“Dark Horse Presents” is comics longest-running anthology series and has been host to many legendary characters and creators over the years. Its original incarnation lasted a whopping 157 issues, a subsequent online relaunch on failed social networking site MySpace lasted for 36, while its second print incarnation ran for another 36. The current run of the series in a slimmed-down forty-eight page monthly launched in August 2014… and has just come to an end with issue 33. While issues 34 and 35 were solicited, they will not be published. Anthologies have always been a tough sell in the comics market for any era and Dark Horse has been committed to trying to make it work for them for a good long while now. Publisher Mike Richardson wrote in an editorial for the final issue that they may be back in another new format with a star-studded lineup, so he’s not ready to throw in the towel yet. After all, the anthology was critically acclaimed and racked up multiple Eisner wins over its current run. Surely there has to be some way to translate these things into sales?
Baltimore vol. 8: The Red Kingdom: Pour a glass out for “Baltimore” as the series has reached its final volume. Even if its back half never hit the heights of the Ben Stenbeck-illustrated issues, it still provided a compelling read and stands as one of co-writer Mike Mignola’s better projects that didn’t take place in the Mignolaverse. As for what to expect in the final volume, we’re told that the Red King is on his way to the Vatican for an unholy coronation with his armies sweeping across Europe and Lord Baltimore is nowhere to be found. I can only hope that his MIA status is resolved quickly because it’s going to make for a frustrating read if he only shows up at the end to strike the killing blow. Regardless of that, I’m very much looking forward to reading the conclusion of this series after following it (in hardcover) all these years.
The EC Archives: Aces High HC: Collects issues #1-5 of the war comic with art from the likes of Wally Wood and Jack Davis. Also comes with a foreword from Peter Jackson. This being a collection of war comics, I can only assume Jackson is doing it because Garth Ennis was busy. Which is too bad because I’d like to know his thoughts on American war comics after having been raised on the British variety. Then again, maybe he was asked by Dark Horse and the thoughts he gave are the reason he’s not doing the introduction here. I guess we’ll never know (unless he provides the foreword to a second collection of these comics).
Grandville: Force Majeure: A new volume of “Grandville” from Bryan Talbot is always reason for celebration. This time, the celebration is going to be the tiniest bit bittersweet because this is being billed as the last volume of the series. We’re told that series protagonist, Detective Inspector Archibald LeBrock, is on the run after having been framed for murder by crimelord Tiberius Koenig. It’s a markedly different setup than we’ve seen compared to previous volumes, and those of you who remember the character’s unveiling at the end of “Noel” will know that Koenig is a much different kind of beast than LeBrock has faced before. Still, if there’s one thing that LeBrock knows how to do, it’s how to thwart a dastardly plot against all odds. This is advance-solicited for October, so while I’m glad to know that this volume is coming the wait for it already feels interminable.
Gregory Suicide HC: An original graphic novel from writer Eric Grissom and artist Will Perkins. The solicitation text arguably spells out too much of this book’s plot so I’ll do my best to sum up. The title character is described as an obsolete AI cloned into a new body. This isn’t the first time this has happened, as he’s haunted by his past lives all of which have ended with him taking his own life. While he tries to figure out why this has happened to him, opposing human and AI factions want to recruit/exploit him for their own ends. Sounds promising enough. And Dark Horse, if you’ve got any openings for solicitation text writing I’m available and willing to negotiate.
Harlequin Valentine HC (Second Edition): The first graphic novella Dark Horse published adapting a story by Neil Gaiman, courtesy of John Bolton, gets its new edition along with all the others. It’s not bad, but this is arguably the least of them mainly because it’s the most inscrutable. Granted, the art from Bolton is very nice and the resolution of what happens when the titular Harlequin offers his heart to an aloof woman is certainly unexpected. Not without its charms, but Gaiman’s other graphic novellas are more worth your time.
Lady Killer vol. 2: The first volume from writer/artist Joelle Jones was a slick, violent caper with some effective bits of black humor about a housewife in the 60’s working as a hired killer. Jones had a lot of fun playing with and subverting the tropes and expectations regarding housewives of the era and her art effortlessly nailed the comedic and action-oriented parts. Even if the plot looks to be of the standard “protagonist’s violent past comes back to haunt her” variety, I’m betting there will be enough style in the execution to make it worthwhile.
Michael Chabon’s The Escapists: Finally gets a paperback edition after all these years. I’m honestly surprised this series wasn’t reissued in this format (it’s only been in hardcover all these years) sooner. After all, not only is it inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Michael Chabon, but it’s written by none other than Brian K. Vaughan. “The Escapists” is the writer’s acid-dipped valentine to the comics industry where three friends rescue an old superhero from obscurity and publish new stories with him to great acclaim and sales. Then the corporation which originally owned the character comes knocking. It’s heartwarming and sad in equal measure and I recommend picking up in this new format if you haven’t read it already.
Mr. Higgins Comes Home: Another graphic novella from Mike Mignola, only this time he’s not writing about Hellboy or the Mignolaverse (I guess this is his month for that). As preparations are underway for a festival of the undead at Castle Golga, a pair of fearless vampire hunters try to convince the title character to help them end that particular menace. This is being billed as a sendup of classic vampire stories, and I guess the “fearless vampire hunters” bit was a clue there. Even if he hasn’t done a lot of explicitly comedic stories as of late, Mignola can be very funny when he wants to. Particularly when it comes to skewering horror tropes and the rules of the supernatural.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Legend of the Piko Piko Middle School Students Volume 2: Having picked up and read the first volume of this series at Fanime, I can say that it’s one of the better “Evangelion” series published by Dark Horse. Even if the skewering of the cast and conventions of the series isn’t as brutal or rapid-fire as it was in the creators’ (writer Yushi Kawata, artist Yukito) stories for the “Evangelion Comic Tribute” it still made me laugh. This time out the cover promises more Kaworu than you can shake a stick at! And dating sims too!
Overwatch Anthology vol. 1: There were plans to publish an “Overwatch” OGN last year, but they were scrapped after Blizzard felt that the story being told would be too limiting regarding the game’s mythology. Instead, this anthology collects the comic strips that Blizzard has published online in print for the first time. This is great news… for fans of “Overwatch.” Frankly, it’s hard for me to care about multiplayer-only arena shooters without a campaign mode. It’s just how I’m wired.
Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case HC: Victor Santos writes and illustrates a story featuring the character of Heigo Kobayashi, originally created by legendary Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa. It involves Kobayashi investigating the murder of a samurai on the road to Yamashina during feudal times only to find himself worked into a dead end. Stan Sakai has shown that feudal whodunits can be great fun, and Santos is a hell of an artist (just look at that cover). My only concern is that if you’re going to invoke “Rashomon” in your title, you had damn well better be prepared for the inevitable comparisons to Kurosawa’s classic. Will this compare favorably? We’ll find out in October.
The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign HC: The first volume was the very definition of style over substance as it was all just an excuse to have Geoff Darrow showcase his meticulous artwork in the service of having the title character murder his way through a horde of zombies. This time out he’s mixing things up by having the Cowboy fight his way through a crustacean mafia. As the solicitation text says, “What do you do when surf and turf doesn’t like YOU!?” After my experience with the first volume, I don’t think this will be something I’ll buy right when it comes out. But if I can find it for half off…
The Visitor: How and Why he Stayed: Apparently there is no character in the Mignolaverse too small to get their own miniseries. This one focuses on the alien who showed up during “Conqueror Worm” and tells us what his deal is. With Mignola co-writing with Chris Roberson I’m sure it’ll turn out fine. Still, the real appeal is seeing Paul Grist working in the Mignolaverse. That should be something to see, even if it serves as another reminder that we’ll probably never see more of his quirky cop series “Kane.”