The solicitations promised us ribswords, gore and alchemy. But what exactly IS the Dark Engine? Does it have anything to do with Dark Engine #1? I hope so.
WITH RIBSWORD IN HAND
A new series from creators Ryan Burton and John Bivens, Dark Engine #1 is quite a piece of work. This is the sort of comic where a woman explodes from a dinosaur’s torso, then fashions weapons and armor from its bones that she uses to hack apart some other dinosaurs. This is the sort of comic where a demonic-looking dragon rattles off dialogue like “before the earth swallowed the Gigahüls, before the rise of the Inkface, she was there. With locks of gore, with ribsword in hand…” This is the sort of comic I feel comfortable giving the Weird Fiction label and I don’t imagine folks looking for a straight ahead story will necessarily enjoy this one. Luckily, I crave the bizarre and Dark Engine #1 is wonderful delivery system for all sorts of bonkers craziness.
There is precious little exposition in this comic – most of it comes in the form of the aforementioned dragon soliloquizing to a bevy of creatures known as Sporedevils or from two gloomy-gus fellows who live in a tower known as the Alchemist’s Sanctuary. From what I can glean, these guys created Sym (the ostensible protagonist hacking apart dinosaurs with her ribsword) in order to go back in time and prevent the creation of the Sporelands. However, the dragon lives in the Sporelands and it would seem like Sym is somehow responsible for the creation of the Sporelands. Burton makes a remark in the writer’s notes that he wondered how much of John Bivens’ art he should cover up with his dialogue. Well, it’s evident his answer was “not much.” Sym doesn’t utter a single word, but sometimes action is stronger than words.
AND ACTION IS WHAT YOU GET
The art is the main focus of this issue, and I suspect the bulk of a reader’s enjoyment will hinge how much they enjoy what John Bivens is doing. And what Bivens is doing is depicting a woman wearing a dinosaur skull for a helmet hacking apart various other sorts of reptiles, in great and loving detail. It is brutal and bloody, and Bivens is at his best when the body parts are flying. He oversteps a little on the climax, as the action became so frenetic that I became confused as to what was happening. The diagonally slashing the panels gave energy to the sequence, but at the cost of clarity. It’s possible this sequence is meant to be confusing, as it seems tied to the mystery of what the Dark Engine is, but it didn’t work for me. However, the ending hit like a ton of bricks, blending the narrative and art into a hook that made me certain to buy a second issue. Dark Engine leans heavily on Bivens’s work to succeed, and his art can definitely handle the heavy lifting. It’s detailed, lush, but never fussy. There’s no stiffness to the pages, as even in when the characters are posing there’s a sense of motion.
BOTTOM LINE: DO YOU LIKE DEAD DINOSAURS?
You need to at least not mind them, since a whole lot end up murdered in Dark Engine #1. It also helps if you don’t mind a little bit of confusion, gore and can handle a story that doesn’t lay it out on the line immediately. But if you prefer to delve into murkier waters, Dark Engine should appeal to you. Ryan Burton’s mysterious world is sketched out around the edges, and filled in delightfully by John Bivens artwork. This is one of the more interesting fantasy first issues I’ve picked up this year, and I think it’s well worth a look.