Darkness Visible #4

I am always on the hunt for good new comics. That sends me regularly casting out to the smaller publishers in search of comics that have a unique premise, an older target demographic, or challenge my propensity toward superhero mags. Finding a gem is not easy to do. An editor for Topcow stated that there are over 2000 new books published each month, connoisseurs with discerning tastes can be sure that only a small percentage of those are going to have the flavors to excite your comic palette. To make decisions more difficult the available information is usually slim. You are lucky to get cover art, and a four sentence synopsis in addition to the creator credits for a prospective purchase. Against those long odds at the risk of 399 pennies I took a chance on Darkness Visible from IDW several months back. I am happy to say that it has become a favorite of mine in recent months.

I caught Darkness Visible at the beginning and enjoyed the first three issues well enough to keep it on my list. Issue #4 is the best so far. The comic opens with a suitably surreal dream sequence with a nice color effect suggestive of extreme lighting. The plot shifts in the following scene to a conversation discussing acceptance, changing social demographics, brexit, and the social impacts of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation of individuals in London. The dialog of this scene lends weight to the MR rating beyond the obvious content, blood and humans transforming into demonic monsters. Soon we’re back to nocturnal detective work in, where else, the red light district for demons. This is the meat and potatoes you’re looking for if you got hooked by the original four sentence synopsis in the catalog. Then finish the issue with a multi demon fight in the bordello; and the, which person is that demon reveal from page one of issue #1. Do that in 20 pages and it leaves me with a satisfied smile thinking I am glad I tried this book out, I should tell others about it.

Mike Carey is scripting along with Arvind Ethan David, and it was Carey’s name that helped me make the initial jump. I read a short run he did on Ultimate Fantastic Four six or seven years ago that I really liked. I don’t know how these guys break up the work load, but together they deliver a complex plot and natural dialog. They also hit a nice rhythm with verbosity giving you more to read when there is a lull in the action and keeping the frames clear for the art when things heat up.

The art is taken care of by Brendan Cahill, and the colors are the work of Joanna Lafuente. I wasn’t familiar with any previous work from either artist. So I was pleased to find their work instantly appealing. Cahill’s art is clean with a nice amount of detail. I really like the features of his faces and his depiction of human form. The book’s theme gives him plenty of opportunity for fun monstrous character designs. Lafuente’s coloring matches Cahill’s clean detailed look. I am going to guess that she is doing her coloring on the computer and that makes all the pages really crisp. Whether day or night, indoor or out, in a dream or the harsh reality of the mirror above the sink at midnight Lafuente comes up with a fitting palette for each. Together these two produce a beautiful visual story that can go toe to toe with any top produced comic.

Darkness Visible is the first title I have tried from IDW, and they are doing some good stuff. I appreciate that there are cover options with each issue. You usually get a choice of three; standard, subscription, and incentive variant. They are all based on the actual issue unlike some variants, and they are all good and different. So instead of picking the lesser of two evils, I click back and forth between images trying to decide which one will look better in person.  The book quality is also good. I can tell because the cover and the pages don’t get all wavy after I read it in my humid environment. I think they hit on a bit of magic with the title. It describes the idea of demons among us coming out from inside us, and has an oxymoronic feel that makes it stick. It has that coolness my friends and I were looking for when naming our metal band in highschool. Darkness Visible #4 is a very good comic, and it looks like the trade for the first issues will be available in a month. If a hard-boiled demon mystery sounds interesting take a walk down the ally of Darkness Visible.

Black Bolt #1

How can one man live with the consequences of controlling a force powerful enough to destroy nations? What helps you sleep when the responsibilities of an entire Peoples weighs heavy on your shoulders? Ask Blackagar Boltagon, as King of the Inhumans and potentially the most powerful non god in the Marvel U he could tell you, (bring paper and pen). At one time or another those two questions are set at the feet of all superheros who reside in the upper echelon of the power meter. None however, find the answers to those questions as restricting as Black Bolt. For everyone else, it is the exercise of their awesome power that will carry the day. Instead, Blackagar must find those answers inside a straightjacket, and that makes his story all the more valuable to those of us who can’t answer our questions with cosmic powers.

Black Bolt has had better days. Surviving the coming of Thanos, insuring the survival of the Inhumans in their war with mutants, and falling under the mental control of his brother Maximus forced him to take terrible actions. The first issue opens with Black Bolt suffering the consequences of those actions, imprisoned, with no memory, being tortured. Speaking of consequences, didn’t Black Bolt’s voice make a mad Maximus in the first place? Black Bolt begins to answer the questions that any of us would have in his situation. Unfortunately, things don’t work out so well as Blackagar begins his journey to redemption.

The best thing about Black Bolt #1 is Christian Ward’s art. Weaving his influences into a rich tapestry of popular art of the last century.  Instead of listing those influences, I will say that Ward’s work is layered, making it difficult for me to pin down his mediums. Definitely feels like lots of painting, maybe acrylics, sometimes over watercolor or digital backdrops. Certainly Ward is also using some digital effects as well, but that mechanical description feels incomplete for what he presents on the page. There is this great Tron look in the first half of the book, that puts all of these exciting colors on the page in the context of imprisonment that must be near blackout. The look crescendos on page five with a beautiful full-page panel, and the glowing blood from Black Bolt’s mouth on page two blends neon and grit like a whiskey sour. Adding further to the visual feast Ward serves up page after page with layouts like the plating of a gourmet chef. He gives the reader unique and inventive panels that add depth and excitement to the action of the plot, but never sacrifices solid vertical and horizontal story telling. Page 15 repeatedly grabs my attention with a  spatial aesthetic that borders sublime.

The second best thing about Black Bolt #1 is Saladin Ahmed’s script. Apologies to the writer, my enthusiasm for the art painted me into a corner after the last topic sentence. Ahmed seems to be using Black Bolt to ask some poignant questions. Cribbed right from the first letters page: Who is a criminal? What happens when we put people in cages? How do you tell a story? What does it mean to be a parent? Now maybe it’s the father of a new toddler struggling to be a writer in me, whom has often questioned the demographic of ever-increasing prison populations and the extremely lucrative nature of penitentiary ownership and operation; but I think these are damn good questions to ask. Perhaps the best is, why do we put ourselves in prisons, and how do we escape their walls both metaphorically and literally? Ahmed leaves this question for the introspective to ponder at the end of the issue with Black Bolt’s final dialog. So just incase you tackle that bit of philosophy before next months issue you can try to figure out what happened to his voice. Equally important to comic enjoyment Ahmed’s narrative is pretty solid and natural to read. Which is critical where we won’t expect the lead character to do much talking.

Overall I was really pleased with my decision to give Black Bolt a try. Ward’s art reminds me of great sci-fi tales from Heavy Metal mags, and Ahmed’s scripting is exciting, giving you plenty of things to think about once you put the comic down. Along with Jessica Jones this is another excellent go for the Marvel family at telling adult superhero stories. I rate this comic as very good. There is a potential for the volcanic rating here, but the creators are hamstrung by Marvel’s decision to lower the quality of their covers while keeping their cover price the same making it difficult for me to get books from my local proprietor that haven’t been damaged in shipping. Please give us better quality books Marvel, we love your stories, but your profit margin comes at the expense of your fan’s collections.