As with any anthology, Dark Horse Presents #20 is a bit of a mixed bag. The issue is, by turns, visually delightful, unexpectedly captivating, and occasionally frustrating. There are stories that will leave you yearning for to read more and others that will leave you with that unfulfilled feeling of eating only an appetizer when you’re really craving an entree.
WRITTEN BY: Michael Avon Oemoing, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Geoffrey Thorne, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Frank Barbiere, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Joshua Williamson, Duane Swierczsynki, Carla Speed McNeil
ART BY: Oeming, Steve Lieber, Todd Harris, Farinas, Toby Cypress, Hardman, Pere Perez, Steve Parkhouse, Eric Nguyen, McNeil
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse
RELEASE: January 23,2013
The opening story in “Dark Horse Presents” #20, Oeming’s “The Victories: Babalon Working” is a curious introduction considering it’s hardly one of the issue’s strongest chapters. It’s a bizarre meditation on standard comic book superhero fare and it’s a study in almosts. It is almost satirical but it takes itself entirely too seriously for true satire. It’s almost humorous, but the jokes feel a bit stale. It’s almost a new take on an old formula but it squanders the opportunity. It’s an affliction that is shared with Williamson and Perez’s “Captain Midnight”, which has oodles of promise but doesn’t quite deliver on it. The only other first chapter in the collection, Thorne and Harris’ “Journeyman”, would have been a stronger opening as it blends art that’s dark without going gritty and tantalises with a mystery you can sink your teeth into.
The stories vary in terms of accessibility and readers who haven’t been religiously following “Dark Horse Presents” might find themselves feeling a bit out of sorts without hunting down several back issues. There are a few standout stories that prove satisfying even without having read their previous instalments. Kiernan and Lieber’s “Alabaster: Boxcar Tales” and Barbiere’s “The White Suits” are both on their third chapters, but it matters little as they’re strong enough to stand on their own. Other selections, like Bechko and Hardman’s “Station to Station”, Swierczynski and Nguyen’s “X-Chapter 2: Straw Men”, and Hogan and Parkhouse’s “Resident Alien: Suicide Blonde” feel like filler at best and woefully unsatisfying at worst.
On polar ends of the quality spectrum are Farinas and Freitas’ “Gamma”, currently on its third chapter, and Carla Speed McNeil’s “Finder: Third World”, on its 17th. “Gamma” is done no favours by its positioning. Sandwiched between “Journeyman” and “White Suits”, it comes off as trying to punch above its weight class and it falls short of the quality presented in the issue’s other works. McNeil’s “Finder: Third World”, on the other hand, is the collection’s shining star. Though I must admit that I haven’t been religiously following all sixteen preceding chapters, I found that it hardly prevented me from enjoying the hell out of it. McNeil’s world is captivating and unique and the art is crisp, clean, fluid, and whimsical. McNeil succeeds in crafting a story that’s clearly part of a larger whole, but making it feel satisfying all the same. It’s a strong ending for an otherwise uneven issue and it’s worth checking out “Dark Horse Presents” #20 for this little slice of masterful storytelling all on its own.
Reviewed by – MelissaGrey