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Comic Review: “Alabaster: Wolves” #1

Accomplished dark fantasy writer and multiple International Horror Guild award winner (amongst other awards and well over a dozen nominations), Caitlín R. Kiernan, makes her long time awaited return to comic books with Dark Horse Comics’ release named Alabaster: Wolves. This five part miniseries follows the protagonist, Dancy Flammarion, an albino monster hunter which is, apparently, being watched over by an angel who doesn’t do much more than observe and help her navigate through dangerous situations in the deep south of the United States..

If you’re already familiar with Kiernan’s work, then the character of Dancy Flammarion shouldn’t be new to you, seeing how she appeared in Alabaster which prequels Threshold, both released a long while back. Those short stories follow her through her childhood in the backwoods and swamps of Florida going into her teenage hood having duels to the death with monsters in southern Georgia.

If you aren’t familiar with the character or the series she derives from or even with Kiernan’s work, you’re in luck. This is a fine starting point for all three.  In this comic, you’re not spoon fed Dancy’s life story or all of what she’s about. However, within the 20 some odd pages of this first issue (and this is rare to see it in comics nowadays), you’re shown this character is very not one dimensional. The attention to detail  from the obvious and slight emotion within the interactions between characters, the thought process of Dancy, to even their legitimately and convincingly country grammar within the dialog really hooks you into this world. Sincerely, the writing holds weight all on its own, and if Alabaster: Wolves was illustrated with just crude stick figures done by some eight year old from some public elementary school in some back water town no one ever heard of, this comic would still be a great read.

Luckily, this comic isn’t illustrated by some nobody eight year old. The illustrator who lent his talents to  such other comics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales and Dark Horse Presents, Steve Lieber, lends his talents to this comic. Similar to Kiernan’s writing, Lieber’s artistic styling gives an acute attention to detail in a different way, yet still compliments her writing.

None of the comic is highly rendered, but there’s just enough texture everywhere its needed with heavy black and gritty markings without coming off lazy. From an artistic standpoint, it comes off confident and precise with a high contrast inking job, clearly separating Dancy’s pale skin and white hair from the background and characters she interacts with. The colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, which separates Dancy from everything else in a similar way, are treated just the same; there’s just enough to get the point across through great color control. Pale and grayish blues and greens come together with the heavy black in the line art to create an eerie and uncertain mood to set the tone right out the gate, and as the plot thickens the colors get more intense until the pallet switches from uncertain cools to urgent warms to accentuate the gravity of the situation at hand. However, despite how well done Lieber and Rosenberg set mood in this comic, what really stands out are the mannerisms, facial expressions and body language of the characters in this comic they create together. As good as the writing is, the characters’ personalities, emotions and reactions to one another shine through with just the illustration work.

From every angle, this comic is well done.  Kiernan, Lieber and Rosenberg get it. They’re not trying to fit a mold for what comics typically are and they’re not trying to win any beauty pageants with overly and unnecessarily rendered art. They’re telling a story. They present you a world to step into rich with personality and ambiance by giving you just enough. They don’t beat you over the head with anything, but the more you look, the more you find. This is proper sequential art and a prime example on how it should be done. It’s definitely worth the $3.50 Dark Horse Comics is asking for. Personally, I’d go for a hard copy from your local comic book shop and support local business, but if you can’t get to one anytime soon, or you just don’t feel like dealing with them, you could always head over to Dark Horse Comics’ website and buy it there today.

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“47 Ronin” by Sakai coming soon to Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse Comics is proud to announce a historical comic adaptation of the tale of the 47 ronin: A story of loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor.

Written by Dark Horse president Mike Richardson and drawn by multiple Eisner Award winner Stan Sakai, 47 Ronin tells the tale of a daimyo (feudal lord) who was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) and his samurai-turned-ronin who avenged his wrongful death.

“I’ve been fascinated with this story from the earliest days of Dark Horse, visiting the significant locations and doing research during my trips to Japan. For years I’ve been looking for just the right artist and it finally dawned on me that he was right here at Dark Horse,” said Mike Richardson. “Stan Sakai is a master storyteller who knows the material, and his artistic interpretation is perfect for the story. What’s more, my friend, legendary manga writer Kazuo Koike (Lone Wolf and Cub), has served as editorial consultant for the project.”

47 Ronin marks the first time Stan Sakai has collaborated extensively with another writer. He promises stylized artwork in the vein of traditional Japanese woodblock prints—one of the most popular depictions of the 47 ronin.

“I have known the 47 Ronin story about all my life, and I paid a pilgrimage to their gravesite when I was in Japan in 2009. This is a significant event in Japanese history, and when Mike asked me to illustrate the story I jumped at the chance. I’m known for the research I do, but I was amazed at the research and knowledge Mike already had. I’m having a blast with this,” said Stan Sakai.

47 Ronin will be on comic stands November 2012.

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Comic Review: “Dragon Age: The Silent Grove” #1

 

Dark Horse Comics brings you another issue one comic with Dragon Age: The Silent Grove; one of several 99 cent digital comic book issues available through digital.darkhorse.com, or through the Dark Horse app available on Android (beta) and iOS. This new series will be bi-weekly, alternating alongside the new Prototype digital series going for the same price.  Like the Prototype digital comic series, Dragon Age also has its lead writer working on the story in David Gaider, who also wrote the novels based in the same universe titled The Stolen Throne, The Calling, and Asunder.

Unlike the Prototype 2 comic series, the place in the Dragon Age series’ storyline in which this comic takes place isn’t as concrete. There is, however, a brief prologue citing a few previous events such as a civil war and battles against the darkspawn, but that’s as far as it goes.  The comic does is introduce you to the protagonist, King Alistair Theirin, and his two wise cracking companions, Isabella the thieving pirate and Varric, the dwarven spymaster.

As the story progresses, you’re given bits and pieces of each of the three characters’ strengths and weaknesses as you find out where they are, where they’re going, why they’re with one another, and what the good king is looking for. There’s quite a bit of interaction between the three characters, and that’s where their personalities shine through. While the characters move from location to location and interact with one another, you also get a feel for the world around them and the dangers they face, too.

This, so far is the difference between Dragon Age and its sister comic, Prototype 2. While Prototype 2 narrates everything from the beginning, telling the reader outright of the events of the game to where the comic starts, Dragon Age shows you. Even though neither comic spoils much of anything from the games previous to their stories (just in case you feel the need to go play them after reading the comics), Dragon Age’s approach gives you a different way to enjoy the story, even though both are established in a way not having prior knowledge of the material doesn’t hurt the experience.

The artwork greatly helps enhance the experience. Chad Hardin’s attention to detail on everything from armor and jewelry to hair stubble and rock textures fit well into the medieval feel Dragon Age is known for. The choice to use solid pencil work instead of inking was a good choice to make, giving it a more rustic look. That’s not to say Hardin should be given full credit for the great artwork Dragon Age has. Michael Atiyeh’s coloring skills, with mood setting contrast and great color control really bring the pages together. It’s somewhat painterly, but it’s not quite since the line art is still prominent, which isn’t a far cry from the cover art created by Anthony Palumbo. The cover serves its purpose. It’s pretty and shares everything good the art on the inside of the comic is; just more painterly.

So far, there is a lot of content based in the world of Dragon Age; three novels, a web series, multiple online games, other digital comics, an anime cartoon and even a table-top role playing game. The universe is pretty big to say the least. The story has developed a huge fan base that David Gaider has successfully ported to multiple mediums, and it seems this comic is just as well done. If you’re a fan of his work or the game, it’s no question you should get a hold of this comic, and if you’re new to the series and into dark fantasy set in medieval times, then this is still worth the read. Dragon Age: Silent Grove #1 is available now in Dark Horse Comics’ online store.

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Comic Review: “Prototype 2 – The Anchor, Part 1”

Over the past few months, Dark Horse Comics has been on a roll with releasing quite a few new series and first issues. Keeping on with that is the digital mini-series, Prototype 2: The Anchor; one of several 6 issue, 12-page, 99 cent issues available through digital.darkhorse.com, or through the Dark Horse app available on Android (beta) and iOS. This is a part of a series acting as a bridge between the first Prototype game released in 2009 and its sequel set to be released some time in 2012. Comics based on video games like this aren’t all that new or innovative, much less often canon. However, unlike most others, Prototype 2’s writer, Dan Jolley, is the writer for the two video games this comic gets its material from.

The first game is set in New York City where a plague known as Blacklight is spreading through the Manhattan borough. Whoever comes in contact with this disease becomes infected and mutates into different kinds of ravenous monsters, attacking all that aren’t infected. Amongst the chaos is the protagonist of the game and of this comic, Alex Mercer; a man with no apparent past who, through his infection, becomes a powerful living weapon.

If you never played the game or never completed it but have a sparked interest from the premise, there isn’t anything to worry about. There isn’t any information you need from the game to follow what’s going on. This story picks up one year after the first game’s ending with Alex Mercer globetrotting and trail blazing to find a place where he’d realize his lost humanity. Through his trials and setbacks, Mercer seems to have become somewhat jaded but not quite cynical.  Despite his increasing hate for humanity as a whole and his increasing urge to detach himself from the rest of the world, he still carries on as a hero would during extreme circumstances.

This comic is straight to the point, cut and dry, and very easy to digest. Though it doesn’t go much into explanations into how Mercer’s powers work, they explain just what they need to when needed through text at times and through visuals at others.  Speaking of visuals, Paco Diaz does a pretty good job illustrating this story.  His art in this comic is clean, consistent between the relation of figures and space for the most part, and moderately dynamic when necessary. Diaz’s line art is complimented by Michael Atiyeh’s color job; exercising proper color control, which adds to the mood of each setting throughout the comic without being overbearing.

If you’re a fan of the franchise and intend to play the second game slated to come out later this year, then it’s worth a read. If you’re not a fan and have a dollar to spare, then it’s still worth a read. Sincerely, this comic isn’t mind blowing, but it is pretty good, and in a world where you’re going to spend four times as much for comics with roughly eight more pages of content, it’s a good deal. If you are interested, you can find Protype 2 #1: The Anchor, Part one in Dark Horse Comics’ digital comic site right now for your viewing pleasure.

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Comic Review- “Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm”

Dark Horse Comics is releasing the prequel of all prequels within the Star Wars universe.  John Ostrander and Jan Duursema of Star Wars: Legacy fame return together again to tell the tale of  the Jedi’s beginnings.  In this origin story, we’re introduced to the ancient warrior monks known as the Je’Daii (go figure, huh?). We follow through their trials and sacrifices as they come to reach an understanding of a new mysterious energy. This strange force seemingly called upon them to gather on the planet Tython, in the center of the galaxy to learn how to harness its power as well as the balance between light and dark.

Or so you’re lead to believe when you read the teaser description on Dark Horse’s website. Roughly two thousand years of origin history (and potentially dozens of issues worth of story making material) are explained, in a nutshell, in about eleven pages. From there, the reader is introduced to a few characters, both hero and villain, residing in places familiar to Star Wars fans.

That’s a bit of a letdown. The first six of those eleven pages are dedicated just to the gathering of the very first Je’Daii, which consists more of visuals than reading. Then in another five pages, the reader is handed another two thousand years of civilization creating, heartache, war and loss with Je’Daii holding it all together while becoming more sophisticated in their use of the Force. You’re shown images of families, tyrants and others tied together by these fighting monks, but it’s just passed over as though, in the grand scheme of things, all that is irrelevant.

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. It’s the first issue, so it’s difficult to gauge from this point. It’s not just a first issue, but it’s a first issue of an origin story that starts before a ton of other stories in just about every sort of media you can think of. Honestly, with all the bases they cover in just these twenty four pages, if I were to go more into detail, I’d be spoiling a lot for you.

The artwork for this series isn’t terrible, but it’s not likely to be a vocal selling point for this comic. Though it’s easy to follow the story, the page design here is uninspiring. At times, Jan Duursema makes attempts to create dynamic panels, but falls short half heartedly. This is most evident when presented with action sequences. There’s a scuffle at the end of the comic where, no matter how any times I look back to it, I can’t tell what’s going on. It really feels like the characters lost track of the floor and are just floating and flipping around, while trying to understand the concept of space they’re presented with.

The inking isn’t the best either. Dan Parsons’s ink work is used to create many a necessary texture with heavy lights and darks, but there isn’t much of anything as far as proper line weight to express stress, mood or lighting. That task was left upon the colorist, Wes Dzioba. Despite color seeming somewhat redundant with the heavy inking job done on most of these pages, it ties everything together, more so with the backgrounds. The figures, however, feel a bit bland. Still, the artwork isn’t bad. It’s just not award winning, but I should mention that the cover art by Gonzalo Flores is very attractive, as it should be. True, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this cover would spark the interest of just about any Star Wars fan to pick this book up.

If you are a Star Wars fan, you should definitely pick this one up. The potential is there for a good series. Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm is currently available for pre-order on Dark Horse’s website or you could just wait until it hits the stands on February 15th.

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Conan meets Groo in new cross-over comic

What was rumored as an April Fools’ joke has turned into a full-blown miniseries sure to bring laughs and excitement. Dark Horse Comics is proud to announce Groo vs. Conan!

It had to happen: The most heroic warrior in history meets the stupidest, as Robert E. Howard’s immortal Conan the Barbarian crosses swords with Sergio Aragonés’s Groo the Wanderer in Groo vs. Conan #1!

This four-issue miniseries was concocted by the Eisner Award–winning team of Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragonés, aided by master illustrator Thomas Yeates and master colorist Tom Luth. Will Conan annihilate Groo? Will Groo turn out to be the man who can defeat Conan? We’ll see.

Check out the full-sized cover below! Groo vs. Conan is on sale April 18, 2012!

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Sneak peek at Dark Horse Comic’s “Conan The Barbarian” #1

Dark Horse Comics has sent us the first eight pages of their new “Conan The Barbarian” comic. Created by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, Dark Horse boasts that this comic is the perfect jumping-on point for new readers of one of the most-requested Conan stories of all time.

In this sweeping adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s fan-favorite “Queen of the Black Coast,” Conan turns his back on the civilized world and takes to the high seas alongside the pirate queen Bêlit, setting the stage for an epic of romance, terror, and swashbuckling. This is Conan as you’ve never seen him, with the combination of one of Robert E. Howard’s greatest tales and the most dynamic creative team in comics!

Check out the pages below!

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