Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dark Friday, A Day With Dark Horse Comics Newest

Comics: Tony Nunes reviews Dark Horse Comics newest titles

Yesterday was Black Friday, the day when people who don’t value their time wait in long lines at 4am to bum-rush retail stores and trample old-ladies just to save a few bucks. Cynical? You bet I am. There’s just something about the whole thing that turns me off. I’d much rather spend my post-Thanksgiving sitting back and relaxing with some movies, or a nice pile of comics. Segue.  

In order to avoid Black Friday like the plague it is, I devoted yesterday to reading some of the new graphic novel and trade paperbacks Dark Horse Comics are set to release over this holiday season. All five titles revel in the spirit of horror Dark Horse is known for. First, a visit to the post WWI vampire apocalypse in Mike Mignola’s Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships, followed by more horror in B.R.P.D. Being Human and The Goon Volume 5: Wicked Inclinations, a visit to the Dark Side of the Force with Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command and some real life serial killer horror in Green River Killer: A True Detective Story.

Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships 

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden as a companion to their novel Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, The Plague Ships propels an original vampire story (yes, they still exist) into a landscape of vividly macabre imagery cast behind the stark realism of post WWI Europe.  Baltimore is a compelling read with beautiful art by Ben Stenback that effectively injects the vampire with a new identity closer to the face of Lon Chaney's Phantom than the now-popular pale-faced heartthrobs true horror fans have come to despise.  The darkness cast over The Plague Ships is perfectly balanced between action paced gore and violence and a setting littered with the rusted shells of the German war machine.  Lord Baltimore himself is a relic of the war, his iron leg a constant reminder of the day WWI ended and war with the vampires began.  Believing himself the cause of the vampire war, Baltimore embarks on a journey of vengeance, seeking out the scarred face of the vampire who turned his wife.  Through U-Boat graveyards and zeppelin filled skies to the plague ridden streets of the French countryside, The Plague Ships is filled with rich horror and well-paced adventure, a refreshingly serious period piece re-imagining the course of history.  For an added treat, read the great forward by Joe Hill (Locke & Key), son of Stephen King, on the nature of horror comics.  TPB out December 21st.   

B.R.P.D. Being Human

Another Mike Mignola title, this time with co-writers John Arcudi and Scott Allie, Being Human is part origin story, tracing how some of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.R.P.D.) agents got their start with the organization.  Each of the four stories in this collection (pulled from the pages of the Hellboy comics) work as a companion of sorts to introduce some of the major characters in the Hellboy series, and their dilemma of fitting into the human world.  The first story in the collection pits a young pyrokinetic Liz against the ghost of a two-hundred year old woman burned for witchcraft.  Liz's story works well at juxtaposing the tormented young girl with the misunderstood witch, both vying for a place in a world where they feel outcasted.  The second story, the odd man out in this generally solid collection is a short side note about the amphibious Abe Sapien that lacked any real substance or follow through.  The third and fourth stories however were quite well told, and the best of the book, one with Hellboy assisitng the detached homunculus Roger with an investigation, and the last telling the origin of Johann Krauss' ectoplasmic form.  The unique creatures and amusingly blase' nature of the B.R.P.D. characters are perfectly on display here, in a collection that acts as a great introduction for first time readers of the Hellboy series.  TPB out November 30th.

The Goon Volume 5: Wicked Inclinations

I've long been told to "check out" The Goon comics, but this is the first I've actually read, and It's safe to say, I'm converted.  With a CGI film by David Fincher on the way, Eric Powell's The Goon is sure to blast into the limelight soon enough, but for now, this comic gem resides comfortably within its enormous cult following.  Stylistically, The Goon is unlike anything out there, a 1940's style Scarface (the original, not the Pacino) meets Universal horror mash-up that strives off of Powell's zany knack for humorous horror.  Wicked Inclinations is a wicked good read.  Where else do you find a scrawny, street smart sidekick corralling ghosts to sign union contracts in order to avoid becoming enslaved by a Gypsy curse?  The Goon has great moments of horror, including a crazy scene reminisce of Aliens, featuring a queen zombie inflamed with baby zombie eggs.  In another film reference, the best moment of the book in my opinion, Powell adds a blatant scene by scene spoof of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, only with shadowy baby zombie freaks instead of birds.  It's genius.  The cliffhanger ending, while a bit disappointing, has me pining for the next volume.  TPB out November 30th. 

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command

I'm a huge Star Wars geek, so the idea of a graphic novel following preeminent bad-ass, Darth Vader on a post-Episode III battle sounded really appealing to me.  The Lost Command has some really strong moments, and unfortunately, quite a few meh moments as well.  There's not much of a story here, but rather a simple battle tale with a ton of action.  Star Wars fans will love seeing Vader in his early stages of transformation, still trying to grasp to his fading memories of a pregnant Padme.  There's some iconic imagery here of Vader bowing down to his master, and reigning fury down on his enemies.  At one point Vader, caught up in the height of battle, proclaims "I am death."  Wow.  Parts of The Lost Command are filled with these great moments, but the rest is played out a bit too predictably.  Action scenes involving AT-AT walkers trudging through oceans of tar, or exploding Starships are awesome, but when its hard to follow or even care why all of that action is happening in the first place, The Lost Command starts to lose its readers.  Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command is out now. 

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

Nothing's more frightening than true horror, and Green River Killer is just that, the story of the investigation to find the Washington serial killer convicted of killing 49 people, and suspected of killing 90 or more.  Written by Jeff Jensen (writer for EW), son of Tom Jensen, detective on the Green River case from 1982 onward, the graphic novel is a complete portrait of an investigation into madness.  Without going into all the fine details (there are many) of the case and story, I'll say that this is a work of great thought and an endless conviction of justice.  The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway confessed in 2003, and detective Jensen was forced to relive two decades of investigation.  Writer Jeff Jensen takes the personal insight he developed living with his father, as well as interviews and research to weave a story that flashes back and forth in time to slowly reveal the details of a serial murderer seemingly un-phased by his acts.  Exploring his fathers madness which derived from the brutality of the case, Jeff Jensen opens up a poignant parallel between the psyche of a killer and his hunter.  This is a very personal story, compelling at all stops.  While at times a bit lengthy (at 241 pages), Green River Killer is a wholly original work of comic art.  Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is out now.     


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