Review: Dark Horse Presents #3

The indie publisher's latest anthology features great work from Dave Gibbons, Paul Chadwick and the legendary Jim Steranko.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Dark Horse Presents #3

Nobody loves a digest-style book like I do. I was even a big fan of the period when Action Comics only featured Superman as well as other stories. So Dark Horse Presents, the indie publisher’s multiple story format book, should be something to get excited about. Instead, the 104 page Issue #3 is way too long and while the good stories in it are pretty spectacular, the rest of them drag the entire thing down like an anchor. The biggest problem is that Dark Horse Presents isn’t sure what it wants to be. Action comic, horror, fantasy, comedy or kooky alternative book, Dark Horse can’t make a decision so it tries to be everything, which doesn’t work.

Dark Horse Presents starts strong with a story by famed Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. The tale centers on a team of specialists who fight crime on television. These aren’t actors but actual cops who, in this future world, broadcast their attempts to catch criminals to the world via a show called Treatment. The emotional core of Gibbons' tale, the leader of the team dying and wanting to go out in a blaze of glory, is largely unnecessary but the action is cool. Gibbons art is perfect for this kind of hyper violent story and Treatment zips through its few pages with the same kind of intensity that he brought to the Watchmen.

From there Dark Horse Presents #3 has serious peaks and valleys. Thirteen, a story by David Walker and Robert Love is a clichéd post-apocalyptic adventure with a weirdly intelligent boy asking for his father, a mutant girl and an unlikable mutant dad. Being the second part of the story, I expected it to pick up but Thirteen never rises above a bad issue of Tank Girl. When the robotic boy builds the three-eyed mutant a girl a new leg out of scrap metal after a post-apocalyptic ogre eats hers, I tuned out. However, Thirteen is The Dark Knight Returns compared to the pretentious Finder: Third World story by writer/artist Carla Speed McNeil. The plot has something to do with a ghost, maybe, and an old dead woman, possibly, but it’s hard to really tell from what’s presented. Don’t worry though, it isn’t worth the time to figure out.

Concrete brings Issue #3 back from the brink with a well-executed tale about the big, gentle being known as (and made out of) Concrete and his drive to join the police force. Paul Chadwick makes Concrete a charming character that sucks you into his story of trying to figure out what being a hero really means. I like Chadwick’s dialog, he has a nice sense of rhythm and his art reminds me of old school EC books or even Mad Magazine. Next is Howard Chaykin’s uneven story Marked Man about a hit man taking bizarre jobs due to the recession. It’s a clever idea except that crime never really takes a hit during a recession.

The best of the lot is Ride Tide by legend Jim Steranko. I love how Steranko lays this story out, part words and part images. Instead of a just a comic you get an actual short story with some breathtaking artwork. Steranko trades in his usual blitzkrieg of color for a more muted approach, one that embraces earth tones. The icon’s love of shadow is still present but the story, a noir tale written like an old gumshoe novel, calls from a darker side of Steranko to come out. Following the story is an awesome interview with the man himself. This is easily the crown jewel of all of issue 3.

I’d get into all the rest of the stories but none of them are worth writing about. I particularly loathed Richard Corben’s contribution because I can’t stand his art and he tells the same reject-from-Heavy-Metal-Magazine type story over and over. While I can’t recommend Dark Horse Presents #3 I will say that if you dig Steranko, it’ll be worth the wasted cash just to have his story and interview. Outside of that this is a definite pass for your pull folder.