Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows #2

The second issue of a comic series is often where a book will win or lose its audience. A lot of folks will drop a few bucks on a first issue out of interest, loyalty or financial speculation, but circulation numbers usually drop significantly between issues 1 and 2. If a book spins its wheels in the second issue, though, you can bet those numbers will fall off sharply, possibly enough to ensure a new title's death by issue six.

If anything, the second issue of the new Dynamite Entertainment Dark Shadows series actually ratchets the tension higher. It shouldn't be considered a courtesy but comics are notorious for failing to resolve dangling plot points. The second issue of Dark Shadows not only answers many of the questions raised in the first, but manages to do so without bringing the story's momentum to a crawl.

The issue begins with the Collins family discussing the bloody scrawl found over the door of the front foyer. Quentin impresses upon his distant relatives the importance of holding a seance to determine the source of the writing. Elizabeth isn't sure that meeting the supernatural head-on is the best of ideas, suggesting she remembers how previous seances have turned out at Colinwood.

Parker Brothers is not responsible for any time slips that might happen while using this Ouija board.

After the bloody scrawl She Approaches repeats itself several more times before their eyes, Elizabeth caves (as she often does) and agrees to hold a seance. Barnabas interrupts the conversation, arriving with a wounded Carolyn in his arms. Carolyn was found unconscious at the end of the previous issue, and with two small wounds to her neck. While Julia seems unsure that Barnabas is as innocent as he claims she still gives him the benefit of the doubt. Neither are able to talk their way out of participating in the seance, though.

True to form, Barnabas is exceptionally worried about contacting supernatural elements in the presence of Collins family. He's got so many skeletons in his closet that a light breeze would send them tumbling out, so naturally he doesn't love with the idea of making direct (and public) contact with the supernatural. It's not like the afterlife has a "do not call" list.

Carolyn wakes from her stupor (seriously ... nobody called an ambulance?) and wanders into the seance in a fugue state. She begins to drop hints that a creature with a taste of blood is going to make trouble for everyone, prompting Barnabas to break circle. It also halts Carolyn's trance ... until the next night.

Quentin spots Carolyn leave the house in another fugue state and follows her into the woods. To nobody's surprise he discovers a statue of Angelique, who appears to be responsible for their recent problems.  Having already taken control of Julia, Angelique tries a similar trick on Quentin and gets a nasty surprise when she learns his curse is not so easily manipulated.

Carolyn's trance leads her to the Blue Whale where she continues to explore her new relationship with its bartender. Quentin tracks down Barnabas and brings him to the statue and discover that Julia Hoffman is not the only person under Angelique's spell.

During the final pages of the issue Angelique just as crazy and mean-spirited as ever, and accompanied by a light show that would shame Pink Floyd.

Stuart Manning continues to efficiently capture the characters in their dialogue, and the art shows a surprising amount of confidence and control. The books don't waste a lot of space on splash pages, nor to they clutter up the layout with a bunch of talking heads. The pacing seems appropriate, as well, which is a lot more difficult (and important) that it might appear. This is one of the rare cases when a serialized form of storytelling is actually being produced less frequently than its source material so it has to cover a lot of ground without looking rushed, and Dark Shadows manages this task quite well. If you're a Dark Shadows fan then this series is essential reading.

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