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Review: ‘Love Stories (to Die For)’ #1

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Having demonstrated a strong understanding, and appreciation, for the creative process of anthologizing horror fiction, in his series “Nightmare World”, Dirk Manning is back with “Love Stories (to Die For)” #1, from Shadowline. He presents two vastly different tales—in script, art, and genre—featuring stylistically distinctive illustrations by Rich Bonk and Owen Gieni. Though only one particular story reigns supreme based on artwork alone, both of Manning’s conceived pieces, no matter how infrequent, offer moments of baser pleasures.

WRITTEN BY: Dirk Manning
ART BY: Rich Bonk, Owen Gieni
PUBLISHER: Image Comics/Shadowline
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASE: September 4, 2013

Comics anthologies are hard to get right most of the time; and sadly they’re a huge hit-or-miss amongst readers and retailers (especially if priced too high). When collections aren’t met with pre-established fanfare, or boast an all-star team of writers and artists, they tend to be easily overlooked by the majority of consumers. But horror anthologies generally have something for everyone to enjoy; assuming you’re a bit sadistic… or perhaps that’s just me.

Manning’s foray into flip book-format storytelling offers two full-length, fully coloured, 22 page stories; each with their respective covers on the front and back of the issue. Both are widely different, but as far as similarities go, they share one common theme: love and morality in the face of death.

The first story, “Bloodlust: Deceiver of the Gods,” begins in the year 946 A.D., where appropriately named Norseman, Erik Skullsplitter, and his savage Viking comrades, are protecting a monastery from a coven of ferocious vampires intent on invading the premises. Illustrated by Rich Bonk and coloured by Sean Burres, this piece is sadly uninspiring. Until, of course, the anticipated Vampires vs. Vikings battle is splattered across the pages (like the blood from their decapitated heads and detached limbs). There is more to the story than meets the eye, as is expected. And Manning provides a little twist near the end to explore his aforementioned theme of maintaining morality in the struggle to survive death.

The second story is called “Symptom of the Universe,” and it’s set thousands of years later on an alien-infested space ship. It follows a woman, Allison, who must choose between love and loyalty, in the decision to save the last remaining seat on her escape pod for her passionate lover, Eric, or her heroic husband, Frank. Unaware of his wife’s internal battle, Frank continues to fight his way through the occupied space ship in order to return to Allison and escape a gruesome end.

Owen Gieni provides the artwork—including a large palette of colours—for this piece; and it’s as impressive as it is expressive and detailed. His contribution really outshines the others, and arguably makes this piece the stronger of the two. Everything is beautifully rendered and designed, and panels are filled to the brim with plenty to enjoy. He presents dynamic action scenes with fantastic illustrations featuring violently domineering aliens, and grotesque images of spilled guts and dead bodies. His strongest designs include the awesomely envisioned aliens, Frank’s epic spacesuit, and the outer-design of the space station in which the story takes place.

Unfortunately, because the stories are so short, it’s almost impossible to invest any real feelings toward the characters when the narratives are as condensed as they are. And while still cheaper than the price of two comic books, $5 might be a bit too steep for this particular product. Overall, I’d recommend “Symptom of the Universe” for both script and art, but “Bloodlust: Deceiver of the Gods” doesn’t cut it (regardless of the Vampires vs. Vikings subject matter).

2.5/5 Skulls

Reviewed by – ShadowJayd