Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: I.N.J. Culbard
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
The last time writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard worked together they produced the incredible The New Deadwardians. That series is one of the most impressive creator-owned mini-series ever produced and it won the critical praise it deserved. This set the bar pretty high for the latest collaboration between Abnett and Culbard which arrives this week in the form of “Dark Ages #1.” The story relies on how much you can care about a band of medieval mercenaries engaging in battle against an alien-demon. There’s virtually none of the cleverness which was so lavishly heaped upon Deadwardians and certainly none of the empathetic characters.
The Dark Ages are called that for a reason. They were bleak times, plagued by, well, plagues, religious persecution, tyranny, war, as well as a lack of understanding in the matters of reason, morality, and science. The creative team seemed to totally miss the opportunity to drive this home in lieu of a hastily constructed confrontation that doesn’t feel fully formed in the slightest.
The lack of character-work is a major concern. First issues can get away with little plot advancement so long as there is a strong lead character or two to carry the narrative and generate interest from the reader. “Dark Ages #1” is sorely lacking that quality giving the reader very little to hang onto. This is strange considering how brilliantly constructed Deadwardians was in that respect. Without a doubt the premise of this comic is interesting but it needs something more than an elevator pitch to survive in this hyper-competitive market.
Culbard’s art is a welcome respite. While the comic may not have anything too interesting to say, Culbard does manage to make it look great and more interesting than it is. The art style, character designs, and settings look fit the period well. But the encounter with the alien-demon thing is easily the visual highlight of the book. The final page features an interesting visual that provides the most compelling reason for readers to return next month.
The bleak colour palette fits the tone and atmosphere of the story but does make for a somewhat formulaic approach until the monster provides a charge with a dash of colour. The prevailing sense of doom pervades throughout the book and is one of the things that works well in this story.
Aside from the formidable artwork, “Dark Ages #1” isn’t a strong debut for a very talented creative team. The hopes of many series like this are pinned to their opening issues, and if that’s the case here then there is little reason to believe this series will be held favourably by many readers. The bland characters come off as stale because it seems that even the most paltry effort to make us connect with them has been glossed over in favour of the moody narration or the curt and boring dialogue. This was way more by-the-numbers than I expected given the creators involved. Steer clear of this book for now as the future of this book looks dim.
“Dark Ages #1” earns 5.0 / 10