Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dark Horse

One of my favorite titles.

Dark Horse comics has been in the business of producing quality comics since nineteen eighty six. You'd think that after nearly twenty four years of surviving in an industry that's still dominated by the original big two of the industry, Marvel and D.C. they'd be a well respected name and well recognized for their achievements, but such is not the case. Why this is so is a mystery to me and no matter how hard I try to figure it out I never seem to arrive at a satisfactory answer. These guys put out a truly superior product in what I believe to be a truly unique format. Dark Horse is a master of the short run series. You won't find a title in their catalog running into the two and three hundred digits. Granted, "Dark Horse Presents" ran into the one hundred number, but it wasn't the same as a single character title running as long because the book showcased any number of characters during it's long run.

Dark Horse has introduced some fine characters to the comic book world. My favorite has to be Hellboy followed closely by B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Psychic Research and Development) and the various books that relate to them. I'm always carried back to the Sunday newspaper comic section and characters like Steve Canyon when I read these these books and I feel like I've gone back in time to a better day. Hellboy and B.P.R.D. are earth bound books. There aren't any space battles involving fleets of massive battle stars and cosmic heroes saving the galaxy from evil hordes of space demons. You will find creatures of a subterranean origin and the remnants of races from the earliest moments in the creation of the earth and mankind. Oh yes, there will be monsters.

Creator, writer and illustrator, Mike Mignola has grown and matured almost as much in the years he and his creation, Hellboy have traveled the realms of myth, world folklore and Jungian archetypes in his abilities as an artist and storyteller. I never cease to marvel at his ability to dip his creative brush into the paintbox of well known story lines and produce fresh tales at the same time both familiar in origin yet new in color and context. His work is a continual reminder of what I like most about Dark Horse comics. The artist's story is always more important than the creation of a new character to market for the next ten or twenty years.

At Dark Horse it doesn't matter if a story is four books long or a thirty issue series. Creative integrity matters more than creative marketing and it shows in the way their books are crafted and placed into the marketplace. I look through my collection of Dark Horse books and the diversity of stories and artistic styles never ceases to impress me. Books like: White Like She, Egon, The Hammer, Zombie World, Amazon and new tales like The Cleaners or Solomon Kane have created a world of rich variety in which anything is possible at any given moment instead of a continuity line in which characters are forced to conform to existing time and story arcs in what are more often than not contrived and convoluted ways rather than natural and creative manners. Stories are fresh and interesting because they're not forced to extremes by a character that's been around for decades and yet is still a teenager or has faced every arch-enemy in every imaginable situation for every possible reason or motivation.

Dark Horse isn't afraid to let a story end or a character fade away. They seem to trust the artistic communities ability to produce fresh material instead of forcing it to breath life into old characters that should have been allowed to die years ago. I mean, come on, the radioactive spider bite may have given Peter Parker incredible physical powers, but did it make him immortal too? Don't get me wrong, I loved Spider-man when I was a teenager, but as I've matured I've watched his story become more juvenile and fantastical than I'm capable of accepting as an adult.

I grew up on the big two comic book companies. I loved anything Marvel and characters like Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, The Hulk and Captain America were more than good friends to me, they were role models to look up to and faithful companions to me no matter how many times my family moved back and forth across the country. These characters were consistent and familiar to me no matter how strange and alien any new neighborhood appeared to my young adolescent eyes. Now a days I pick up my old favorites only to find out that in an attempt to squeeze out a few more years and a lot more money from them their entire story lines have been distorted into aliens wearing their skins as disguises or secret clues revealing a true purpose and nature none of us ever guessed at or their life stories revealed as a complete sham because of the true evil beings in the background pulling and manipulating strings they never knew existed.

It does not entertain or satisfy me because I recognize it for the great pile of steaming excrement it has become. Having run out of believable and plausible story ideas for characters that have continued on long after their allotted shelf life has expired, the big two have turned to the bizarre and the extreme in a desperate attempt to keep their readers attention. There is nothing fresh in their content, it is purely absurd. Dark Horse keeps me entertained with new and challenging material on a monthly basis. I can't recommend them highly enough to the new reader or the old collector looking for something fresh to revitalize a waning appetite for comic book goodness. Remember, Dark Horse and Hellboy for satisfaction guaranteed reading, you won't be disappointed.

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