In the pages of Dark Horse Presents, a lot of interesting stories get their first taste of exposure, and while that's where Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto's Ghost #0 was initially published, the character they're writing actually stems back to the 1990s and DH's attempts at their own superhero universe. It was the thing to do. These days, Dark Horse is into creator-owned independent stories (and Star Wars comics… and Buffy comics, but still – no reason you can't do both!), but that doesn't mean the old characters no longer matter to them.
In this new take, two down-on-their-luck schmucks running a low-rent TV show called Phantom Finders actually find a phantom, thanks to the use of a very mysterious device that ambitious host Tommy Byers obtained through unscrupulous means. His partner and cameraman, disgraced ex-journalist Vaughan Barnes, is ostensibly there to temper Tommy's enthusiasm, but the appearance of a ghost they believe to be Chicago's infamous "Resurrection Mary" changes the game. The experience moves Barnes enough that he sabotages Tommy's effort to cash in on their sighting, causing him to threaten "Whatever you did? You undo it… or I will end you, bro." Yeah, he's that kinda douche. Even douchier when it turns out that he got the device from people who have come to kill them. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), Vaughan got blitzed and activated the device the night before, which seems to have summoned this mysterious spectre and made her solid enough to cast shadows, speak cryptically, eat hot dogs, wear his clothes and murder the shit out of gun-toting thugs.
The Noto art is a little static at times, but it hits you where it counts – the eyes of its characters, exactly where most CG films fail. There's something to be said about the superiority of the comic medium there, but you can articulate that yourself. I'm here to tell you that Ghost #0 is a promising start for a new revival, with a good set-up from DeConnick with characters that aren't easily pigeonholed.
I'm also here to talk about a few Dark Horse books I missed from last week – check these out:
The Victories #2 is a new-school superhero book for DH by Michael Avon Oeming. The first issue impressed me with it's rough-hewn edges and the efforts it made to make its central hero Faustus anything but glamorous. The second issue continues that trend while introducing us to the rest of The Victories, the superteam in this dark near-future of free-floating robot spy cameras. You've got the mysterious bandage-faced Sleeper (any superhero in a suit-and-tie and a legit non-hipster fedora is always neat), the even more mysterious Sai, the fire-wielding Lady Dragon and the adrenaline/attention junkie D.D. Mau. They're out to bust up a narcotics den specializing in "float," a drug that lets you space out and literally float, but has the nasty side effect of potentially deflating parts of your body.
The story remains focused on Faustus, though – he claims not to kill, but he's fine with cutting jerks' hands off so they won't commit "armed" robbery anymore, and after the big bust, he goes home with D.D. Mau and her big bust. She's a bit overwritten as a completely vapid and self-centered type, but one suspects she might be on some kind of drug herself. As evidenced by Faustus hearing voices in his head, none of these heroes are necessarily all that well-adjusted. Oeming's story is messed up enough to keep us interested and guessing, and his art combines a stylized cartoonishness with a really dark ominousness (ominosity? That should be a word, shouldn't it?). It's definitely not for kids, but it's got intriguing potential.
What's next on the DH Docket? Try this:
The Massive: Black Pacific #1 continues the story of the crew of The Kapital, an environmental task force ship adrift in a world where that environment has already destroyed civilization. Brian Wood is in this for the long haul, building a post-Crash world with exacting detail and taking his time in doling out information about the characters by whom we've come to be intrigued. This is another story about the darker private-army mercenary past of current pacificst Callum Israel, captain of the Kapital and founder of the Ninth Wave movement. After making a deal with a shady Somalian warlord to keep his ship in supplies, he has a run-in with a former partner of his in Blackbell PMC named Arkady, the ruthless sort of asshole who is pissed that Cal quit the black ops for hire game and killing in general. Seems he thought they'd be partners in a long-crime game. Thus, Cal's newfound peaceful dogma is put to the test as he has to stare down the barrel of an angry Russian's gun.
The art from Garry Brown is a bit more of that rough and dirty style than Kristian Donaldson's was in the previous arc, and it certainly works well for this gritty little chapter set in Mogadishu, or "The Mog" if you want to sound like a cool worldly guy. It's not quite as striking as Donaldson's crisp and clean style, though, but it's still solid work that doesn't let the script down at all. The Massive isn't a bombastic or action-packed saga, but there's just something damn cool about these people and this setting, and it's always got an underlying tension brought about by pumanity trying to find itself when the old ways no longer work like they used to.
What else we got?
The Creep #1 really should be The Creep #2, and The Creep #0 should've been The Creep #1, but it seems today that most publishers like to try to double-up on that new-series feel by busting out a #0 and a #1, which both always feel like jump-on points. Or maybe that's just how DH collects stories that initially showed up in Dark Horse Presents. Anyway, this issue drops right into the story of down-on-his-luck detective Oxel Karnhus, a man afflicted with acromegaly, which has given him a large, misshapen head, recurring headaches and a lot of sweatiness, having to deal with the return to his life of Stephanie, a woman he once loved before his body went to hell on him. If you haven't read The Creep #0, #1 will likely confuse you, as the essential backstory isn't provided. If you have, it starts to become clear just what happened to Steph's teenage son Curtis, who killed himself not long after his best friend Mike did the same. To us, at least, although apparently Oxel can stare at gay men on the subway and not quite connect the dots that maybe Curtis and Mike were more than just best friends.
The art from Jonathan Case is well-crafted, too, with a clean, bold and spare look to the modern stuff and a hazier, brighter feel to the pieces of the past that Oxel is trying to put together in his head, and the darker fuzz around the images he's thinking of when he takes some oxycodone he got from his old college friend and Steph's ex-husband for those headaches and starts drunk-dialing. John Arcudi's story is taking its time to unfold, and it seems to be much more of a character study than any hugely compelling plot. Still very much worth a read.
Oh, and one more thing.
Orchid #9, the latest chapter in the epic, post-apocalyptic class warfare saga penned by Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello, gives us the first of what he's been building to since it began – legit class warfare. The poverty-stricken Bridge people, led by the former prostitute (also known as a Valk) Orchid, who is now donning the legendary mystical mask of General China, revolt against the massive jackbooted army of the wealthy power-hoarder Tomo Wolfe. The story, full of good intentions, has been a bit overwrought in its storytelling, and while it's been cool enough to keep me reading, it's often easy to tell that this is Morello's first-ever comic work. The tale's felt a bit disjointed and slipshod at times, which might be the result of having to edit down his original massive script – he told me back before this started that, left to his own devices, each issue might be 70 pages long.
However, in this issue, the conflict we've been waiting for finally begins, and artist Scott Hepburn goes for broke in showing us the initial charge of a determined cabal of Bridgefolk and Valks charging into bloody battle with Wolfe's hordes on robot horses with axe-blades for heads. This is undeniably badass, and from here on out, it promises to be a vicarious thrill to watch this uprising continue – although there's also the spectre of betrayal and darkness that might mean this won't be the catharsis we're hoping for.
And by the by – this week's Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum has Lobster Johnson kicking Nazi ass on a dirigible. Or a zeppelin. I'm not sure what the difference is.
(Time out for research! It seems a zeppelin is a type of dirigible from a specific company founded by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin! Huzzah!)
Either way, it's a dirigible fight! And Lobster Johnson is awesome, as usual. So there are a bunch of Dark Horse books for you to check out. They're good people over there, and they ain't even payin' me to say it.