On sale today, Dark Horse Presents #12 may be the most impressive yet of Dark Horse Comics' already prestigious anthology series. The new issue is an almost ridiculous who's who of my favorite comics creators and characters including: Mike Baron & Steve Rude (new Nexus!), Dean Motter (new Mister X!), John Layman and Sam Kieth (new Aliens!), plus prose by Harlan Ellison illustrated by Richard Corben and continuing work by Carla Speed McNeil, Francesco Francavilla Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer, John Arcudi & Richard Case, Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten, Tim Seeley & Victor Drujiniu, and Mike Russell.

With such an auspicious lineup, we reached out to Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson, who shared some remarks about why this specific issue is something of an ideal model for DHP, as well as some exclusive behind-the-scenes art by the great Dean Motter and Steve Rude.

Click to enlarge (Nexus variant cover via CBR)

The comic book art I tend to enjoy most is that which aspires to create a world entirely different from the one in which I sit reading, and there are few creators who can do so as thoroughly as writer/designer/illustrator Dean Motter. Working with artists like Paul Rivoche, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Seth, and Michael Lark, Motter's Mister X, Terminal City and Electropolis (all in print from Dark Horse) comprise American comics' best and most beautiful vision of what Motter likes to call the "antique futurism" aesthetic. Motter's work draws from expressionism, film noir, Art Deco and cyberpunk (and whimsical wordplay, it has to be said) to realize a world that we seem to remember despite its never having existed. The Mister X story in DHP #12 serves as a keen introduction to Motter's immersive dystopia of Radiant City aka Somnopolis, a place whose very architecture -- or psychetecture -- drives its inhabitants insane. In this story, Mister X, one of the designers of this cursed place, goes on a quest that's tied to Radiant's dark, narcotics-fueled origins.

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Elsewhere in Dark Horse Presents #12 is a new installment of Nexus, the long-running sci-fi serial by Mike Baron and Steve Rude. Like Motter's Mister X story, this Nexus piece serves as a convenient introduction to the similarly in-depth world of Ylum, a lunar refuge for immigrants and refugees from different worlds. Baron uses the melting pot of Ylum to explore themes of politics, theology and morality, while Rude -- one of the greatest living comic book artists, in my estimation -- creates distinct alien species, fantastic and delicately detailed stellar locales, and dynamic superhero action (there are also often some quite sexy intimate moments). In this story, Ylum is rocked by riots stemming from social inequality among its diverse population while its protector, Nexus, investigates a mystery in space.

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Since reading Batman: The Black Mirror, I've become a massive fan of the pulp stylings of Francesco Francavilla, who indulges himself to the fullest in the splendid Black Beetle 1940s crime/vigilante serial that continues in DHP #12. And obviously The Maxx creator Sam Kieth is a stylistic master in his own right, so to see him work with H.R. Giger's enduringly terrifying/gross/beautiful/rad Alien creature is a treat. Like Rude and Motter, Francavilla and Kieth create aesthetically specific worlds for their readers to fall into, and those kinds of stories (see Prophet by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, et al) are what excite me the most about comic books right now.

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These quirky, undiluted excursions into the minds of uniquely talented creators is the true joy of reading anthologies, which for me have always been the kind of comics you read last from the pile; the ones that seem a little daunting compared to the comfort and familiarity of the latest issues from whatever ongoing series or creator you've been following for years; the ones that seem like it's only proper to read them in the middle of the night, or when you're home sick from school, whatever scenario that allows you to get lost in some storytellers' peculiar dreams. The new series of Dark Horse Presents has demonstrated that quality with every issue, hosting an eclectic mix of veteran creators and new talent alike, with content ranging from brand new short stories and idiosyncratic serials to the return of cult favorite characters and properties. Many of those creators and concepts can trace their roots back to the 1980s indie comics explosion that gave birth to the original DHP in the first place, and Publisher Mike Richardson told me via email that blend of pure indie comicbookery and pop culture care-taking that was integral to the book's early success remains the strategy today.

"Dark Horse Presents reflects the ideals on which the company was founded: Artists and writers controlling the work they create while reminding readers that a wide variety of content exists 'out there,'" Richardson told ComicsAlliance. "In the 'early days,' our approach to licensed material (more specifically, movie-based titles) was also unusual. We decided to actually create sequels that fans wanted to read. Sounds simple, but rarely accomplished back in the day. Not that we didn't put out great books, but I feel we essentially lost our compass for a time after we cancelled the original run of DHP, and that the relaunch has been a sort of renewal. The book offers a monthly glimpse at the heart of our company, a joint effort here that reflects the types of projects we love... a variety of content combining some of comics' most exciting creators as well as our favorite licensed properties. The book is a great place for creators to try out their own ideas and at the same time allows us to showcase some of our own characters. Issue #12 actually has a bit of everything I've mentioned. Philosophically, this puts us right back where we started -- which is right where we should be."

Dark Horse Presents #12 is on sale now in finer comics shops and digitally via Dark Horse Digital.

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