legends. So far, Dave Gibbons, Howard Chaykin, and Richard Corben have all done stories for DHP, and Geof Darrow, creator of the spectacularly off-kilter Shaolin Cowboy, provides spot illustrations for the series. As far as anthologies go, DHP has a pretty healthy mix of material.
Dark Horse Presents is available in print or online in the Dark Horse Digital store. Digital issues come out one month after the print release, but at half the cover price. Check out a preview of #5 below. I’m pretty sure you’ll find something to enjoy.