General Marvel

Review : The Dark & Bloody #1

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It appears that the success of Harrow County over at Dark Horse has given other publishers the idea to try out this “Southern Gothic” thing for themselves — DC is certainly taking Swamp Thing back in that direction in Len Wein and Kelly Jones’ new six-part series, for instance — and given the “horror-centric” bent to their Vertigo line since its inception, it’s no surprise that the former National Periodical Publications would  want to get that imprint in on the act sooner rather than later, I suppose, as well,  and that they’d have them do so with something of a (red) splash given their relative financial “muscle.” Truth be told, I’m kind of surprised that their big late-2015 don’t-call-it-a-relaunch didn’t include a horror book set “below Tobacco Road,” but no sooner did we flip the calendar over than we were presented with The Dark & Bloody #1, the opening salvo of a new ongoing (or so I’m assuming) series from a relatively “green” writer named Shawn Aldridge and veteran Copperhead artist Scott Godlewski (a portent that doesn’t bode well for that series’ future, I’m afraid). Rounding out the creative team is cover artist Tyler Crook — who provides some direct linkage between this book and the aforementioned Harrow County itself — and steady coloring hand Patricia Mulvihill, so we’ve got some of the old and some of the new here, and the end result is, as you’d probably expect, something of a mixed bag.

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The series is set in the modern day and focuses on the backwater trials and tribulations of one Iris Gentry (that’s a guy, just in case you were wondering), who has returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq to find employment prospects in his small Kentucky town as dim as ever, and so he’s taken to running moonshine for his former CO from his army days. He’s already got one kid and the Mrs. has another “in the oven,” so hey, let’s not judge the man for doing what he’s gotta do to get by. Besides, as both he and his wife agree, it beats dealing in crystal meth or oxycontin. Things seem to be going well enough for our low-grade entrepreneur until a couple of his good ole’ boy customers crash their car after leaving his place and promptly disappear from the face of the Earth, but what Iris doesn’t know is that they were fleeing from a shadowy, winged creature of some sort, and that there might be more to his son’s new little girlfriend than meets the eye. Oh, and the Gentry family seems to have attracted the attention of a couple of separate (as far as we know) strangers, as well —

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I don’t know if Aldridge hails from below the Mason-Dixon Line or not himself, but the local flavor he injects the proceedings here with seems reasonably authentic enough to the point where one can say that a strong sense of place is the best thing about The Dark & Bloody #1, but he’s coming up short in terms of providing any real chills or thrills so far, and that will have to change in a hurry if they want people — myself included given that I bought this issue with my own hard-earned cash — to keep plunking down $3.99 a month on this title. Realistic characters and an intriguing “hook” intimating that the evil coming Iris’ way might have something to do with his actions while in the military are neat and all, but we’re not out of line to expect this series to be, well, both dark and bloody, and this first issue, at any rate, serves up only diet-sized portions of what we’re promised on the masthead. It’s alright, sure, but that’s really all it is.

Fortunately, Godlewski’s art picks up much of the slack and he seems equally at home in either the Blue Moon of Kentucky or the burning oil fields of Kandahar province. There’s nothing particularly flashy or attention-grabbing about his style of illustration, but it is solid and does have a fair degree of personality. The people all look like distinctive and realistic individuals, the locales are rendered with a solid eye for detail, and the one brief scene of supernatural shenanigans is delivered with just enough aplomb to leave us feeling confident that future “bumps in the night” will knock us around when we’re looking at them — now it’s just up to his creative partner to make sure that the words he pairs with the images leave a mark when we’re reading the book, as well.

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I’m tempted to err on the side of cautious optimism with this one simply because I’ve been reasonably impressed with most of what Vertigo’s had going of late, but I realize that doesn’t make any more sense than expecting another Marvel book to be good just because, I dunno, The Vision is or something. In all honesty, the one-time home of the likes of Gaiman, Morrison, Ennis, and Carey really only has two titles — Lucifer and Red Thorn — among their new batch that are deliberately going for that “old-school Vertigo” feel, and the rest are all over the map as far as theme, tone, and subject matter go. That’s a good thing, to be sure, but it means that not all of these series are going to be to any one reader’s liking. I know that there are hard-core “Vertigo completists” out there who will buy anything and everything that comes out under that label, but for the rest of us, well — we’ve gotta pick and choose, don’t we?

So far, I haven’t seen enough from The Dark & The Bloody to convince me that I want to be swigging from this particular mason jar month in and month out, but what the heck — I’m willing to stick it out for a couple more issues to see if this is particular batch of “white lightning” has the kind of kick that I’m looking for.

Story: Shawn Aldridge Art: Scott Godlewski
Story: 5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Read

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