Dark Horse have a lot of new books out this week, with a variety of titles on offer. There are some superhero comics, some dark religious horror, and a couple of romance titles too – a little bit of something for everyone!
Love and War
Love and War has something of a unique flavour to it. It has the feel of a sports manga, where everything is focused around this one game, where everyone’s lives are centred on it, and even the world seems to care about it to a degree that feels unrealistic. In the case of this story, it’s tug of war, with rival schools all competing in huge, televised competitions for championships in huge arenas that seem built purely for tug of war. But it also has a very European setting, with everything taking place in an unspecified country somewhere in Europe that has visual qualities taken from places like Sweden, Austria, and northern Italy.
The story centres on Domo, a member of the Aster Academy tug of war team. We begin at the start of a new school year, where Domo learns that the team captain, his friend Gabe, has left to join one of the rival schools. Worse, he hasn’t spoken to Gabe since they kissed last year. Learning that the boy he loves is gone, Domo tries to focus on tug of war, but faces challenges there when both he and Jocasta have been signed up as co-captains, and he is going to have to compete for the position. And when a new student, dancer Emil, joins the team, Domo finds himself falling in love all over again.
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Love and War is a very queer book. All of the romances that take place here are gay ones, the book doesn’t shy away from putting LGBTQ+ relationships at the front and centre of this sports romance series. And as you can imagine, this being a sports competition book focused on teens in love, it does get a bit intense. Everything is high stakes here, with futures, reputations, and dreams constantly on the line. Andrew Wheeler does a good job of capturing that teenage feel of everything being hugely important, and I’m not entirely sure if everything in this world is focused around tug of war, or if we’re just seeing it that way because that’s how our characters see it.
The artwork, by Guillermo Saavedra, Killian Ng, and C.R. Chua, is all nicely presented, with clean line-work and a nice colour palette that draws upon pastel shades a lot. The scenes where we’re outside and we get to see the city and all of the huge buildings and fancy sights are some of the best moments in the book, with everything else being decent. If you’re a fan of sports dramas, teen drama, or romance, this book will probably have some appeal for you.
Love and War is out now from Dark Horse.
The second romantic title this week, Virtually Yours does things a little differently, and feels more like your average rom-com than high octane school sports drama. In this story we meet two adults struggling through some hard times in their life. Eva Estrella is living at home with her parents, trying to find a job in journalism, whilst her overbearing mother fawns over Eva’s pregnant, married sister, badgering Eva about when she’s going to get her life in order. To try and get her mother off her back Eva signs up to Virtually Yours, a new online dating service with a twist.
Virtually Yours provides its users with the appearance of being in a relationship without ever having to be. You get photos of your partner, proof that you’ve gone on dates, and flowers and gifts can be sent to your work or home. The aim is convince the others in your life that you’re not desperately single. Eva ends up matching up with Max Kittridge, a former child movie star who’s going through a messy divorce from a wife who used to abuse him, and is working at Virtually Yours to try and get some financial stability. The two of them get on well on the app, using fake names, but when Eva and Max end up becoming friends in real life without even realising they know each other, and romance begins to bloom, things get a bit more complicated.
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I get the feeling that Jeremy Holt, the book’s writer, has a thing for romantic comedies, as Virtually Yours follows a lot of the conventions of the genre. The book has people who find their lives missing romance, who end up falling for someone, but things get complicated, there are misunderstandings, people from their past mess things up, there are the best friends there trying to help. It features all of that; but despite having a lot of the hallmarks of the genre it never feels dull, or like it’s just ticking boxes. A lot of this is down to the charm and care that Holt puts into their writing, and the way they bring the characters to life.
The book’s art is provided by Elizabeth Beals, and looks really nice. Beals puts a lot of care and attention into all of the scenes, and there’s always a ton of tiny detail and things filling the backgrounds. It never feels like things are happening in a void, in blank panels where only the character exists. It’s a fully realised world, and you’ll spend a decent amount of time just checking out all of the details that make it feel bigger and lived in. This is a great book that has very little tension or drama, and feels much more people focused. If you like rom-com stories this is one that you’re going to love.
Virtually Yours is out now from Dark Horse.
Daisy is a much darker book than the others on this list, and defintiely falls into the realm of horror. Telling the story of a woman searching for her missing son, who’s been gone for years, we learn about a small town and the strange religion that they’ve developed. Daisy Phillips is a giant of a girl, towering feet above those around her. She’s been told that she’s descended from angels, and that she may hold the key to speaking the language of God, which will enable her to reshape reality.
The biggest problem is she, and the rest of the town’s children, don’t want to be pawns in the religious experiments of the adults, and they’re tired of being used, changed into twisted, painful forms. With the help of this now desperate mother, and magic from beyond our world, Daisy believes that she will be able to go against the church and their charismatic leader.
Daisy is an odd story. It’s steeped in Christian religious mythology, and tries to do some of its own things, creating this weird kind of hybrid between things that feel familiar, and things that seem wholly unique. There are times that the narrative seems to be trying to make a point about religious fervour, of how cult-like followings can harm innocent people, with literal children forced to live in agony here. But the book never really fully commits itself, and tries to walk this line between that and religious dogma being real. Perhaps one of the worst things, for myself, that Colin Lorimer does here, however, is to make the people who have been cursed because of their ‘dark souls’ be deformed and disabled. It feels incredibly ableist to say that those with physical deformities, those who use mobility aids and limb braces, are the way they are because God looked at them and saw they were evil and wanted the outside to reflect that. It didn’t sit right with me at all.
The book’s visuals are very good, and Colin Lorimer also provides the art along with colourist Joana Lafvente, and there are some truly visually disturbing scenes, such as monstrous biblical giants, undead animals, and people without skin. The book embraces the gore and the visceral horror, and puts those images front and centre. Whilst I personally found parts of the narrative hard to understand, and did not like the ableist parts of the book, some horror fans might enjoy it.
Daisy is out on 21st September from Dark Horse.
Black Hammer Omnibus Volume 1
Black Hammer is a series that will appeal to fans of superheroes, who want something a bit different from your average hero story. It doesn’t tell the story of heroes saving the world, nor does it try to reinvent the genre with twists on the themes like evil heroes; instead it gives us a character-focused mystery story that feel like a love letter to the Golden Age of comics.
Black Hammer tells the story of a group of superheroes who vanished saving the world from total destruction by the Anti-God (Galactus mixed with Darkseid) ten years before. There’s Abraham “Abe” Slamkowski, also known as Abraham Slam, a street level fighter; Gail Gibbons, aka Golden Gail, who transforms into a super powered kid when she says the magic word Zafram; Mark Marz, the alien shape-shifter from Mars; Joseph Webber, who transforms into the hero Black Hammer when he picks up his magic mallet; Colonel Weird, an astronaut detached from material reality; the alien robot TLK-E WLK-E, more commonly referred as Talky-Walky; and the witch Madam Dragonfly. These heroes didn’t die like everyone thinks, however, and are instead stuck on a farm in a small town.
The group have been unable to leave the area around the farm, Black Hammer having tried and died in doing so, and have been stuck there for ten years, trying to find a way home and make a life for themselves. No one in town has heard of these or any heroes before, and some of their powers don’t work as they should, with Gail being stuck as a child despite being in her fifties. As they reach their tenth anniversary stuck together, relationships begin to fray, mysteries deepen, and help tries to find them.
Black Hammer is, at its heart, a supernatural mystery. It feels like a Twilight Zone story, with the small town that you can’t leave. And as the book unfolds and we learn more it starts to become obvious that things here aren’t quite right, and that there’s something really bad going on. All of this is between extensive flashbacks to the heroes’ past lives as both civilians and heroes, which feed into the events in the present and helps to flesh out the character and the world. Jeff Lemire does an excellent job at weaving all of the disconnected threads together to make this hugely engaging narrative, and a world you want to know more about.
As a fan of superhero comics, there’s also a lot here to love, as there are nod and winks to all kinds of things. Gail is a reverse Captain Marvel/Shazam; Mark Markz is Martian Manhunter; Black Hammer is a cross between Thor and the New Gods; and Colonel Weird is Adam Strange with a bit of Flash Gordon mixed in. The covers are made to look like older, Golden Age books, with banners and titles that match some well known Marvel and DC images. It feels steeped in comic history, and it clearly loves the genre.
There are a few different artists who worked on this book, as it gathers together the first twelve issues and a giant sized annual, but the majority is done by Dean Ormston, who has a wonderful style that captures the feel of Golden Age books, but has a darker, more down to earth feel that also works well with some of the more horror elements that pop up from time to time. If you love superhero stories, or if you’ve gotten tired of seeing the same kind of thing from the genre time and time again, Black Hammer is a book for you. It’s a love letter to the history of comics wrapped up in an amazing character focused mystery.
Black Hammer Omnibus Vol 1 is out now from Dark Horse.