I'll be frank: this is probably one of the weaker issues for the new "Dark Horse Presents." In its 88 pages, it doesn't have an amazing hit-to-miss ratio, but something approaching more what you'd expect from a big anthology. Some great stories, some good ones, a few that don't quite hit the mark. Most importantly, though? No duds.
This issue of "Dark Horse Presents" is top-loaded with some of the best stories early on. "Ghost: Resurrection Mary" wraps up the last part of a lead-in to the new "Ghost" series, courtesy of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto. What's nice about this story is that even as it establishes the all-new Ghost and the two main characters attached to her existence, DeConnick and Noto are able to give closure without giving up any of the series' mysteries. We get a reason for the ongoing "Ghost" series with a mission on the part of Tommy and Vaughn, there's a burial that gives a sense of finality to this opening story and most importantly there's a storytelling cadence not quite like anything else out there. DeConnick's script moves at its own speed and I like it; hopping over dull exposition, merging what might have been two scenes into one, but at the same time stopping to linger over the death of a faceless bad guy to give him dignity in his passing. Add in some great art by Noto, whose sequential work I haven't seen in ages, and I'm positively eager to read the "Ghost" ongoing by the duo.
Carla Speed McNeil's "Finder: The Third World" enters some disturbing territory; after the early chapters that seemed like a "strange-encounter-of-the-week" story, this plot line involving an Ascian burial plot and attempts to move bodies was already entering a slightly grim territory. This installment takes it to a new level, though; for all the talk of how Jaeger is a Sin-Eater, this demonstration of how that can be spun out is grim. The moment that the first stick cracks is enough to make you jump as a reader, but it's all the more impressive on how McNeil is able to show very little of the actual violence but still give that strong impression of what happened. It's a dramatic and memorable enough scene that you might forget some of the little details of this chapter, like the beautiful lettering in Jaeger's official speech as a Sin-Eater, or the noting on how the poppies have grown in an unnatural pattern. Each new installment of "Finder: The Third World" gets better and better, and I think the completed graphic novel is going to knock people's socks off.
David Chelsea returns to "Dark Horse Presents" with a new feature, "The Girl with the Keyhole Eyes." It's a great story that plays well with the format of comics, one that takes the idea of the unreliable narrator and changes it slightly to an unreliable narrative that continually shifts in the telling. Written in prose this might not work so well, with a lack of a through-line to follow. In comic format, though, you've got the visuals that provide a strong thread from one panel to the next, almost as if we're reading an exquisite corpse story (where each contributor only sees the previous contribution, not everything that's come before) by a single person. The flow and the continual glimpse of the keyhole eyes make me eager to see more.
Even a story I wasn't as crazy about last month, the first chapter of Michael Avon Oeming's "Wild Rover," has gone up in my estimation here. It feels that much more creepy and ominous, with the lead character's inner mission and the immense guilt placed on his shoulders. As origin stories go, it's a doozy. Also on a part two this issue is "Riven" by Robert Tinnell and Bo Hampton. It doesn't pick up directly from part one at all, and can easily be read entirely on its own. As a horror story, it hits the mark perfectly; strange glimpses and visions drawn ominously by Hampton, and moments that spook the reader without offering an explanation. I have absolutely no idea where this is going, but for now that's part of the fun.
Some other stories are good too, if not quite hitting the mark. John Layman and Sam Kieth's "Aliens" story continues to be dark and cautionary, but Kieth's art looks strangely faded and washed out, almost like it was printed at the wrong dpi. While I'm sure that's not actually the case, it's a problem that's grown with each chapter of "Aliens" and it's taking away from the overall experience. The return of "Rex Mundi" by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferrerya looks drop-dead gorgeous, but I found myself feeling like it doesn't stand on its own that well; it's not a great introduction to the strong "Rex Mundi" series. And as great as Steve Rude's art is in "Nexus," these days I'm finding myself increasingly annoyed by most of the supporting cast. This month it's Vooper who gets to be center stage in the "characters I'd like to never see again" rotation; while I get that Baron is trying to make him a bit annoying, he's succeeding too well, and with too many characters.
Still, there's not a bad story in the issue (and there are even more stories in "Dark Horse Presents" #15). Some are just a little uneven, or don't quite hit their mark. There's always something for everyone in each issue of "Dark Horse Presents," though, and you'll definitely get your money's worth. The overall feeling this month might not be as high as past issues, but I'm still cheerfully on board for more.