Like I said in my review of issue one (and as I would have said in my review of issue two, had I been stationary long enough to write it), Dark Engine is, and was always going to be, a contentious book. Like what I hold to be its stylistic, if not thematic cousin book, Prophet, this is a series that will demand much from its readership, like a strong stomach and a stern sensibility. But most of all, this is a story that requires patience. There’s a whole hell of a lot going on in Dark Engine already, and its third issue doesn’t let up on the complexity. As in those before it, this issue begins with the Dragon character’s journey to the center of the bestial machine known as the Gigahül, and while this section of the narrative remains somewhat shadowed in obscurity (at least as regards the main plot), we do get a vague sense of the Dragon’s motivations. Right now, this is an ancillary tale, and as such should - for the moment, anyway - be taken as a separate journey within the world. For right now, I’m okay with that, especially because it injects, with a certain poetry thanks to Burton, a great tease of this world’s ferocious mythos.
The “real” story of Dark Engine - or at least one half of it - continues to follow Jin the Alchemist (still one of, if not THE only seemingly-benevolent character in the book), who meets this time with the crazed, Arabesque mystic known as the Cofferwright. Their strange exchange about the true nature of the book’s namesake device is confusing at best, facilitating as it does the awkward psycho-sexual aftermath Jin is forced to endure with a menacing ex-lover. Absolutely nothing is made clearer in any of these conversations, but rather than being frustrating, the fantastical density with which they are told only makes me want to know more about what the actual fuck is going on in this book.
The meat of this story - and I use that word very purposefully - is of course the continuing cross-time adventures of Sym, the artificial being created by the Alchemists to go back in time and save the world by self-detonating and killing off the future world’s fungal attackers before they have the chance to propagate so wildly. As ever, Sym is met with fear and fury by those who find her, only to immediately deliver more of same ... along with a heaping helping of death. To be fair on her attackers, it is a bit off-putting when her progressive jumps through time come via exploding out of living creatures. I speak from personal experience when I say that’s no way to make an entrance.
Someone who is making a grand entrance - at least on my personal radar - is series artist, John Bivens, as well as his visual accomplice in colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. Like the story, the art in Dark Engine #3 is truly graphic stuff. Whether it’s a topless savage brutally eviscerating her would-be Viking killers or the excessive full frontal male nudity we are treated to this go-around, the one thing this book is not doing is holding back. What it loses in a muted lack of polish, Dark Engine more than makes up for in its (literally) balls-out approach to visual storytelling. Like I said before, though, you should not come here with a weak stomach or an incurious mind.
Unfortunately, we don’t get much of Burton’s captivating high-sentence this time, which was a big draw for me, especially in its first issue; but that just allows Bivens and Fitzpatrick the space to wet its pages. Because of that, Dark Engine still feels like a work-in-progress of sorts, but it’s that very same experimental and exploratory story-weave in this bat-shit crazy Image book that continues to keep me spellbound.
Writer: Ryan Burton Artist: John Bivens Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 10/8/14 Format: Print/Digital