This week, "Dark Horse Presents" relaunches with a brand-new #1 issue, and there's a lot to get excited for within the acclaimed anthology's pages. Fresh off of winning its third Eisner Award, "Dark Horse Presents" kicks off a number of new ongoing shorts -- such as Brendan McCarthy's "Dream Gang" -- as well as a number of one-shot pieces including a "Sabertooth Swordsman" vignette by Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley and all-new stories of established favorites like "Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot" by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow as well as "Kabuki" by David Mack. Plus, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Andy Kuhn's "Wresting with Demons" and a new installment of Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse's "Resident Alien."
"Dark Horse Presents" has seen a major resurgence since its 2011 print relaunch, after a run as a digital MySpace production from 2007 to 2010. Not only did it revive properties like "Concrete," "Ghost" and "Trekker," it illustrated the length and breadth of the Dark Horse line with Star Wars stories, Miller's "300" prequel "Xerxes" and much more. With the latest relaunch, the publisher is poised to continue moving the book forward in the same grand tradition as its previous volumes.
"We're going to be looking for new talent as well as established. We're leading off its cover features with Geof Darrow, who's bringing back one of our all-time hits, 'Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot,' created by Geof and Frank Miller," publisher Mike Richardson told CBR News. "It seems like a good month to have something out that Frank's associated with it because of the 'Sin City' movie, but this time, it's Geof carrying the creative load. His art, as usual, is sensational. Not only that, we put a pin-up section of the Big Guy inside the book. Since I restarted the book, Geof's art has been in every issue of Dark Horse Presents, and it seems like a good reason to start the book off with a Big Guy and Rusty story."
"I'd always wanted to do another ['Rusty' story], and I had another idea for what it would be. Mike wanted it, and he's always been really good to me, so I said, "Okay." [Laughs] So, I did it," Darrow told CBR in July. "I don't know what people are going to think of it. It's about nine pages, it's not a big deal. It's a little episode -- it's got monsters and people. It's not 'Saga' or 'The Walking Dead' -- it's just a guy fighting a monster!"
And according to series editor Jim Gibbons, there's another big reason for fans to start fresh with one of American comics' most popular anthology series, starting with the fact that the new incarnation weighs in at 48-pages instead of its previous 80-page count.
"It's a whole new, easily accessible format, so a new #1 to go alongside the reduced cost seemed like a good way to alert readers," Gibbons told CBR News. "It's still an amazing value with 48 pages a month for $4.99, but we definitely wanted folks aware of the fact that the best anthology in comics will now be $3 cheaper -- that's a whole 'nother great Dark Horse comic you can buy alongside 'DHP!' Also, all the stories in this new #1 begin here, so content-wise it's a perfect jumping on point!"
For another returning favorite, David Mack's "Kabuki," the "DHP" relaunch allowed the creator to help bring the character to new readers in a big way.
"I want to make it very accessible to new readers who are not familiar with the character," Mack told CBR in May. "I want it to give a sense of the character, and the different eras and dimensions of the character for new readers. But I also want to offer some new twists and mysteries for readers who have been reading all of the previous seven volumes. That has always been the trick for me in making 'Kabuki.' I like to make each story accessible to a new reader. That they can begin with that story. But it still fits in continuity and builds on the previous volumes and the more of them that you read, the more you see how they interconnect.
"Big Guy and Rusty" and "Kabuki" aren't the only new stories in "DHP" #1 -- Brendan McCarthy's serialized "Dream Gang" gets its start in the debut issue, a project which differs a bit from his work in "2000 AD." In fact, McCarthy says it's much more akin to the work he did with Peter Milligan in the '90s.
"'Dream Gang' is the story of a young man who lives a grey, monotonous and dreary life working in an office, commuting day by day and gradually sinking into a grey world of monotonous depression," McCarthy said. "One night, he has a dream that is vivacious and in color. Although it starts off with him in a nightmare of him being chased by a Hate Wraith, it turns out that he's stumbled into this huge conspiracy to subvert humanity from within by dream invaders. He meets other Dream Surfers -- people who can project themselves into dreams at night -- who are known as the Dream Gang. He joins up with them, and they have to deal with this dark conspiracy. At the same time, it is his dream, and he is dreaming everybody in the dream -- but we're not sure if these other people have an autonomous identity of their own in the real world.
"I like 'Dark Horse Presents.' I think it's one of the few anthology comics out there that comes out on a regular basis," McCarthy continued. "I've always liked anthology comics because you get different artists and stories and stuff."
In addition to "Dream Gang," the issue offers an all-new story by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Andy Kuhn in "Wrestling with Demons," as well as new installments of some Dark Horse favorites, like "Resident Alien" by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, and a new "Sabertooth Swordsman" story, which writer Damon Gentry describes as the titular swordsman not being able to catch a break, finding himself "in a very elaborate and over-the-top potty humor situation."
"I love working short form and trying to jam as much as we can into as few pages as possible," Gentry said. "We want to show up with lots of flash and bang to give the illusion that we can meet the high standards set by the other amazing folks in the anthology. I try to give Aaron 'Russ Manning Award-Winning Meal Ticket' Conley the hardest possible things to draw so I can watch him suffer and ultimately surpass my expectations -- but mostly to watch him suffer -- and with the absolutely gorgeous colors provided by Joseph Bergin III, I think we did A-OK.
"Doing these vignettes for DHP has been fun because they tie into the Sabertooth Swordsman graphic novel in a subtle way," he continued. "I decided to extrapolate on a few panels on one page of our book, and do these sort of mini 'side quests' that run concurrently to the book's story, but also stand alone. I think the DHP strips are a good introduction, they have the same madcap humor, tone, and action that defines our work so far."
For Richardson, relaunching "Dark Horse Presents" goes back to the roots of the anthology and the company itself, bringing more creator-owned content -- both new and old -- directly into readers' hands for a veritable cornucopia of a comic.
"Our company was started in the creator rights movement in the comic book industry, so we have a lot of new and existing creator-owned projects appearing in the book," Richardson said. "That's always been important to us and that's how we started Dark Horse. We also have some of our top licenses in there, and some of our top returning characters -- both company and creator-owned. It's a nice snapshot of what we do. The variety and diversity of subject matter makes for an interesting read -- especially for people who love comics."
Gibbons agreed, noting that there's a lot more variety to come beyond the first issue.
"Why do people love a good buffet? Variety. I think the same goes for comics. There are tons of awesome comics out there, but if you can get a taste of a bunch of different stories and creators for $4.99, well that's a lot of variety bang for your buck! Plus, when dealing with shorter stories, we can experiment more," Gibbons explained. "Jordie Bellaire, well known for her amazing coloring, makes her writing debut in 'DHP' #2. And it's an awesome story! Tyler Jenkins, known for his art on 'Peter Panzerfaust,' makes his writing debut in 'DHP' #3. It allows us to showcase the other talents of these extremely talented creators. All on projects they've created and that they own. Those are just a few example of how the short story format of 'DHP' allows us the ability to take chances and try new things, and the readers are the ones who win when that happens!"
Trying new things has always been the name of the game for "Dark Horse Presents," and it's something that Dark Horse intends to keep doing -- it has, after all, been a winning formula, netting the anthology series three consecutive Eisners, and it's currently up for its third consecutive Harvey award.
"People are recognizing the quality of the material, and I hope that people who love comics will take a look," Richardson said. "If they go through it, everyone can find something that appeals to them... We keep trying to find the best creators and the best ideas that we can. That's what the book's about and that's what it's going to continue to be. It's all a fresh start. The existing story lines and features have all ended, and we're starting fresh. It's a good place for readers to jump in."
"Dark Horse Presents" #1 is on sale now.