Saturday, October 15, 2016

Run Reader: Dark Ages (2014)

Capatin Hawkherst makes first contact in issue 1 of Dark Ages.
Long a sucker for genre mash-ups in both movies and comic books, Dark Horse Comics' 2014 four issue mini-series Dark Ages nicely scratches the itch by bringing together two of my fave genres, science-fiction and medieval action. Unaware of the title when it was originally published, I first came across Dark Ages on the back issue rack on a rare low new-release Wednesday.

Cover to issue 2 by
series artist
I.N.J. Culbard.
The creative team behind another excellent genre blending project, Vertigo's The New Deadwardians, writer Dan Abnett (of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy comic renown) and artist I.N.J. Culbard once again bring well-researched comic book action to the table. Set in 1333 Europe, an age during which God is feared and the violent skills of sell-swords are in demand, Dark Ages follows the conflict between medieval warriors come face-to-face with "demons." The twist is that the demons are not from Hell, as our character's assume, but rather alien invaders from space.

Utilizing a shifting pair of protagonists, Captain Hawkherst and his second in command, "Lucifer" Galvin, Abnett quickly establishes the world wary nature of our heroes. As Hawkherst explains, the group move from battle to battle thereby embracing the violence of their time as "A dark age [like] that will keep us fed and in steady employment. We would prosper in such an age." While Hawkherst hopes to respond to a potentially lucrative call-to-arms from French royalty, an impromptu invasion from outer space, ultimately set in an austere monastery comes calling first.

The conflict is ultimately joined on both sides by unique characters each reflecting clever twists on common genre tropes. The order of silent monks who populate the monastery are revealed to be harboring a secret understanding of what is happening, dead "rise" in support of the invading "devils," and an unlikely robotic ally (who also shares a name with an angel) keeps the proceedings fresh as all move toward a climactic final confrontation.

I.N.J. Culbard's clean and colorful artwork is very reminiscent of the style often employed to great effect in many of Dark Horse's Mignola-verse titles such as B.P.R.D and Lobster Johnson. In Dark Ages, the artwork helps to ground the intergalactic-medieval characters. After working similarly with the aforementioned New Deadwardians, Culbard, is one artists whose work I would add to my pull list sight unseen--there is a fun energy in his engaging style despite some occasionally heavy or morbid content.

Though some of the elements it chooses to mash-up, Dark Ages is incredibly well-executed and work as a self-contained action adventure sci-fi tale. Revolutionary twist and tuns are not always necessary. As a reader, sit is often enough to be drawn into a story well told (and drawn) with just enough variations on a standard (non-standard) story. Dark Ages is very likely still available in my preferred format (single issues) on your local comic shops' back issue rack in addition to being offered as a trade paperback through larger vendors.

From Dark Ages #3, the "angel" Aphrael explains to "Lucifer" their
 circumstances using spiritual tropes a sci-fi context.

Captain Hawkherst retruns, with cyber-enhancements, for the series' big finale.

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