DARK UNIVERSE: update on horror fiction adaptations

Since the last time that this horror comics anthology was mentioned here, two additional issues have been published.   Issue #5 will debut in late June.  Here’s an update on this fascinating series of horror/dark fantasy fiction adaptations to the comics medium . . . . . . .

TALES FROM THE 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.)  Plans are to adapt these stories into six individual issues and then later collect them all in a trade paperback or hardcover edition.  An interview with the authors was posted to this site on Sunday, May 26.

TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLANS DARK UNIVERSE #1 (Bluewater Productions, January 2013)  William F. Nolan & Jason Brock, writers.  Scott Boyce: Art, Halloween Man.  James Bolton: Art, Heart’s Blood.  Warren Montgomery, Letterer.  Mike Dorman, cover.

          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!

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          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 bussing in 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, February 2013)  William F. Nolan and Jason Brock, writers.  Steve Wands, art Boyfriend. Michael Dorman, art Him, Her, Them.  Steve Wands, cover.

           DARK UNIVERSE Issue #2 contains my favorite of all the stories so far.  “Boyfrienddetails 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.

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         Back-up story Him, Her, Them”  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 building 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 this anthology merits several encores, as there is plenty of Nolan material to adapt.

TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE #3 (Bluewater Productions, March 2013)  William F. Nolan and Jason Brock, writers.  Sergio Medina, art The Giant Man.  Mike Dorman, art Major Prevue.  Warren Montgomery & David Hopkins, letterers.  Mike Dorman, cover.

          In the opening story “The Giant Man” an attractive but neurotic young woman suspects she is being stalked by an enormous man.  However, she is the only person who detects his presence.  When she asks others (her landlord, the police, etc.) to intercede on her behalf there is no one there.  Artist Sergio Medina depicts the giant as a large but unimposing figure, comforting in an odd fashion.  He seems more like a lonely and shy but massive man.  Fear turns to first familiarity and then to fascination as she decides to confront her handsome “shadow” rather than avoid him, and things turn again quickly in an amusing and different way.

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          “Major Prevue” relates the frustrations of a middle-aged unemployed  man who decides to seek the advice of a psychic. He was looking for some inspiration or a glimmer of hope in his future, but all the psychic sees is darkness and the end of life.  Finally, he takes a ride into the country just to get away from his badgering wife and stumbles into a seemingly ghost town.  He fails to pick up the hints when he stops at a gas station (“Life’s End Gas”) and gets invited by a shadowy attendant to a free movie premiere at the Styx Theatre.  It’s probably a good idea to vacate a movie theatre when you are the only patron among a sea of empty seats.  This is all depicted in black and white detailed illustrations by artist Michael Dorman.  Now I know where the inspiration for Dorman’s cover to Issue #1 came from.

TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE #4 (Bluewater Productions, April 2013)  William F. Nolan and Jason V. Brock, writers.  James Bolton art Pool.  Scott Boyce art Vympyr.  David Hopkins letterer.  Scott Boyce cover.

          This issue has the best combination of art so far in this series.  Poolrelates the story of a professional hit man and an unexpected overnight stop in a small Rhode Island town during his trip to Providence to fulfill his next contract.  The art reflects the creepy, withering nature of the queer town and its populace . It just makes sense since Providence, Rhode Island the hometown of horror legend H. P. Lovecraft that he must have gotten his inspiration from somewhere close by.  Bolton’s art evokes fond mDark_Universe_4_coveremories (and scares) of EC Comics’ classic TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  It’s done in a similar style.

          It’s been said that during the final moments between life and death, one’s past life flashes before the eyes just before the lights go out.  If we are witness to the death throes of a vampire who’s had the benefit of centuries of experience - - just how long might that flashback take? “Vympyr” gives us a front row seat.  The complimentary art by Boyce is art poster quality and deserves some dwell time as well.

          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 www.comicfleamarket.com .

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