Thursday, 19 January 2012

New Beginnings: Dark Matter #1 and Prophet #21

Both Image and Dark Horse comics are ones that always interest me. Image comes up with a number of different titles such as Super Dinosaur, Walking Dead and the recently reviewed Fatale. Dark Horse always tickles my love of sci-fi with Aliens and AvP titles. So it is safe to say when new comics from either of these publishing houses come about I take notice.

This is exactly what has happened with both over the last few weeks. Image comics has brought us Prophet and Dark Horse has created Dark Matter.

Both comics focus on protagonists who arrive in an unfamiliar time and place, essentially being born into uncertainty. Whilst there is a drive for them all to move forward the surroundings, people and dynamics working around them mean that the movements they make are instinctual at best but blind all the same.

Prophet, from Image, started a long time ago in fact. The rebirth element is not only the opening pages but the title itself. Rob Liefield originally created it back in the Nineties where it was an innovative title for Image (coming out not long after Liefield left Marvel). Now after a substantial break and a change in direction (John) Prophet has returned under the watchful eyes of Brandon Graham.

The story is quite straight forward in an almost Planet of the Apes sense. The opening scenes depict the arrival of the main character in a future when man has devolved and aliens have turned them almost into livestock. Thrust into this new – but old – land John knows that he must move forward towards his goal of restarting the Earth Empire and renewing the human race.

There is a definite feeling of loneliness and isolation to it with most of the story being portrayed through narrative. It’s a tricky thing to balance and can be detrimental if not done right, but Graham has worked it well. Instead of it being an internal monologue the use of third person perspective means that there is a distance between the reader and John. The beauty of it is that the only explanation of the scenario is what you see, which is exactly the position Prophet is in too.

Graham has teamed with Simon Roy for the artwork. Whilst it’s not the cleanest or most precise, Roy’s work sits well with the story. It’s a dirty new world without the conveniences of our “modern” technology. What used to be a relatively known environment has been turned into an alien landscape complete with the newly associated flora and fauna.

Dark Matter is also a leap into the future. In a similar fashion to Prophet, Mallozzi and Mullie’s characters are thrown into a familiar yet unknown environment after being dropped out of hypersleep.

The change here is that whereas Prophet is a stranger in a strange land, our characters in Dark Matter are strangers in space.
For those who don’t recognise the names from other comics, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie may still seem familiar. Together they have written a vast number of episodes for the various Stargate franchises, so the science fiction background is pretty well covered by them both.

As a first glance there is a definite “Alien” feel to this title. A huge ship passing through space with a crew in stasis. Something has happened though and they are all rudely awoken by a rapidly failing life support system. Once the crisis is averted the real dilemma presents itself.

What do you do when you have no memory of the five people around you? Even worse still, what do you then do when you know nothing about yourself too?

Waking with amnesia, all of the crew (if that’s what they are) don’t know who they are, where they are and most importantly why. The comic is designed to establish a few points and ideas but strangely nothing personal about the people involved. This creates automatically a certain tension as you always want to know more, but if it were you in the situation would you ask and if asked would you answer?

I like that instead of simply telling you who everyone is you are given a story which leaks traits and personality flaws, leaving you to create your own thoughts about the different characters, much as they would have to do themselves.

To then further increase the pressure around them closing with an attack can only lead to a much bigger story coming into play.

Garry Brown is the artist on the title and without wishing to sound derogatory in any way his artwork strikes me as typical of the Dark Horse brand. It lacks detail and definition - especially around the feet I noticed randomly - and spends most of the emphasis in the foreground. The palate is muted and dark but this plays further into the isolation of the comic so together works in its favour greatly. The characters are realistic and not overly emphasised but still invoke the Colonial Marines in their design.

Both of these titles show some great potential and promise and to be honest a lot comes down to personal preference. For me I’ll be following the Dark Matter miniseries and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Prophet too.

The two comics are both great and if this is a benchmark for 2012 then I’ll be a happy comic reader.

Matt Puddy is looking forward to Dead Space 3.

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