By Patrick Wolf
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of series that start off with a bang, but then run out of steam as early as issue #2. Cullen Bunn’s second installment of Dark Ark, unfortunately, belongs to this category. While the series began with a captivating premise and an even more entrancing opening, its novelty quickly wore thin once we become accustomed to the ark’s passengers. We’ve gone from a high-concept ‘Noah’s-Ark-for-monsters’ to a mundane ‘find-the-killer-story’ within a span of one issue. Hopefully, the next installment with offer the freshness and excitement we’ve come to expect from a writer like Bunn, but for now, the franchise is teetering the fine line between genius and mediocrity.
Dark Ark issue #2 begins where issue #1 left off. Right away, we’re taken to the riot that was spurned by the murder of Maldroom. Everyone thinks Maldroom’s enemies, the vampires, did it, but Shrae’s not so quick to give into the whims of the mob. To add to the confusion, a pack of werewolves have surrounded the human sacrifices, and the rest of the monsters are on the verge of full-fledged rebellion. Can the sorcerer Shrae and his family find the killer and stop the mutiny, or will the Dark Ark be as doomed as the souls of its passengers?
As I noted above, the story arc in this installment pales in comparison to what we were promised last issue. Last issue we learned the Dark Ark was right on the heels of Noah’s Ark, and that some of the monsters were intent on pursuing it in spite of Shrae’s warnings. It was here where I assumed the principle conflict would involve Shrae trying to stop the monsters from attacking God’s vessel. That would have made for a much more interesting story than the murder of Maldroom. Instead, the murder of Maldroom seems to be the main issue with the story of Janris as its subplot.
Now, while I’ve got no problem with a good-old-fashion detective story, I do have a problem when that detective story is concealed within a high-concept fantasy that already has a way better story in its backdrop. What I’m interested in is Noah’s ark and how it interacts with the Dark Ark. For me, that would be cool. Toss in the violent interventions of God and the Devil, and we’ve got ourselves a comic. What do we get instead? A Sunday night murder mystery. Why would I buy a comic titled ‘Dark Ark’ if I wanted to read an everyday who-dun-it? I buy a story with this title because I want to see an epic twist on the Noah’s Ark tale. Anything else is just annoying.
Another factor that disappointed me about this issue was the art. Last month the artwork was simply outstanding: Doe’s illustrations were original, Hill’s letters were crisp, and the colors were stunning. In this issue, however, it’s almost as if Bunn’s art team was as uninspired as his writing: the pencils were rushed, the inks were dull, and the colors were lackluster. As I was reading this story it felt like I was flipping through one of those cheap 80’s comics where the illustrations were designed to be more functional than aesthetic. This installment’s artwork certainly didn’t feel like the tier-1 quality we experienced last issue.
As you can tell by now, I’m not a fan of this issue. That being said, my review hasn’t been completely fair either. The fact is, compared to most comics, even the worst of Cullen Bunn’s work is still eons ahead of the competition. That’s why I want to make it clear that—from a strictly objective standpoint—this issue is good. In fact, structurally, it’s perfect: it’s well-written, well-told, and well-drawn. So, why is it that I’m hating on it so much? It’s because it’s missing that spark of creativity and high-concept that made Dark Ark so appealing in the first place. We don’t have to have the Dark Ark face-off against Noah’s Ark (though I’d love it if that did happen), but we don’t want a dinky, little murder mystery either. This is an epic premise; give us an epic plot.
Dark Ark #2
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Juan Doe
Colorist: Juan Doe
Letterer: Ryan Hill
Publisher: Aftershock Comics