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Dark Horse Presents #29: Santa's Mixed Bag

Written by Tyler Kes on Friday, December 30 2016 and posted in Reviews

Dark Horse Presents #29: Santa's Mixed Bag

Some naughty, some nice, and a couple of lumps of coal.

Source: Dark Horse

There is something special about an anthology series. Maybe it is the value; this particular issue is $4.99 and provides the latest chapter in five different stories, while introducing a sixth, for a total of 51 pages of content. That's a pretty solid amount of comics for what you're paying. Maybe the format is special because of the way it lines up all this talent and gives them an opportunity to actually show off their work, instead of just a teasing glimpse that you normally find in a jam issue.

Anyway, on to the reviews.


Written and drawn by Francesco Francavilla
Letters by Nate Piekos

The first story to appear, and probably the one that will get people to pick up the book in the first place, is the ongoing adventures of the Black Beetle, the pulp hero created by Francesco Francavilla a couple of years ago. This particular chapter of the story really plays up the pulp/noir aspects of the story, what with it being set in Constantinople. Reading it made me think of both Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, so if either of those intrigue you, you would probably enjoy this. Of course, the real draw here is seeing Francavilla amazing pencils. Maybe it is the shadows or the heavy black inks, but you aren't going to see work like Francavilla's pretty much anywhere else.



Written by Kaare Andrews
Drawn by Troy Nixey
Colors by Dave McCaig
Letters by Pat Brosseau

One of the things that comes with a serialized story like this one is that occasionally you just do not have the page space to devote much time to a recap. Now a good writer will be able to get around that and a smart reader should be able to pick up on most of the plot through context clues, but that won't help a whole bunch with this story. I was pretty confused about why certain characters were acting the way that they were and just who we were supposed to be rooting for. Once you get past the story, you will find probably the most kinetic linework around. His figures are constantly distorted into faces of hysteria, and he puts a lot of detail into the crowd shots that makes them a bit overwhelming, in a good way.



Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Tim Hamilton
Letters by Adam O. Pruett

It is interesting this was placed after the previous story, because it contrasts with the previous one so much, in terms of storytelling mechanics. In the eight pages they are allotted, Paul Levitz and Tim Hamilton are able to introduce the two main characters, the reason they are wandering around Queens, work in an action sequence, and end on a supernatural cliffhanger that looks to be, at least in part, inspired by the Cthulhu mythos, and I did not feel lost at all. That's probably a testament to the writing skills of Levitz, who has been working in the industry for decades. The story itself is kind of paint by numbers, but when paired with the thick linework and background colors Hamilton employs, it becomes a pretty solid noir story.



Story by John Nadeau and Dan Jolley
Art by John Nadeau
Letters by Crank!

It appears that with each chapter of this story, guests at a dinner take turns telling stories of how they murdered someone. If that sounds a little too gruesome for you, then you can probably skip this story. That being said, it is one of my favorites. I just really enjoyed a story with a definite beginning and end. The way that the main character ingeniously deals with the problem at hand, namely a good-guy who won't die, is pretty smart, and sets up for a little joke at the end. Nadeau is a good storyteller, both as a writer and as an artist. The art is clean, with European style line work, which, considering this is supposed to be set in France, makes sense. This was a good, quick fun one.


Story, art, and lettering by Carla Speed McNeil
Colors by Jenn Manley Lee

This is another story where I feel just a little bit lost. At first, I was under the impression that this was going to be some sort of lesbian take on a Jane Austen novel, what with the talk of secret romances, and the way love works for "their kind." Then the two characters opened up a direct mindlink and all bets were off the table. I would like to read the rest of the chapters up until this point, if only so I could get some context about this one. Carla Speed McNeil provides both words and art, and while the art is nice, it is the dialogue that really sets this feature apart.


Story, art, and lettering by Dean Haspiel

The Red Hook started as a feature on Webtoons.com, where the character is part of a shared universe that stands as an ode to Golden Age and Silver Age comics. In that respect, this story is a hit, because it smashes the wacky hijinks of the Silver Age (I mean seriously, Romeo-pathy?) against the two-fisted tales of the Golden Age, then runs them through a modern blender. A lot of stuff happens in these pages, and there's a sort of crackling energy that runs through it. It never really stops to allow the reader a chance to catch their breath, and it reminds me a lot of Casanova, in that it is parodying and playing with genre tropes. It was pretty good. I'd recommend it to someone who likes fun comics and isn't too concerned with all the details.

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