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Follow-Up Review: The Dark & Bloody

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A fair number of critics that I know of choose not to follow comics creators on twitter simply because they don’t want their impression of any given writer, artist, etc. beyond the printed page to influence their opinion of said person’s work, and I can sort of see the wisdom in that — after all, if you’re obviously “twitter pals” with a certain creator, and then you write a glowing review of their latest project, you’re going to be subjected, rightly or wrongly, to speculation that you’re just doing your friend a favor by telling folks to buy their book.

And then there’s the simple fact that a fair number of creators just don’t seem to like us critics very much. Don’t get me wrong — they absolutely love us when we have good things to say about their comics, but there’s a small but vocal number of freelancers out there who really don’t take well to having their work criticized for any reason. Obviously the recent death threats directed at Captain America scribe Nick Spencer are well beyond the bounds of civilized — or even rational — discourse, but then, Spencer’s habit of actively “trolling” for negative reviews of his work and then picking said reviews to pieces on social media is incredibly thin-skinned and lame, as well.

I’d like to think, though, that the average mature, adult critic can separate the creator from his or her creation  (for instance, my impression of the aforementioned Mr. Spencer as a petulant crybaby and a shill for the pro-Wall Street, anti-labor “neoliberal” wing of the Democratic Party doesn’t mean I can’t think that The Fix is an absolutely brilliant book) and that the average mature, adult creator can withstand some constructive criticism about their work. Most of the time, at any rate.

All of which brings me to Shawn Aldridge, who is as good a “textbook example” as I can provide of why, unlike some of my peers in the “review game,” I actually do continue to follow comics freelancers on twitter. When I wrote something of a middling review for the first issue of his Vertigo series The Dark & Bloody some months back, Aldridge took it in stride and tweeted me something to the effect of “hey, sorry you weren’t so crazy about the book, but if you stick it out, trust me, things get better.” We back-and-forthed a bit from there, with him telling me that the “slow burn” pacing of the first issue was quite deliberate and that he and artist extraordinaire Scott Godlweski were playing something of a “long game” with the six issues they’d been given to tell their tale, and  frankly, I think that’s pretty gutsy in today’s comics marketplace, where the hyper-inflated sales of first issues have created something of a “gotta grab ’em by the throat right away while we’ve still got their attention” storytelling methodology that reeks of desperation and undercuts any chance for a methodical and well-paced build-up of events almost from the word “go.” Sufficiently impressed by the earnestness of the writer’s intentions, I made Mr. Aldridge a deal — I’d stick with his book until the end, and if I grew to like it more as it went on, I’d let folks know.

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Little did I suspect, however, just how much better The Dark & Bloody was going to get.

We knew from the outset, of course, that something nasty went down with our protagonist, Iris Gentry, when he was stationed in Iraq, but there was no reason to suspect that the horrors of war had followed him home in quite as literal a way as they did, nor did we have any initial cause to link any of this with his son’s new friend — or the spate of deaths that began to swirl around their lives at the same time she entered the picture — but it all comes together both simply and masterfully as issues two through six play out, and while there’s no “reinventing the wheel”-type stuff going on here, the long tradition of horror as morality play has seldom been in hands as capable as these in its comic book iteration.

I remarked in my first review how Godlewski’s art may be even more polished and expressive here than in his sublime Image series Copperhead, but by the time things come to a shattering crescendo in issue six, there’s just no doubt — this is the best work of his career, and he’s proven that there’s no genre he can’t delineate with genuine finesse. Ably assisted by Patricia Mulvihill‘s multi-dimensional color palette, what’s been created here is one of the best-looking books of the year.

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Still, it’s the story, its characters, their world, and the tragedy underpinning it all that really grew on me as events progressed in this largely-under-the-radar title, and I’m actually sort of sad that we’ve got to leave it all behind. Not that I’m clamoring for a sequel or anything, mind you — this is a hermetically-sealed, self-contained narrative that, now that it’s concluded, is better off left alone. Sure, we get an entirely-appropriate “uh-oh — is it really all over or not?” final page, but again, that’s just in keeping with the best horror traditions, and while a return visit to the Gentry household might yield another interesting story at some point in the future, it’s in no way necessary — which isn’t to say that this comic didn’t leave me wanting more; it surely did, but that simply means that I’m itching to see where its creators go from here, now that their unassuming genre masterpiece has run its course.

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Hopefully, the long-delayed return of Copperhead will be the next item on Godlewski’s docket, and I’m also optimistic that this series will open some doors for Aldridge with either “The Big Two,” should he wish it, or any of the indie publishers out there. I can think of any number of pre-existing corporate properties that would benefit from his “human-scale horror” approach, but if he’s got more original characters and concepts he’d rather explore, then I’d certainly encourage him to go down that path, given that creator ownership is always a better deal in the long run. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be following the work of both of these gentlemen — whether together or separate — as I know that they’re both more than capable of taking readers down some very interesting roads.

And if you like your roads bumpy, uncomfortable, and terrifying, then I highly recommend that you pick up The Dark & Bloody when it’s inevitably released in trade in the not-too-distant future. It’s everything you could possibly want in a “one and done” horror narrative and announces the arrival of some major new talents that, if given an opportunity to flourish in the industry, surely have many more memorable tales to tell.

Story: Shawn Aldridge Artist: Scott Godlewski
Story: 8 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.25 Recommendation: Buy

Preview: The Dark & Bloody #6

The Dark and Bloody #6

Written by: Shawn Aldridge
Art by: Scott Godlewski
Cover by: Tyler Crook

All that fear and dread you’ve been feeling while reading this series? It’s all been building to this, the final showdown between one man and the girl who has come seeking revenge. Iris must not only confront Ayah and the brutal past they both share, but who he is deep down. Is it possible he could save his family from retribution and yet not save his own humanity?

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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

Vertigo Announces the New Horror Series The Dark & Bloody

On February 10, The Dark & Bloody, a new haunting monthly horror comic series from writer Shawn Aldridge and Scott Godlewski, with covers by Tyler Crook, will join Vertigo‘s refreshed slate of titles.

Guns, moonshine, monsters–there’s a lot going on in the backwoods of Kentucky. Iris Gentry is a war vet who returned from Iraq to find his options for feeding his family limited. Since they live in a “dry” county, Iris has turned to running moonshine for his former ranking officer–meaning the men now share crimes at home and abroad. You see, back in their combat days, Iris’ regiment got involved in something they shouldn’t have, and now a deadly, otherworldly consequence has come looking for vengeance.

Lookout for the new series when it hits shelves in February.

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