Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 6 (April 1999)

The series ends with some undeniable problems–the Romeo and Juliet aspect is idiotic–but Richardson and Stradley manage to reign in their big conspiracy storyline. They don’t resolve some of their threads, which is both a good and bad decision. It’s good because there’s not enough room for the resolution, but bad because they sort of promised it for the first half of the series. There’s a lot of content to this issue–it’s not just a wrap-up. The wrap-up is saved for the last three pages or so… and it isn’t enough. This issue’s problems with pacing sort of reveal the series’s problems…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 5 (March 1999)

It’s a romance now? Seriously? Wow. After a solid first half, Richardson and Stradley are running off the rails. They set up a convoluted set of schemes and subterfuges and are now rapidly resolving them. And what solves them all? Sworn enemies kissing. But the issue has a bunch of great Gulacy sci-fi action so it’s impossible not to enjoy it. There’s spaceship battles, there’s blaster fights, it goes on and on. Even the talking heads stuff is great; Gulacy’s got lots of Star Wars technology around to draw. But the writing has just gone off the deep end. The writers introduce…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 4 (February 1999)

I’m not sure it’s possible this issue could have a softer cliffhanger. Soft as it may be, it does signal a change in Council of Blood… it’s finally a sequel to Crimson Empire. Until this issue, Richardson and Stradley have been avoiding what they promised at the finish of the first series. While the previous issues touched on it, they more concentrated on the overall Dark Horse Star Wars universe. This issue brings Sinn (I finally remember her dumb name) and the Imperial Guard together. And it does so on a strange planet with stranger aliens and Gulacy has a great time…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 3 (January 1999)

Interesting. The series is now half done and Richardson and Stradley haven’t shown much of their hand yet, as far as future events go. Instead, they’re still raveling the narrative. The reader gets to be a little ahead of the characters, but since there’s still no protagonist, it doesn’t hurt the comic. This issue spends most of its time going over the business practices of the Hutt character. They’re sensational, which makes them engaging, and the writers hint just enough at how everything connects to make it intriguing. There’s also some more business with the Imperials, with the writers identifying the villains…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 2 (December 1998)

Once again, there’s the item you can tell Gulacy just went gloriously overboard with. This time, it’s one of the squid faced aliens–but as a Hutt dancing girl. Emberlin inks are especially good; there are some great alien worlds panels in the first few pages. Richardson and Stradley are slowly developing the overall story. The dialogue is good, the characters are all good. The issue passes without many hiccups, but it also passes without a real character. Crimson Empire II is apparently a licensed Star Wars comic first and a narrative second. In fact, this issue is still setup for whatever’s going…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 1 (November 1998)

Once again, Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley are deliberate in their setup. Council of Blood has some fight scenes–well, some violent acts without real bloodshed (just the threat of it)–and some space stuff, but it’s all about the politics. Just from this issue, it’s clear the dialogue’s better than the first series, at least for the politicians. While the comic obviously owes a lot to Star Wars–specifically Jedi–it’s hard not to see some Dune comparisons too. I’m not sure how it reads to regular Dark Horse Star Wars readers, but it’s incomprehensible without reading the first series. Sadly, the Western flavor to…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 6 (May 1998)

Why couldn’t they have just done it as a Western? It would have been perfect. The final issue of Crimson Empire has the best and worst from the series. The woman–her name is Sinn, which is stupid so I probably forced myself to ignore it–declares to the “holy stars” she’ll hunt down the main guy because it turns out he’s kind of a bad guy. Now, “holy stars” (Star Wars was always a little areligious, wasn’t it?) aside, it’s terrible writing from Stradley and Richardson. Sad the series ends on a bad note writing-wise. Luckily, Gulacy does fine. His art’s really complex…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 5 (April 1998)

This issue, if I’m adding right, takes place over a couple hours. Maybe the reason Star Wars comics aren’t taken seriously is because in those two hours, not only is a space battle determined, but there’s also time for the woman and her sidekick to fly to an entirely different solar system to save the protagonist. The protagonist doesn’t get any lines this issue, which is too bad, but does fit in with the Crimson Empire is a Western feel. It’s unfortunate Gulacy and Richardson didn’t cultivate that genre and reign in the story. Seriously, the leaps in logic (I mean, the…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 4 (March 1998)

This issue concentrates on the Rebels, specifically the woman. I can’t remember her name though. Stradley and Richardson repeat all the other names so much, she and her lizard-man sidekick are sort of nameless. I’m sure they say it a few times throughout… just didn’t make any impression. There’s a lot of excellent Gulacy composition here. He might not be spending as much time on his art as he did in the eighties, but the panel design is still there. Gulacy’s art gets the issue through. There’s really not much going on, just the woman being tortured and giving information in a…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 3 (February 1998)

From the second panel, it’s clear something off with the art. Either Gulacy hurried through faces and let Russell finish or Russell got eager and got rid of all Gulacy’s rounded lines. The former would just be unfortunate… the latter would just piss me off. This issue doesn’t feel like Gulacy until about halfway, which is too long. Even though very little happens–there’s a battle scene, some talking among good guys, a flashback, bad guys talking–it’s probably the best issue of Crimson Empire so far. Richardson and Stradley aren’t being coy about their protagonist anymore and, in fact, reveal him to be…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 2 (January 1998)

For some of this issue, the Gulacy sci-fi art makes one forget it’s a Star Wars comic and imagine it’s just a Gulacy (with Doug Moench) comic. Then Richardson and Stradley have some awful dialogue from the big villain and the illusion comes crashing down. It’s like the comic can get away with bad dialogue because Star Wars got away with it. But there’s a lot more of it here, as the bad guys bicker with each other. Still, the story’s compelling enough the dialogue doesn’t matter. Oddly, the good guys’ dialogue is fine. It’s just the insidious declarative statements. By the…

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 1 (December 1997)

Crimson Empire answers the burning question… what’s with the guys in red from Return of the Jedi. The ones who had fabric capes on the action figures. Of course, it’s mostly just backdrop for the story of a fugitive. It probably could fit a Civil War story too. A stranger comes to town, kicks butt, has to hide with possibly duplicitous newfound friends. Meanwhile there’s a big villain out to get him, along with all the little ones. But the real attraction so far is Paul Gulacy’s art. Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley’s script is fine, it’s just not compelling on its…

Dark Horse Presents 69 (February 1993)

The Predator story keeps getting worse (it turns out it’s just a prologue to some limited series, I love it when Dark Horse uses Presents to advertise their licensed properties). Given Raskin’s worsening artwork and Stradley’s bad writing–he uses a government report as the narrative exposition, he’s used similar devices in the past successfully… here he fails. It’s an awful story; very happy it’s the last installment. Duffy and Sakamoto have another Nestrobber installment. It’s mean-spirited and lacking in charm. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I’m completely perplexed with Duffy’s intent. It’s supposed to be manga, but I can’t…

Dark Horse Presents 68 (December 1992)

The Predator story continues and its problems become real clear. Stradley’s trying to take a “real” approach to certain elements–gang members, serial killers–and it just comes off as silly with the Predator running around. Raskin’s art suggests he’s unprepared for such a big assignment (and Wiacek seems to have been brought in to correct things via the inks). Then there’s the inexplicable cliffhanger. So far, very unimpressive. Campbell’s got two Alec strips. One is really cute, the other is just a nice example of a one page narrative. Davis is back with Paleolove. The story is longwinded and the art is still…

Dark Horse Presents 67 (November 1992)

The issue opens with an idiotic story about an annoying character called Zoo-Lou. Hedden and McWeeney usually do great work. The art here’s excellent, but the writing is an absolute nightmare. Dark Horse really loves poking fun at themselves… and usually it comes out awful, like Zoo-Lou. An Accidental Death comes to its conclusion here. No one does this kind of angst and suffering like Brubaker. Everything he does these days is a waste compared to what he could be doing. Brilliant work from Shanower too. Duffy and Sakamoto have an awful story called Nestrobber. It’s just atrocious. The Predator story is…

Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special (April 1991)

This special is far from an accurate representation of Dark Horse Presents. Everything looks very professional. The Aerialist and Heartbreakers installments are both long needed establishments of the series’ ground situation. I even liked the Heartbreakers one (Bennett’s writing is far stronger from the clones’ perspective, versus their creator). There’s also lots of disposable stuff–Concrete, The American and Black Cross are all weak, though Warner’s art is better on Cross than I’ve ever seen it. Chadwick and Verheiden use their stories to blather about American culture. Of the two Miller’s–Give Me Liberty and Sin City–I almost prefer Sin City. Liberty‘s a little…

Dark Horse Presents 36 (February 1990)

The Aliens vs. Predator story is most impressive for Norwood’s illustration… but not of aliens or Predators. The story opens on some alien world and it’s just breathtaking. Once the actual story starts (Stradley’s two conversationalists talking about hunting experiences while Predators hunt aliens), it can’t compete with those visuals. Still, for what amounts to shameless self-promotion, these prologues are very successful. Davis’s Delia & Celia features a number of young women “playing” the two leads. Davis can’t maintain faces for them to the point he must have been photo-referencing. Each panel, they get a new, distinct face. The writing is nearly…

Dark Horse Presents 35 (December 1989)

The Predator story opening the comic gets it off to a good start (it’s really just part of the prologue to the first Aliens vs. Predator series). Stradley writes an excellent conversation about social Darwinism between these two pilots, which Norwood then adapts into something featuring Predators fighting for dominance. Well, it was probably the reverse, right? Marvel style? The first Heartbreakers story is mildly incomprehensible–it’s packed with detail, all about cloning, interoffice politics and the future. I like Guinan’s art, but I can’t tell if the soldiers are all supposed to be identical clones. His visual reference all seems to be…

Dark Horse Presents 34 (November 1989)

Race of Scorpions gets even more amazing this issue… Duranona tells the reader what happens to the story’s protagonists in a little text paragraph at the end of the story. The actual story was spent on some supporting cast members. It’s sort of amazing how poorly plotted this story gets. Dark Horse really just didn’t care what they printed. Lots of perspective failures here. Just a dreadful read. Zone is getting more dramatic–this issue the reporter gets hurt near a fire and Zone saves him, so all the threads are coming together. Unfortunately, Kraiger’s art, which was no great shakes to begin…

Dark Horse Presents 20 (August 1988)

This issue is a sixty-four page giant–only most of the extra is filler. They could have gotten away with a lot less pages. The Mr. Monster story is real short (and lame). Gary Davis has a short space alien story showing he’s read some Arthur C. Clarke (it’s long, wordless filler). Rick Geary’s got a nice two page story, which is filler but really excellent filler. Then there’s the start of a Trekker serial. It’s incomprehensible if you haven’t read the Trekker series and probably even if you have. Doug Potter has an excellent story about homelessness. Oh, I missed Bob Burden’s…

Dark Horse Presents 15 (February 1988)

I’m so glad they put The Mask in the middle. I’m not sure the issue would have been tolerable if it hadn’t been at the center. The issue opens with another bad episode of Captain Crusader. The only nice thing I have to say about the story is Martin draws brick walls well. Not people, not figures, not regular backgrounds, just brick walls. The real world superhero gets beat up again. The issue ends with Babes ‘n Arms, which is slightly better than before thanks to Stradley’s writing. Unfortunately, it’s still completely awful. I can’t believe Dark Horse took the time to…

Dark Horse Presents 14 (January 1988)

Reading Mr. Monster, I thought a lot about how much I love Will Eisner’s Spirit in black and white. Not because Gilbert’s art in any way reminds of Eisner, but because it doesn’t. Because instead of publishing wonderful black and white comics, Dark Horse Presents is publishing Gilbert’s Mr. Monster and it looks like pencils run through the photocopier to darken it. Art aside, it’s still atrocious. The Concrete story is completely depressing. While visiting his parents’ grave, Concrete contemplates his future. It’s bleak. Chadwick’s art isn’t particularly special here (why is Concrete the one thing he doesn’t draw well), but it’s…

Dark Horse Presents 10 (September 1987)

This issue Concrete gets into a fight with a bear and nearly loses. In some ways, since Chadwick isn’t going for the saccharine, it works better than any other Concrete story so far. Except it’s basically a reluctant superhero story, so it’s not the traditional Concrete story. Again, somewhat weak art from Chadwick. It’s hard to judge Badger’s art on The Mask (spelled Masque here) since it’s supposed to be nuts. The story is only somewhat successful, since nothing happens. It’s an action scene where the bad guys we just met get killed. I guess it’s interesting the bad guys are federal…

Dark Horse Presents 4 (January 1987)

It’s a real toss-up this issue for worst writing. Randall’s script for Trekker is laughably bad, but there’s something almost confrontational about Stradley’s Mindwalk script. It’s like he’s punishing the reader for taking the time to read the story, as though he or she isn’t being punished enough by Emberlin’s artwork. Randall’s Trekker art, on the other hand, isn’t terrible. He’s got some issues with proportions and perspective, but his enthusiasm and persistence are clear. He worked hard illustrating his derivative, atrocious sci-fi story. The rest of the issue is similarly unimpressive. Sure, Chadwick’s Concrete artwork is amazing, but the story is…

Dark Horse Presents 3 (November 1986)

Yay, Warner’s back with Black Cross–featuring a bunch of expository dialogue recapping the first story. With all that useless exposition, one might think Warner would explain the ground situation to the reader. But he doesn’t. It’s confusing and a lot of work thinking about something so dumb sounding. Stradley and Emberlin’s Mindwalk has its weakest entry so far, with Stradley inexplicably using two narrators here. A mediocre first person narrator is one thing, but then he brings in a female narrator who sounds like a six-year-old. Emberlin’s art is similarly problematic, though he draws Kirby-esque monsters well. The Concrete story is charming.…

Dark Horse Presents 2 (September 1986)

Wow, does Chadwick ever try hard to be cute. His Concrete story this issue is a completely useless, inconsequential diversion… Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe it’s supposed to be charming, but it just seems like he wastes a lot of energy. The art’s okay, Concrete being a really boring looking character but the desert setting is fine. I certainly wish Chadwick was on Mindwalk, just because Emberlin is so weak. He’s got the occasionally well-designed panel, but the art tends to be broad or ugly. The broad stuff is fine, it just doesn’t look like he put in work. The ugly…

Dark Horse Presents 1 (July 1986)

You know, I really didn’t expect Dark Horse Presents to open its first issue with a male overcompensation piece like Black Cross. Warner’s art’s amateurish and I guess it shows movie optioning is a comic book tradition (the character looks like Sylvester Stallone). It’s a dismal story. Chadwick’s two contributions are all right. The Concrete one is charming and at least hints at some kind of social consciousness for the comic (which Black Cross feigns). More impressive, as far as the art goes, is Brighter!, a Vertigo ready story about some young woman who can produce optical illusions. So she’s a mutant…

Aliens vs. Predator 4 (December 1990)

It’s a weak close, partially because Stradley probably needed another issue to fully develop the relationship between the protagonist and the friendly Predator (he also needed space to give it a proper ending), but mostly because Chris Warner is no replacement for Norwood. Warner kills that beautiful design sense Norwood brings to the book. Instead of the panels being so well-composed it can distract from the narrative, they’re rote. Aliens vs. Predator, between Warner and Campanella, becomes a boring movie tie-in. Norwood made it special. Even with the action pacing and the lack of narration, Stradley’s able to keep his protagonist strong.…

Aliens vs. Predator 3 (October 1990)

The change in inkers makes Aliens vs. Predator look exactly as drab and boring as I’d expected the first few issues to look. Campanella can’t do much to Stradley’s figures, but he rounds out the faces–not all the time, which makes the art disjointed–but definitely in close ups. Everyone looks like they’ve had the definition erased. The issue’s a solid effort. Stradley is fully into the action part of the story now, so it’s nowhere near as good as the previous two. He’s strengthening his protagonist (while taking away most of her narration), but measuring her arc. She’s not acting out of…

Aliens vs. Predator 2 (August 1990)

The issue opens with some weak dream exposition. It doesn’t fit the narrator’s voice–Stradley never establishes why he’s using it (I think it’s a callback to the Aliens series where people have nightmares around the aliens)–and it’s a weak opening. But then Stradley recovers beautifully. Until the end of this issue, Aliens vs. Predator is more a Western than a sci-fi thriller. The sci-fi elements are all well-done, but the narrative tone is straight out of Rio Bravo. He continues strengthening his characters as he introduces the titular elements–lots of aliens and Predator money shots this issue, but it doesn’t feel forced.…