And Then I Read: DARK HORSE PRESENTS 1

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This newly revamped Dark Horse anthology title was a must-buy for me because of the new “Concrete” story by Paul Chadwick alone, and when I began to read it I realized how much I’d missed him. “The Human Dilemma” storyline and trade paperback was the last one I bought, and that came out in 2006. If there have been any others since, I don’t know about them. As usual this short story and the stone-like character are full of wisdom and humanity at its best and worst, and it manages to tell an action-filled crime story along the way.

And I completely forgot about the “baby” Concrete from that 2006 story. Sure hope there will be more!

The rest of the anthology is pretty solid stuff, though of course I liked some entries better than others. Howard Chaykin tells a typically jaundiced crime and con-men tale with good characters, though I found the art style less appealing this time than in other recent work. I’m not sure why, but the technique he’s using on the faces gives them a smudgy, dirty look that at times is distracting.

Neal Adams’ feature is titled “Blood,” and there’s a good deal of it, but the title character hasn’t really shown up yet. Mostly we get one of his friends being tortured by a rival criminal gang. I imagine Adams was given free rein to do whatever he liked for this book, and his choice of story and character doesn’t appeal to me very much. The somewhat cartoony distortions in the figures are similar to what he’s been doing in other recent work like his Batman series, and while it’s strong work, I can’t say I love it.

Carla Speed McNeil has a “Finder” short story, the first work by her I’ve read. It’s amusing if highly improbable, even for a futuristic fantasy. It does work on a social satire level, though.

Michael T. Gilbert’s “Mr. Monster” is always a hoot, and his tale here is not exception. It’s target is those Marvel monster stories that predated the superhero successes of the early 60s, with a dose of Harvey Kurtzman as well, and it’s great fun. Gilbert’s style is frenetic to the max, and is colored with garish abandon, so too much of it is tiring to my eyes, but in a short story length it’s great.

Next there’s an interview with Frank Miller about his upcoming “Xerxes” project, with some sample pages. This is sort of a follow-up to “300,” which I liked, so I’m willing to give it a try when it comes out, but the interview didn’t do much to make the project more appealing to me.

A prose short story by Harlan Ellison is always a joy, and it’s been way too long since I read one. “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” is quite short, but packs a lot in, and comes with two alternate endings, both of which I rather liked. Another wise exploration of human nature.

Richard Corben’s “Murky World” took me right back to his underground comics stories of the sixties. Like those, the storyline doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is wackily entertaining anyway, and the art is quirky and appealing.

Next we have an excerpt from a new “Star Wars” storyline written by Randy Stradley, with great art by Paul Gulacy. I haven’t read a Star Wars comic in many years, but this one looks pretty fine.

Finally there’s a light-weight but good short fantasy by David Chelsea, and a two one-pagers by Patrick Alexander that aren’t bad.

Anthologies tend to have a few choice items and a lot of filler, but that’s not the case with this one, it’s all pretty good stuff, and there’s bound to be a few things you’ll love. Recommended.

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