Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows #4

UPDATE: Dark Shadows guru Stuart Manning stopped by the site and politely pointed out that the artist was not the only person incorrectly credited with creating this issue. The issue's actual writer is Mike Raicht. "Whatever the reader makes of the comic, I certainly wouldn't want to take credit for someone else's work and indeed was quite surprised to see my name attached to it," Manning said. 
I've revised this post to reflect that change.

The latest issue of Dynamite's Dark Shadows comic is terrible.
Not "mediocre."
Not "disappointing."

After enjoying the first three issues of this series, it was almost heartbreaking to see the book take such a creative nosedive. The issue is meant to resolve the first (and apparently untitled) storyline of the new series, picking up after the end of the original television series. The early issues captured the characters, pacing and tone of Dark Shadows in a way I wouldn't have thought possible. After re-reading the collected version of the story, though, I noticed that many of the problems in the final issue had been fermenting since the very beginning.

To quickly summarize: Angelique is back and in a nasty mood, even by her standards. In the final issue we learn that she's not really after anything, that her grand plan is to force Barnabas to love her by killing lots of people. I was expecting something a bit more grand from the character, a Maguffin for her to pursue that would put the characters at odds over a tangible goal. After a terrific, well-paced setup, though, issue #4 tips its hand and reveals Angelique isn't after much of anything. After three solid issues of storytelling, the entire story collapses in the final issue as writer Mike Raicht and artist  Guiu Vilanova (and incorrectly attributed to Aaron Campbell) compete to see who can be the sloppiest storyteller.

This is supposed to be Angelique and Quentin Collins.
I was willing to forgive the budget-busting special effects of the previous issues because they showed a certain level of restraint. Angelique can fly like Superman now? Fine. Barnabas is now prone to fits of animal rage like a vampire from the movie Blade. Uh ... I guess that's OK? Quentin can now turn into a werewolf at will and speak perfect English? Barnabas defeats Angelique by throwing his cane at her? Angelique can use The Force to levitate Carolyn over the side of a cliff?


The final issue reads as though script pages from a 1990s X-Men comic were accidentally shuffled into the pageflow. It doesn't help that Vilanova's art sometimes looked like it was inked with a Sharpy.I don't think he's a terrible artist (I quite liked some of his linework) but I don't think he's suited for a book that is so demanding when it comes to capturing the likenesses of actors or the mood of an idiosyncratic setting like the early 1970s.

I'm rooting for this series. I was ready to love this issue, and the reason you're reading this after the collected edition was published is because there's been enough negativity directed at Dark Shadows during the last few weeks. I'm kinda tired of it.

If I had any advice for Dynamite and future Dark Shadows stories, it would be to abandon the notion of four-part story arcs. Dark Shadows was not a series of resolutions. Like any good melodrama, it was at its best when presenting impossible problems for its characters and then watching them squirm ... usually ratcheting up the tension at every opportunity.

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