Markley’s Fevered Brain: Riding a Dark Horse

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

Dark Horse Presents #1

Dark Horse Presents #1


As hard as it is to believe, Dark Horse Comics has just turned 30 years old. It seems like yesterday that Dark Horse Presents and Boris the Bear debuted. It is true that both of these books came out at the height of the black and white boom of the 1980s and for a short time Boris the Bear was the hot book of the time. Since then, Dark Horse has grown to become one of the most diverse and creative publishers out there. Over the years Dark Horse has moved up and down in market share and their publishing focus has shifted around from superheroes to original projects (which is what they started with) to manga to graphic novels, to other forms of entertainment (Films, TV, etc.) to licensed products. Overall I think it is fair to say that Dark Horse is an American success story. In this blog I am going to look at just a few highlights of their 30 years of publishing. This is by no means a comprehensive overview of their history as I am just spotlighting a few things that I have really enjoyed over the years.

Nexus

Nexus


Nexus is one of my favorite science fiction strips of all time. It is actually much more than science fiction; it is humor, drama, romance, and everything in-between. Created by Mike Baron and Steve Rude and originally published by my old stomping ground, Capital Comics, Nexus bounced around a bit and finally landed at Dark Horse. Dark Horse not only continued with new Nexus stories they collected all of the original material in beautiful hardcovers called the Nexus Archives and in thick omnibus volumes. They recently released a collection of all of the Nexus stories from Dark Horse Presents that I reviewed a few months back (it is great). Nexus is comic storytelling the way it should be; complex stories that are well thought out and are filled with all sorts of little bits that make it a joy to read.

Grendel

Grendel


Grendel by Matt Wagner and many others. Under Wagner’s supervision, Grendel is easily one of the greatest long form comic stories ever told. The story takes place from the 1920s to over 4000 years in the future and the person and name of Grendel evolve from a simple crime story to a political thriller to a commentary on religion to a bleak look at the future of humankind. All of these stories were done well over 20 years and did not follow any specific chronological order. The first stories, originally published by Comico, were set in the 1920s; the next series was set in the 2000, and then 3000s, then the 1990, etc. What I love is Dark Horse has collected all of the Grendel stories up to the time of the collections, into four full color omnibus collecting all of the Grendel stories in chronological order. For the first time you could read the evolution of character through all of the changes and twists and turns in a linear time frame. While all of the stories are great on their own, re-reading them in order made the story all that more amazing to me. Truly a masterpiece of comic storytelling. (Plus, last year Wagner did a brand new Grendel/Shadow crossover which was just as good as the previous material and is not in the Omnibuses).

Jet Scott

Jet Scott


Dark Horse publishes lots of classic material, including comics strips with beautiful color collections of the Alley Oop and Gasoline Alley Sundays, the complete Hal Foster’s Tarzan in full color and in the original size as well as the little seen Jet Scott strip by Jerry Robinson, and many others. But not only does Dark Horse do classic material, they also do some of the best original graphics novels and collections from any publisher out there. I would argue they are probably the best publisher of original graphic novels. There are far too many for me to review here (although I have reviewed a number of these in past blogs). Dark Horse has published the works of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (Two Brothers, Umbrella Academy, etc.); Sergio Aragones (Groo); Will Eisner (Hawks of the Sea, Spirit); Alex Toth (Creepy Presents); Mike Mignolia (Hellboy, Lobster Johnson, etc.); Paul Chadwick (Concrete); Robert E. Howard (Conan, Savage Sword of Conan, Kull); Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo); and many, many more. Their line of titles is so broad there is likely something for everyone.

Blacksad

Blacksad


Dark Horse also has been a leader in publishing classic European material for an American audience, many for the first time. All of these collections are in full color when appropriate, and feature beautiful reproduction and stunning design. Just a few of these collections include the Milo Manara Library (10 volumes so far), the Jeremiah collections by the great Hermann (three volumes so far), Blacksad, one of the best European crime series I have ever read (four collections so far), the forthcoming Moebius Library, the works of Richard Corben, and much more. Also, do not forget they are also collecting beautiful hardcover collections of the complete EC Library (picking up from where Gemstone left off, including Tales From the Crypt, Panic, Vault of Horror, and more) and the complete Eerie and Creepy, reprinting the complete classic Warren horror magazines. From a historical perspective, Dark Horse may be the most important publisher out there.

Lone Wolf & Cub

Lone Wolf & Cub


Dark Horse was one of the earliest publishers in America of manga and has both been a pioneer and a leader in the genre. They have over the years reprinted the complete Oh My Goddess, Blade of the Immortal, Samurai Executioner, Lady Snowblood, multiple works from Clamp, and perhaps the most important, the complete Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (as well as the New Lone Wolf and Cub). Over the course of its history Dark Horse has brought to American audiences some of the best Japan has to offer as well as some of the most unique, such as Old Boy and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Recently Dark Horse has taken to issuing their older manga in very nice and cheap omnibus editions, including Oh My Goddess, Lone Wolf and Cub, and Astro Boy. All worth checking out.

Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Vol. 1


Marvel has just released the first volume of the Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 which collects the Born miniseries and the first 12 issues of the Punisher Max series, all written by Garth Ennis. Born is four issues drawn by Darrick Roberson and Punisher Max is drawn by Lewis LaRosa (issues 1-6) and Leandro Fernandez (Issues 7-12). These stories are great. They are character driven and are excessively violent, and only for mature readers. Born tells the story of Frank Castle in Vietnam fleshing out the character far more than ever before. The ongoing Max series finds an older Frank Castle in New York taking on the Mob and in the second arc, the IRA. I really liked this book. The violence is perfect for the story as it is as violent as a vengeance movie (think Charles Bronson) but it is all driven by strong character motivations. At times the Punisher is the one behind the violence, but often he is just reacting to it. It was a joy to read a well told story with nice art for a mature audience that was not pandering, in that the violence, or sex, is for the sake of shock value, not story value. I am just sorry I did not read these when they first came out.

Once again congratulations to Dark Horse Comics for their 30th anniversary of publishing one of the most diverse and interesting comic lines out there. Everything I have written here is my opinion and in no way reflects the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their Employees. I welcome your feedback and I thank you for all your responses and the great discussions on my last blog. I greatly appreciate it. As always…

Thank you.

Dark Horse Presents #1 cover from the Grand Comics Database.

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