Everyone loves sampler platters. I mean, how could you not? You got your fried mozzarella, your spicy chicken zingers, your cheesy potato skins. It’s got it all! Literally everything you will need in life. Holy god am I hungry right now. And lonely. So lonely... Anyway, the point of samplers, as is true in an anthology like Dark Horse Presents, is to give you a taste of what else you might be missing off the, in this case, Dark Horse menu, so that next time, you’ll know what to pick up. Then again, why not just get the sampler platter again? You know you want to, don’t’cha, fatty?
Unlike the deep fried, artery-congesting offerings at your local Applebee’s, however, DHP is usually a snack that’s bound to be good for you, if for no other reason than tantalizing the torpor out of your tastebuds. So open wide, fellow diners, and follow along as I take a bite out of Dark Horse Presents #2.
Okay, I’m a sucker for Resident Alien, have been since I reviewed it back in the day. So I’m so glad to see it cropping up again in this collection. If you haven’t kept up with it, you’ll probably be a little bit lost here. Just as a recap, it’s about an undercover extraterrestrial prober (gross) who crash landed on earth and has since been forced to assimilate into society - by means of telepathy, obvs - as the human doctor of a small town.
The story is really coming to a head now that the good Doctor’s jig is up, and both the American government and his own people threaten to close in around him. Parkhouse’s art is delightfully quaint in secluded forrest retreat scenes, but shifts very neatly into similar, but very much unfamiliar, alien environs. My only gripe was that I breezed through it so quickly.
Dream King, on the other hand, was ... well, it was pretty all over the place, really. I feel very much thrust into the deep end of this world, and not just because it’s set in a dreamscape. The concepts mentioned, whenever they flirt with explanation, are mostly done so in passing as an aside. Meanwhile, the pages themselves are soaked in beautiful but busy globules of color. Now, aesthetically, I do like this story, but maybe because the visuals stand out so much, its concept has become ironically washed-out, diluted and vague. It’s a great and fun idea, but this one needs sincere tightening.
It’s a similar feeling I had when reading Action Philosophy a bit later on in the book. I get what the creators are trying to do here, and for the most part I like the idea: explaining various argument types and applying them to internet debates. God knows that both the virtual and meatspace worlds could use a good ol’ fashioned intellectual shaming, but this gets a bit heavy handed in my opinion. It feels like the creators are preaching to the choir for one; or if not, that they are losing any other potential audience under off-putting gravity presented in a “hip” text book-like narrative with lofty jargon. It felt both too cute and too loaded, and was a really odd fit with the other stories, some of which I thought were pretty damn excellent.
My favorites in the collection were first Wrestling With Demons Part 2, which won’t win any Eisners by itself, but was a bit of “MMA Fighter vs. Demon” fun, because that’s now a thing. This feels like a TMNT side story to me - not just because the first “boss” at the end looks like what might happen if Tokka from Secret of the Ooze fucked Fin Fang Foom, or vice versa. Despite it being a somewhat cliché plot with new structural trappings, I still dug it, and look forward to seeing some man on monster fisticuffs! And no, I don’t mean masturbation. Pervert.
When I got through the first quarter of the Bellaire-penned and colored, Shalvey-drawn Banjo, I found myself a little bored. I have to once again agree with Dustin’s assertion that song lyrics in print almost never work (unless perhaps given a melodic context), and the song here - understanding that it was written and performed by a largely untrained child character - felt clumsy. The story itself, however, particularly in the completely out-of-nowhere twist at the end, as well as its fantastic visual juxtaposition, is almost surgical in the way it cuts. That last splash page was a deft, haunting turn, so that by the end of it, the work as a whole (minus the decidedly unrhythmic rhythm) became something else, something more. I love it when that happens.
The last story in Dark Horse Presents #2 was about Aliens, and it sure was ... there. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but anybody who has seen the movie has basically already seen this. It’s the part in the sequel where the Marines encounter the xenomorph nest, but from Hicks’ perspective. There were some badass parts, of course; the best of which involves an alien tongue and a shotgun, but the rest of it was your basic Aliens madcap romp with acid blood and bullets. If you dig the universe, you’ll like this, but it won’t blow your socks off.
Overall, as is to be expected with anthology books or starter platters, DHP #2 was a mixed bag with a couple of highlights, but none that was completely perfect or polished, and others that you would have liked more of, but were too soon finished. I thought the first issue was much better, mainly because of Darow’s Big Guy and Rusty story, which I thought was fucking marvelous.
So the second issue gets a middle grade, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be back to check this out next month. I wish I knew how to quit you, sampler platter. I wish I knew how to quit you...
Writers: Peter Hogan, Brendan McCarthy, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Jordie Bellaire, Fred Van Lente, Chris Roberson Artists: Steve Parkhouse, Brendan McCarthy, Andy Kuhn, Declan Shalvey, Ryan Dunlavey, Paul Lee Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $4.99 Release Date: 9/17/14 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital