Dark Horse – August New Releases

Dark Horse released a bumper crop of new graphic novels in August, with a variety of genres and styles catered to. We took a look at a few of the new books available.

Lost Boy

Lost Boy tells the story of a young teen travelling home from a skiing trip with his father, passing along a remote road in they Wyoming mountains. Jack, the boy, didn’t want to go skiing, just wants to be back home in Los Angeles, and doesn’t seem to enjoy spending time with his father. The atmosphere between the two of them on the drive back is colder than the snow-covered mountains outside. When a deer steps out onto the road, Jack’s father swerves in an attempt to avoid it, and crashes through the safety barrier, plunging the car off a cliff into the forest below.

When Jack comes to, the sun has fallen, and he’s been thrown through the car’s windshield. Finding the wrecked car, his father sits inside, dead. At first just curling up with his deceased father, hoping that he might wake up and be fine, Jack begins to drift asleep. It’s then that a voice in his head tells him that he has to move, that if he falls asleep he’ll die too. So, grabbing what supplies he can from the ruined car, he starts to try and make his way back to the road. But, with the cliff seemingly un-climbable, and a pack of wolves closing in on him, Jack sets off down the mountain. Along the way he finds an injured fawn, and the two of them work together to survive.

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Lost Boy is a grim story. It begins with one off the worst things that can happen, a young boy losing his father to tragedy, but it also ramps things up by having the last moments they had together be one where they’re arguing and upset with each other. However, rather than wallow in the guilt that Jack must be feeling, the book instead chooses to put his journey to safety at the forefront. And all things considered, Jack is a pretty smart teen. He knows enough not to just wait by the car, he grabs useful stuff from the wreck before setting off, and he has something of a plan in mind. However, he is still just a kid, so ends up doing some pretty bad things along the way.

The main cause of Jack’s strife are the wolves that are following him, and the fawn that he befriends. There’s not much that can be done about the wolves, but there are a couple of times when Jack ends up putting himself in danger and makes things worse for himself to save the fawn. But I also know I’m the kind of person who’d act the same so can’t hold it against him. These moments help to humanise Jack, however, and it gives him something to focus on, and something to talk to. Jack ends up needing that baby deer to survive, because it keeps him sane, and it keeps him fighting.

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The book is both written and drawn by Jay Martin, who does a really good job at bringing the story to life. The Wyoming wilderness looks absolutely fantastic throughout, and Martin makes it feel cold and remote. From the moment the car goes over the edge you’re worrying for Jack, because the place he’s in is not one humans are built for. One of the ways the book conveys this is through colour, with the night scenes in particular looking fantastic thanks to the use of darker tones, and lighting effects.

Lost Boy isn’t a long read, and you’ll get through it pretty quickly, but it’s an enjoyable journey. It’s the story about the fight to survive in a terrible situation and against awful odds, and the fact that it’s been crafted by the same writer and artist makes it stand out as a labour of love.

Lost Boy is out now from Dark Horse.

It’s Only Teenage Wasteland

It’s the end of the world in It’s Only Teenage Wasteland, and a group of four misfit friends have to try to find a way to survive in the ruins of the old world in this new book from Curt Pires and Jacoby Salcedo.

Beginning after the end of the world, where our lead character Javi is hiding beneath a gas station counter from roaming bandits, the first issue of the four part book quickly jumps backwards in time to the 2020s, showing life before the end.

Javi is a typical teen in America. He’s a bit of an outsider, but not outright hated and bullied like some kids, and he’s managed to make himself a decent group of friends, including Scott, who’s popular enough to hang with the actual popular kids, Gort who’s somewhat quiet, Sione who’s the tougher guy of the group, and occasionally Fogelman, a kid who actually does get picked on because he’s autistic. When Javi’s parents go away he manages to convince his older sister to let them throw a party.

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The party goes well, until a bunch of racist bullies from the school arrive on the scene and start harassing Fogelman. Scott gets involved to help, and gets knocked around. Then things go white, and Javi wakes up in the ruins of their home town, giant white crystal-like structures growing from the ground and impaled through buildings. Setting out to try and find his friends, Javi tries to learn what happened to the world, all whilst dodging dangerous raiders who’ve made the ruins of the world home.

It’s Only Teenage Wasteland begins pretty strong, and much of the first issue you begin to forget that this is supposed to be a post-apocalypse story, and you end up enjoying reading about this group of friends just trying to have a fun party, and trying to get laid. Pires does a good job at writing teenage drama, and it feels like it might be the strongest part of the book. This is chiefly down to the fact that once the main focus of the book turns to the post-apocalypse segments things kind of get a bit boring. There’s a mysterious figure following Javi, and you can pretty much guess who it is before the reveal. And the bandits that are out to get the teens are treated like a joke half the time, and it ends up taking away a lot of the edge they have.

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The art, by Jacoby Salecedo and Mark Dale, is decent, and the bright, colourful nature of the art keeps things looking visually interesting throughout. A lot of the humour in the book is conveyed through the art, particularly in the variety of ridiculous ways that the raiders and bandits are dressed. It feels like the art team were having some fun coming up with all of the costumes and looks that the villains would be wearing, and it’s fun to see what they come up with.

The book ends with something really wild happening, and I hope that it indicates that this is simply the first volume of a larger story. If it is, then that’s fine, and there are still tons of unanswered questions and things to clear up. However, if the story doesn’t continue on from here it’s a terrible end to the book, one that will leave the reader feeling like there’s been zero resolution.

It’s Only Teenage Wasteland is out now from Dark Horse.

Black Hammer Omnibus Volume 2

We’ve previously covered the first volume in the Black Hammer Omnibus series, a book that collected the first dozen issues of the award winning series. A love letter to the superhero genre, particularly the books of the golden and silver ages of comics, the first volume of the omnibus series presented itself as something of a mystery story.

Several heroes who helped to save the world from the evil Anti-God find themselves stuck on a farm just outside a small town, unable to pass a barrier that means their death. Having been there for years, some have resigned themselves to that being their life now, whilst others are still trying to find a way home. When the daughter of one of their dead colleagues arrives on the farm things begin to get complicated.

The first volume ended with Lucy, the new Black Hammer, having gained her father’s powers, and the knowledge of what’s happened to the collected heroes. But now, before she can tell them what’s going on, she’s dragged away to another place, a plane of existence that claims to be part of the afterlife. In order to make her way back to her friends, Lucy will battle through hell, and meet the gods of stories, but all of it pales in comparison to what happens when she’s able to make it back and deliver the truth to the others. Now the fate of the entire universe hangs in the balance, and the heroes have to decide what role they want to play in what comes next.

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Black Hammer is a phenomenal series, and this second omnibus collects together all twelve issues of Black Hammer: Age of Doom, the first real sequel series to the first story. Having ended the original Black Hammer on a cliff=hanger, the creator, Jeff Lemire, told some spin-off tales, before finally continuing the main narrative a year later. This book skips those spin-off titles, choosing to focus on the core story. This is a decent move, as the ending of the first volume is one that really grabs the reader, and you end up desperately wanting to know the answers that Lucy has. And whilst we get to jump back into that story straight away, it’s not a quick reveal. Instead, Lemire manages to craft another mystery story, another story that has more twists and turns than your average superhero tale.

Much like with the first volume, Lemire is drawing from things that long-time readers of comics, and those with extensive comic knowledge, will pick up on. Characters are all nods to existing characters that you can find in both Marvel and DC. Black Hammer is a bit of Thor mixed with the New Gods, Golden Gail is Captain Marvel (Shazam), and Colonel Weird is Adam Strange. The love that Lemire had for the genre is so easy to see here, as genre conventions are woven into the narrative, but never mocked nor made nasty. This isn’t a book like The Boys, where it almost seems to hate the genre that it’s sending up and always acts mean-spirited. Instead, this is a love letter to the comics it’s imitating, all whilst crafting a story engaging enough to be considered not only a worthy addition to the genre, but a stand-out example of it.

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The second omnibus carries across the same artistic team as the first book, with Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart providing most of the art on the book. The style works well for the story, and it manages to feel both modern and gritty, and also classic old comics. It marries the two feels of the narrative well. There are a couple of issues part way through the series that follow Colonel Weird off on his own very meta adventure that change artist to Richard Tommaso, and the style change is very Jarring. I personally really didn’t like the art on these two issues, and the story does get very weird here too; this is definitely Lemire going a bit Grant Morrison on us. The last two issues included in the collection feature a whole host of artists, as one of them is a guide to the characters of the Black Hammer universe, with character art provided by more than a dozen artists.

Black Hammer has very quickly become a series that has grabbed my attention. As someone who loves comics, and really appreciates the quirky and cheesy nature of classic comics, this book is right up my alley. It feels modern and old at the same time. It’s doing its own thing and making nods to what’s come before. It’s filled with new and exciting characters and stories, but also feels like it could easily slip into the comic worlds we know. Lemire has done a fantastic job at crafting something that’s so enjoyable to read, and this new collection is the perfect way to experience the series for the first time.

Black Hammer Omnibus Volume 2 is out now from Dark Horse.

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