(Image Comics, 2014)
Story by Ryan Burton
Art by John Bivens
Letters by Crank!
First issues should be eye-catching. They should encapsulate enough of a story that a new reader wants more, craves it like a vampire does for the good old AB +. The artwork should be dynamic, making it hard to turn the page even as you can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
It seems like Ryan Burton and John Bivens may have found that secret formula in the form of Dark Engine #1, released by Image last week.
Burton (Dead End Boys, Roopster Roux) writes a tale worthy of the publisher, compelling in its confusion, leaving much to doubt. I know that after one issue it’s hard to categorize a book, but to give a comparison, it feels like the first time I read Jonathan Hickman’s East of West. I have no clue what exactly is going on and I don’t really care.
The story is centered on Sym, a woman who (maybe?) has been experimented on, and who now holds the Dark Engine inside of her. (Perhaps?) The engine seems to be some kind of time machine, but one that is programmed to follow a specific person through time. It sounds like Sym is programmed (I think?) to assassinate this person or thing…ok I’ll stop now. There is a group called the alchemists who put the whole demented thing into motion, but we don’t see them. There is just no telling where this story is going, and that is a refreshing change.
The artwork by John Bivens (The Grave Doug Freshley, fantastic title that…) is another standout in Image’s already impressive lineup of non-traditional artists. Following Burton’s storyline could be difficult, but there seems like there is a lot of synergy between the two. Burton likes to write dinosaur-slashing mayhem, and Bivens is fantastic at bringing those images to the page. The blood and guts splash across the panels, but even in the less violent pages, Bivens keeps the panels fresh by using creative points of view and dynamic settings.
There is mystery here, built slowly on what seems to be a hugely fascinating mythos created in Burton’s head. It’s a story built through a love of fantasy, of dragons and knights, of damsels’ in distress. (Although there are no distress damsels of any kind in this book. On the contrary, the few men that we’ve seen (the human-ish ones anyway) have been more stressed than the one female, who wields a rib-sword with reptile-gutting efficiency. As of now it seems to be a story based around a machine, a person programmed to kill, and the way that her journey affects those people who put her on the path in the first place.
Oh. There’s a dragon. I mentioned a dragon in passing, but know that this is now Smaug, sitting atop a pile of gold, this is some serious Lovecraftian dragon-making, and brings the traditional idea of the giant lizard to an end. This could be the rebirth of a character in a way that I’ve never seen, by creating a completely new iteration of an age-old archetype.
Not to put too much pressure on anyone here.
Dark Engine promises a mysterious fantasy, a futuristic look at the past that may have been, or might only be later. Burton and Bivens have dropped another title at Image that could easily be pull-list worthy.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, who all put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.