Acclaimed Irish author and playwright, William Trevor, once noted that short stories are “the distillation of an essence.” I always liked the idea; that the narrative could be extracted as concentrate, and served like a potion, complete with an eye dropper and a little puff of smoke as the pungent bursts of storytelling unleash their flavor. And sure, Trevor was writing specifically about a collection of Irish short stories, but I like to think he’d be equally impressed by the sequential art equivalent, which is perhaps no better exemplified than in the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning anthology book, Dark Horse Presents. I’ve flirted with reviewing DHP in the past for the site, shying away mostly because it’s something of an intimidating undertaking. I mean, each issue hosts something like ten stories; so distilled or not, that’s a lot to talk about. But this issue is most definitely a landmark for the title, not to mention Dark Horse in general, and deserves a mention. You may not know this (I didn’t), but Dark Horse Presents #1 was the very first title ever to be published by the company, way back in 1986. Since then, it has acted as a great flagship, leading the way in the industry by introducing readers to some of the best stories and creators in comics for almost 30 years.
As with any anthology book, Dark Horse Presents can be hit or miss, but its contributions to the medium are absolutely without question and applaudable. And in this, the seventh issue of its third volume - or 200th issue cumulatively - it spares no expense in showcasing what makes Dark Horse continue to be such an exciting publisher, led by folks with a real eye for great talent.
The book starts off as you might expect: with a Hellboy adventure. Not being a huge Hellboy or Mignolaverse guy, I thought this was okay, if not exactly my cup of tea. Still, to have it as the lead-in for DHP’s 200th issue is a no-brainer, and completely understandable. However, my absolute favorite story in this collection is “Ape-X: Dirty Bad Science,” by Fred Van Lente and artist Miguel Sepulveda.
I talk about Ape-X in greater detail on Episode 172 of the CBMFP, but suffice it to say here that this bat-shit nutty tale about a “telegraphic” gorilla vs. a highly-evolved sea monkey and his devolved man minions (manions?) is some of the most fun in comics I’ve had this year, which is saying a lot about a story that is under ten pages-long.
Other highlights of DHP #200 include a super-spooky Cthulhuian cyber-punk horror story (which you will definitely need to go back and read to understand), brilliantly titled “Semiautomagic,” by Alex de Campi with art from Jerry Mafackin’ Ordway! There’s also a fantastic installment of everyone’s favorite Sabertooth Swordsman as he wordlessly trips balls through psychotropic misadventure against a forrest of nightmares and a psychotic and all powerful cloud god. Sure, it makes very little sense, but its action and quirky artistic verve more than make up for anything so petty as “reason.”
Another standout in this collection is an arresting story by regular collaborators, Michael Walsh and Ed Brisson. They almost steal the show with “Murder Book: Point Taken,” a tightly-written, tense night in the life of two contract killers. (Incidentally, if you want more Murder Book, visit www.murderbookcomic.com, where the team has produced some great original content.)
This is followed swiftly by an original and of course chilling Mind MGMT story from Matt Kindt, which sees the world’s greatest telepathic misanthrope do battle with a carnival troupe using the power of mental projection and Shakespeare. Which reminds me, if you’re not reading the Mind MGMT solo book, you’re comic booking so wrong, it hurts.
There are a few other stories that I was less enthusiastic about, like the Groo comic - which have never have been interesting to me - and the ongoing “Dream Gang” story, which has confused me since its inception. But these are balanced out by the heartwarming interaction between an old seaman and a mermaid (steady...) and the Gillian Flynn and Dave Gibbons joint, which turns an interesting spin on social justice against bullying, and the ramifications it may have at its most extreme.
Altogether, Dark Horse Presents #200 offers almost 80 pages of solid goddamn comic bookery, with a cover gallery thrown in for good measure. It is - in equal measure - fun, creepy, bizarre, thrilling, enigmatic, psychedelic, charming and insightful. Or in short, it is as William Trevor once said, “the distillation of an essence” of what makes comic books so damn great. Congratulations, Dark Horse Presents. Here’s to 200 more!
Writers: Mike Mignola, Fred Van Lente, Alex de Campi, Damon Gentry, Ed Brisson, Matt Kindt, Brendan McCarthy, Mark Evanier, Gustavo Duarte, Gillian Flynn Artists: Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart, Miguel Sepulveda, Jason Gonzalez, Jerry Ordway, Aaron Conley, Joseph Bergin III, Michael Walsh, Matt and Sharlene Kindt, Brendan McCarthy, Sergio Aragonés, Tom Luth, Gustavo Duarte, Dave Gibbons, Angus McKie Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $4.99 Release Date: 2/18/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital
Listen to Steve talk about the issue on our comic book podcast the CBMFP!