(Image Comics, 2014)
Story by Ryan Burton
Art by John Bivens
Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters by Crank!
The stories I like the most are the ones that connect with me in some way. I’m a sucker for “what if…” storylines, for callbacks, homage, and all the stuff that can be deemed as cheap and tawdry stunts are things that, while I admit to their stuntedness, also give me a little thrill. When a story can make me feel like I did when reading another story, that’s a connection that seems, at the time, to feel more divine in nature.
Dark Engine #2 releases this week, and it holds a marked spot in that special place for me, the place where neurons in my brain intersect and for a fuzzy, nearly remembered picture of a feeling. There are several other residents in this area, loosely connected to each other in various and often seemingly unusual ways. (Could be that I read one book after I saw a certain movie…no one can tell how the mind files these things.) Other renters include The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, and Conan, and a series of short stories stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, waiting in the “to be written” line patiently while I “tak” away at this keyboard.
Dark Engine is certainly a conundrum. There must be a whiteboard in Ryan Burton’s (Dead End Boys) with criss-crossing lines or one of the string maps with pins and photos, because I can just make a vague outline of what’s going on here.
I believe that the basic plot is as follows. A group of highly intelligent people from one dimension created the “dark engine” to fix the past, but to do so had to send one of their own through a wormhole. In the process, Sym has been tossed around the time stream, killed massive prehistoric beasties, and awakened the interest of the dragon. (A demonesque creature that burrows into rotting, massive corpses just to see how they died.) Now Sym is lost and in the unconscious employ of an Egyptian who believes her to be a god on Earth.
Reading that back, I see how confusing it still is. But that is, of course, why I love it. The confusion of time travel is always intensely interesting, if only that you can reread it and find a new meaning in the words. And Burton blends mythology and science and fantasy, literally letting him do whatever he wants in continuing storyline. At the same time he writes the human element into it, so that even while Sym is unconscious we have sympathy in the form of a little boy who ministers to her, and the all-too conscious nature of his father’s enslavement of her.
John Bivens (The Grave Doug Freshley) lends his unique style to the already impressive list at Image, and he captures the psychedelic nature of what’s going on with beautiful detail. From the burrowing of demons into corpses to the birthing of saviors from living bodies (violently and through the stomach of course) each turn of the page is an exercise in “what will come next.” Kelly Fitzpatrick’s (Peter Panzerfaust) colors help in no small part to further convey that message.
Ryan Burton’s story recalls those that confused me as a kid, and have then grown to love as the years have passed and their purpose has clarified. Dark Engine is gruesome, precise, and utterly fascinating.
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.