Dark Engine is one of the seemingly endless titles that Image is pumping out these days, but unlike some of the publisher’s risky, even unworthy endeavors, I’m afraid this quirky, unfortunately unsung fantasy book may get lost in the shuffle of big-named mediocrity (like this week’s fucking abysmal Ody-C, for example). Okay, it may not be the most instantly intuitive thing in the Image library, and as I’ve said in previous reviews, it does require a significant amount of patience, but to ignore its story or creative team altogether would, in my view, be a huge mistake. The biggest reason? Dark Engine is unique, and that’s a rare thing indeed in comics today - even at Image.
Issue four continues to explore three different points in the history of Dark Engine’s world, shattered as it is by inter-species warfare. Implanting a special bomb inside a manufactured warrior named Sym and sending her into the past to destroy the enemies of mankind before they are able to spread and choke the world, the Alchemists who act as humanity’s last governing body have apparently placed their hope in the instrument of their own demise.
The different parts of this whole collide jarringly, but in one of the most imaginative ways I’ve seen in some time. There are some truly great concepts in this book, like meat-based time travel, biological jaegers and languages spoken posthumously in smoke, each part making Dark Engine feel obscure and intriguing.
It’s still unclear why Sym has to explode from the insides of animals, or indeed where the smoke signal words are leading the Dragon crusader, but I almost don’t care; at least not yet. I just like that they exist, simply because, before this, they never did. Sometimes, originality is its own reward.
At the same time, we are given some marginal clarity this issue, at least in the connection the remaining humans have with those they would call monsters (or Dragons), but even this remains tenuous and opaque when filtered through a story with this many facets, one of which is of course its visual style.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel a certain Walt Simonson quality in Bivens’ art, if only in its otherworldly frenetic energy; one that works well against the chaotic, mutant viking verve of Dark Engine. As its back cover blurb celebrates, this is truly “graphic” storytelling and is definitely meant for mature readers, and Burton and Bivens both make the most of it.
In the same capricious way the writer drops c-bombs (quite possibly the world’s most expressive and phonetically destructive curse word), Bivens destroys its pages in glorious gore. Of course, like Burton, he earns that artistic license by showcasing some nuanced skill. As I’ve said before, Burton is clearly a poet and is capable of arresting a page in eloquent verbosity (something I clearly enjoy), while Bivens here shows his range in sweeping prophetic murals and angry-eyed flesh bombs. Together, they make Dark Engine feel fresh, even if the world they are presenting is in the process of rotting.
I know there are a lot of great books out there these days, but I do hope you’re not missing Dark Engine. If you like your fantasy/time travel yarns cut from sterner stuff, look no further than right here.
Writer: Ryan Burton Artist: John Bivens Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 11/26/14 Format: Print/Digital