The Middle Ground #94 | Memory loss
Oddly — actually, thinking about it, perhaps not so oddly — one of the more pleasant types of columns to write (and one of the more popular to post, it seems) are the mea culpa ones. You know, where I say “I thought [Project X] wasn’t up to much, and then it turned out to be awesome!” Well, this is one of those, kind of … but instead of it being “I was just downright wrong,” it’s a little more complicated than that.
There was something about Dark Horse Presents that left me vaguely uncertain when it returned recently; maybe it was the price point, or perhaps the first issue itself, which seems more filled with creators of yesteryear than the original incarnation of the title, but I remember being oddly suspicious of the book, as if it has done something wrong in disappointing me. The problem wasn’t just that I had fond memories of the original Dark Horse Presents, which I remember finding in occasional bursts at small comic cons and marts in Glasgow, looking through long boxes of titles that I’d never heard of before, but that earlier revivals of the title had only set the bar even higher for what a Dark Horse Presents should mean.
The original DHP I remember being a continual mixed bag, with treasures like Concrete rubbing up against the latest episode of Aliens or whatever the successful tie-in franchise of the moment was (Did Predator get its start in DHP, or am I misremembering?), but it was a title that introduced me to all manner of new creators and concepts, and the regular-length, black and white format meant that I was willing to accept some clunkers for all the good things I’d find sooner rather than later.
The digital revival of DHP (it started, as far as I remember, as MySpace Dark Horse Presents) felt consistent with the “brand,” but also raised the stakes for me; I remember seeing webcomic creators get wider exposure in the anthology, and seeing familiar creators come up with new characters, as well as existing Dark Horse comics have shorts and tie-ins throughout the entire run. It felt enough like the original run to deserve the name, but it didn’t feel like an exercise in nostalgia or backwards looking in any way.
And then, there was the first issue of the new print series, which … well, did feel like nostalgia, and for the first time for DHP, more than a little out of touch with the current world of comics. The line-up of creators — including Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, Paul Chadwick, Richard Corben and Michael T. Gilbert — would’ve seemed amazing during the series’ original run, but in 2011, it felt uncomfortably dated; contributions from Carla Speed McNeil and David Chelsea stood out not only for their high quality, but because they seemed from another era altogether. Add to that the new format ($7.99 for 80 pages bi-monthly) and the whole thing seemed very easy to ignore.
Of course, that was a mistake.
Somewhere along the line, when I stopped paying attention, DHP became everything it used to be again. The book shifted toward using more modern creators and previewing brand-new works — currently, Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson are doing a Massive series — as well as offering outlets to creators and work that fits into an anthology format easily (Evan Dorkin doing new shorts is a great, great thing, and I kind of love seeing Al Gordon and Thomas Yeates doing a Tarzan celebration, especially as it probably wouldn’t sell if it were in a standalone book). The balance between new and familiar has been regained, and it’s become a much more enjoyable and worthwhile book as a result.
And so, yes, again I’ve gone from being uncertain about a book to pretty much loving it and looking forward to new issues. But this time, I’m not sure that it’s me that changed (for once); instead, it feels as if Dark Horse Presents forgot, for a short while, what it used to be, only to reclaim glory as it remembered. If only all comics had such memory.