The last five years have seen a renaissance in quality horror and dark fantasy entertainment in comics. That comes as a welcome respite from the avalanche of superhero titles that threaten to bury us under. (“Cut one head off, and several more shall take its’ place!”) Those who are willing to do a little extra hunting and explore the darker corners of the comic book world shall be rewarded, as I was the day the DARK UNIVERSE entered my inbox.
TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE #1 (Bluewater Productions) William F. Nolan & Jason Brock: writers. Scott Boyce: Art, Halloween Man. James Bolton: Art, Heart’s Blood. Warren Montgomery, Letterer. Mike Dorman, cover. http://www.bluewaterprod.com/
That cover is so eye-catching! It may just be the best “infinity” cover to drop in recent times, and is definitely award-worthy. The only audience member (matinee, perhaps?) of a spacious old-time movie theatre turns his back and flees after seeing his image repeated on the screen, ad infinitum. What makes this extra memorable is the fact that he appears to be hurtling over the seats with a look of absolute terror on his face. Artist Mike Dorman ramps up the visual effects by placing this scene within a rotated, angular/diagonal view. Magnificent!
DARK UNIVERSE is meant to showcase graphic adaptations of stories contained within the DARK UNIVERSE omnibus, a collection of short works by author William F. Nolan. Nolan writes across various genres and is most noted for co-authoring science-fiction novel LOGAN’S RUN with George Clayton Johnson. He shares scripting chores in Bluewater’s DARK UNIVERSE with Jason Brock, his editing partner on several dark fantasy anthologies. (The Bleeding Edge, The Devil’s Coattails, etc.)
The overall feel after reading and viewing several pages of Issue #1 is that of entering the world of The Twilight Zone television series, which is a welcome feeling indeed. The art in first story “The Halloween Man” is colored in gray and sepia tones with subtle washes of color in select panels. It gives the story an unnatural feel and brings up nostalgic memories of classic Twilight Zone episodes. This story ends with a twist as many of those early black-and-white thrillers did as well.
An adult neighbor scares inquisitive young little Katie with tales of The Halloween Man, who carries a big sack to collect children’s souls. The image he creates in a young imagination is so frightening that Katie’s school grades begin to suffer and her parents seek psychiatric counseling. But it doesn’t help, and things progress in a downward fashion culminating in events occurring the evening of October 31st - - which you may guess and wonder at. I saw it coming but it still entertained me, especially as portrayed by artist Scott Boyce who knows when to exaggerate human features at the appropriate times.
Second story “Heart’s Blood” centers on a Hollywood screenwriter and director who returns to his Missouri hometown to scout locations for a film depicting a high school shooting. An eerie feeling develops early in this quirky little town, devoid of young people who have “gone to the big cities” as the mayor dismisses the details. The art by James Bolton, with its distorted caricatures of individuals in brownish and muted tones also lends to the uneasy mood. The director must resort to bringing in busloads of Los Angeles students to make up his cast, an addition that is much welcomed by the local townsfolk who are equally delighted to learn that the young director and his wife are expecting a newborn very shortly. The suspense builds along with the suspicions and the tension builds quickly to an ending at a very unexpected point. The story just stops, leaving it to the reader to resolve whether what just occurred was imaginary or real. As debut issues go, this one doesn’t fully satisfy but leaves a craving for more.
TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE #2 (Bluewater Productions) William F. Nolan & Jason Brock: writers. Steve Wands: art, Boyfriend. Michael Dorman: art, Him Her Them. David Hopkins, letterer. Steve Wands: cover.
DARK UNIVERSE Issue #2 contains my favorite of the four stories so far. “Boyfriend” details how love finds an isolated and abandoned immature young girl and brings a new world to her doorstep. The main character relates past events as they occurred via a letter to her runaway father, which she is composing as the story moves forward. The setting is an isolated cabin far back in the woods of what may be Appalachia, based on the lack of spelling skills and phrasing seen in her letter. This is communicated most effectively in the captions, which are lettered as if they actually were being composed in primitive font on an ancient worn-out typewriter. The art by Steve Wands beautifully conveys the backwoods feel, as every panel appears as if painted, reminiscent of the old Grumbacher tubes of oil color splashed across canvas. The young 18-year old, now part of an unlikely couple, does her best to convey through words how different and quirky her boyfriend is, including his strange diet. There is no big twist to this ending, as the entire story is twisted and darkly delightful.
“Him, Her, Them”, the back-up story is depicted in very effective black and white by artist Michael Dorman. The opening full page of the main character strolling down an unidentified town, surrounded by high buildings and highway overpasses helps to convey his solitary-by-choice nature. He’s not a nice or likeable person who manipulates and abuses others especially women, who he fatally discards when finished with. He appears to meet his soul mate and ends up in a different style of Mexican stand-off. There is a twist ending here that is also unsatisfying, similar to the end story in Issue #1.
However, this may just be a faithful adaptation of the source material. William F. Nolan is a master of the concise yet powerful short story. Like many of his works, he hooks readers quickly through scene-setting, gets you interested as the action picks up, and then ends it abruptly. That will leave most of us wishing for more. Here’s hoping the first two issues merit several encores.
DARK UNIVERSE is not available through the conventional means of distribution, namely via Diamond Distribution. It can be easily obtained in digital format via numerous sources including ITunes, Amazon and Comixology. Print copies are available through EBay and http://www.comicfleamarket.com/servlet/StoreFront. Comic book stores can expect the standard wholesale discounts (similar to Diamond) when ordering through Comics Flea Market.