13 February 2005

The SideKick: The Darkness #18

Every month or so I'll review a single issue of a comic book title to see how relatable it is for new readership.

To quote Dennis O'Neil from The DC Guide to Writing Comics:
"One of the recurring and embarassingly valid criticisms of modern comic books, particularly the adventure & fantasy titles, is that they're extremely difficult to understand on the most basic level." (pg 24)

Do today's comics still suffer from this criticism? Let's find out shall we?

Welcome back to the SideKick!

Before I begin in my review of The Darkness #18 I must complain about covers that read, "Part _ of _."

I understand the benefits of having it there (well, not really) but how do publishers expect to attract new readership when they have a sign on their book that says, "Come back in a few months"?

Do fans of The Darkness need to know that the "Hell House" storyline is in part 2 of 4? Won't they just pick up the book because its the latest issue?


The Darkness #18 (Top Cow)
David Lapham (writer) & Brian Denham (pencils)

I've never read an issue of The Darkness before this one but I'm fairly familiar with the concept: Dude has power to access a demonic alter-dimension, does good with the power albeit with an ultra-violent kick. While the concept never really grabbed me (despite being created by ultra-violent writer extraordinare Garth Ennis - Punisher, Preacher) I picked up this particular issue because of who's writing the story arc.

Over ten years ago, David Lapham was an up & coming penciler with Valiant Comics (oooh, remember them?). His work on the highly collectible Harbinger series put him on a short list of "hot" artists but, when Valiant went under, he left the superhero mainstream altogether and launched his own book, writing & drawing the award-winning pulp fiction comic, Stray Bullets.

The Darkness (and DC's Detective Comics) marks Lapham's return to the superhero/fantasy genre. In "Hell House," a four issue story arc, Jackie Estacado (the dude with the Darkness) is in Atlantic City and well, I'm really not sure what's going on here. The issue opens with a shot of a serpentine casino and on the next page Jackie and a woman are being held by a bunch of mafiaoso types in a hotel room with an eviscerated women on a bed. Jackie pulls an uzi out of the darkness and shoots their way out only to later be commissioned by the same guy who was holding them to murder a few "bad guys." If you're scratching your head, you're a perplexed as I was.

In a single issue of Stray Bullets you're sucked in, like a bystander overhearing a conversation at a restaurant, and that's due in part to Lapham's use of dialogue. There are no thought ballons or captions in his series and with that, the reader feels more like a listener.

Lapham uses dialogue well in The Darkness but you get the sense that the characters don't know each other, and if the reader doesn't know the characters either...it's just too foreign. This story desperately needs captions or thought ballons so that readers can anchor themselves to a character.

On the visual side, Brian Denham's pencils are rushed and uneven. On some panels there's promise, while others are art school amateurish. My most nagging complaint though are the colors. The way hair falls, and how tears and blood look on faces - it's something out of Madame Tussauds's.

I don't see myself picking up the next issue of The Darkness but if you're fan of this series, post a comment and share what you enjoy about it. Inquiring minds want to know.

That's all for now. Until next time!


Ryan Murray said...

With regard to the "Part_of_" portion of this post, I would say that it can also work to a publisher's advantage. If I am looking to get into a new title and they are on part 3, if I can find parts 1 and 2 in the store I will buy all 3 of them.

SMASHER said...

Good point but isn't that sort of risky? I mean are publishers that reliant on the back issue market?

Thanks for the post!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Outside of the major Midtown-like shops, the chances of finding a back issue not related to SuperBatSpiderMutants is slim-to-none. Even at Midtown I can't find Captain Gravity #1.

In the non-returnable direct market, it's all about the pre-order, especially with Marvel who refuses to overprint anything. As a result, most comic shops order just enough to fulfill their pull lists with maybe an extra 2-5 copies of the more popular titles. Indies, of course, get screwed completely.