Review: B.P.R.D. #109, The Strain: The Fall #1, Star Wars: Dark Times—A Spark Remains #1

21881B.P.R.D. #109 Mike Mingola, accompanied by Mignolaverse and B.P.R.D. regular John Arcudi, brings some clarity and relief to the plot that’s been developing in the Hell on Earth series, concluding the Wasteland story line by wrapping up some narratives and turning the spotlight onto new ones—the best way to keep a long-running series interesting and attention-grabbing.

With the absence of original B.P.R.D. characters, except for Johann Kraus, the book just doesn’t feel the same, but it’s a good difference that allows Mignola to explore a new aspect of the paranormal reality he’s brought to life in hundreds of comics. The apocalypse seems all around, and the last few B.P.R.D. issues have the feel of a zombie thriller in which the plague is airborne. But, as we learn, with the advent of a new character, Howards, the demon-making gas hasn’t affected everyone (or the horses). Mignola uses the child Lucas introduced in B.P.R.D. #107 as a foil to bring about a ‘final battle’ against the monsters, with a twist ending and a Conan easter egg.

Laurence Campbell, as I’ve said before, is perfect for the Hell on Earth series, since he creates a truly bleak atmosphere with disgusting monsters and a truly horrifying glimpse of deathly visages. Additionally, his art is well suited to the zombie apocalypse feel of the book. Dave Stewart brings his talented history with Mignola books to bear on Campbell’s art. Stewart plays on the sketched-lines and minimalistic facial and figure art to expand the feel of Campbell’s pencils and inks, and though he has proved his mastery of vibrant colors elsewhere, he exacerbates Campbell’s artistic atmosphere by limiting the issue’s color spectrum, the feat of a truly skilled colorist.

B.P.R.D. #109 is another fine addition to the Mignolaverse narrative, strong in horror-comic artistry and hitting home with a dead mother and a mysterious new character.

Story: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi  Art: Laurence Campbell and Dave Stewart
Story: 8  Art: 8  Overall: 8  Recommendation: Buy

19185The Strain: The Fall #1 I really wasn’t sure if David Lapham’s adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire horror novel The Strain, and continuation of the Dark Horse comics of the same name, was something I wanted to read—after all, while I may be a horror comics fan, the images Dark Horse has been using for advertisement are a bit too creepy for me. I can say now, though, if you’re like me, and you decided against The Strain: the Fall #1, you might want to rethink that decision and check this book out!

The Strain: The Fall #1 is a thrilling, complex, and innovative new take on the all-too familiar vampire mythos, blending the mystery of Mesopotamia and mystical books with city-wide epidemic paranoia and devious plotting by a Master and his pawns. Though I haven’t read del Toro of Hogan’s novel, by the end of this premiere issue I knew this is a vampire tale I was meant to fall in bloody love with!

Lapham’s script is well written, introducing plenty of main characters, several plot lines, and all of it in a well-paced package wrapped up neatly in Mike Huddleston’s apt art. (Not sure if these characters were in the previous The Strain comics, since this is my first experience therewith) There was a lot going on in this first issue, and I got lost on some of the names and their motivations, but that didn’t stop me from flipping back through the pages to re-enjoy everything and figure it out—sometimes things need a second time through; sometimes that’s bad, but this is time it’s well worth it!

Our culture is truly vampire crazed, and has been for a long time; this is the sort of stuff I study outside of comics: America’s cultural fascination with the occult and the Gothic. The Strain: The Fall is a great take on vampires because it makes them into the apex predator we believe they would be, one with a tendril tongue that infects and drinks blood, a true horror to behold, because they can strike from afar! Seriously, on a scale of Twilight to shit-my-pants, these are probably the most fear-inducing vamps I’ve come across.

Kudos to Lapham and crew for adapting del Toro and Hogan’s story and making it into something truly incredible. Another fantastic debut from Dark Horse.

Story: David Lapham  Art: Mike Huddleston
Story: 9  Art: 9  Overall: 9  Recommendation: Buy

19794Star Wars: Dark Times—A Spark Remains #1 While Star Wars: Dark Times has always been about the pain of war and defeat, and the fate of the Jedi and their compatriots following the Clone Wars and Order 66, A Spark Remains #1 is a touching, more human look at the lives, losses, and love of what seem in the hands of Randy Stradley and Douglas Wheatley to be real people, torn by war, hunted by the Dark Side. We see Jedi, warriors, and smugglers cooking, fearing, watching the Holonet, trying to figure out how to survive.

Stradley starts this issue in media res, capturing his audience with an incredible 5-page layout that hooks us into a plot to…erm, *spoilers,* take Darth Vader’s life. We then are transported several weeks into the past, where we get to see the beginning of this storyline and a more human side of Dass Jennir and his non-human compatriots. Stradley’s writing is spotless (then again, can’t expect much less from an editor, eh?) and sophisticated, and moves along at such a pace that we get nice forays into the everyday side of life on the run from the Empire alongside (and at the same time as) rebellion and devious plots.

Wheatley proves his mettle by taking characters who would otherwise look awkward and fantastically out of place in the Star Wars universe—like the Verpine Jedi Sahdett, the Nosaurian freedom fighter Bomo Greenbark, Ratty the Rannat mechanic, and the Yarkora captain Heren, who belong to species that usually are drawn as completely unrealistic and unbelievable in their settings—and he makes them look comfortable amongst the most diverse crew to ever grace a Star Wars publication. This is a truly a great diversification of the largely (white, male) human-centric cast of much of Star Wars.

Reviewers (including myself) have said that Wood’s Star Wars ongoing is what the franchise is the saga at its finest, but Dark Times, and especially A Spark Remains, is what Star Wars has become for a new era in which the future of the film franchise is in question and the EU threatened. It’s a grown-up book recognizes that its readers expected more of the beloved franchise than just lightsaber duels and blaster shoot-outs. Stradley, editor of Dark Horse’s Star Wars Zone has made a significant contribution to the great legacy of Star Wars comics in the form of A Spark Remains #1. It’s about camaraderie, something all Star Wars fans could use these days.

Story: Randy Stradley  Art: Douglas Wheatley
Story: 8  Art: 8  Overall: 8.5  Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review