Dark Matters is a story of prophecy. It begins as these stories often do; a figure of some import frantically dedicating his last moments to some yet unknown individual. On the precipice of death at the hands of a malevolent force, the man passes down useful artifacts and words of wisdom to his unborn son, Dagan. Sending the missive off via a third party, the man is killed by Horace, whose character design alone is enough to indicate that he is the primary antagonist of the story. A humanoid imbued with the powers and influence of a demon, Horace is capable of devouring souls, subjugating them to some unknown eternal horror.
Years pass and through a series of vignettes, we see Dagan grow into a fine young man with a family of his own before he is sent to fight in a war. Captured by the enemy, he and other men with similar characteristics (like his heterochromatic eyes) suffer various tortures and indignities by Horace’s orders, as if he is trying to find something that will give him even more power.
Dagan escapes the prison camp and frees other prisoners, leading them on an assault against their tormentors. Unfortunately, they are confronted by Horace who uses his powers to absorb everyone’s souls, though he is surprised to see that Dagan is resistant to the attack. Dagan escapes from Horace and is rescued and sent back home to live his life in peacetime. Like many soldiers who come back from such traumatic events, his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder makes it difficult for him to acclimate as he is haunted by hallucinations and prone to anger while having difficulty staying sober and connecting with his son.
At this point, the graphic novel just…ends. Though we see Dagan have another encounter with Horace, their meeting is largely for the benefit of ending on a cliffhanger. I struggled with this book because at any given moment I was confused as to what sort of narrative the authors were trying to convey. This graphic novel very much feels like an overly complicated attempt to introduce the characters and world for a much larger and more worthwhile adventure; an Episode 0, if you will. I say that because I feel the situations Dagan finds himself in don’t appear to have much weight or importance to what really is going on with Horace. There’s very little narration or exposition. In fact, large portions of each chapter are filled with pages that show all action and no text. While it’s perfectly OK to do that, it’s not particularly effective here. There’s no excitement to the scenes, such as Dagan’s escape from the Japanese prison camp. It’s just a loose collection of panels, often containing violence purely for the sake of violence.
On the whole, Dark Matters feels like the first draft of a television pilot. There’s fat to be trimmed, dialogue to tighten up, and scenes that could be better realized. The script is often confusing, especially the marriage between narrative and the artwork. The most immediate example I can think of are the scenes where Dagan is manning a turret in an airborne bomber during war. While his plane is shot up by the enemy, the reader is not given any indication what war he’s fighting in. Dark Matters has a timeless quality to it, though in this case that’s not really a good thing. It isn’t until one of the pilots says “Zeroes” and there’s a full splash page featuring the nuclear blast over Hiroshima that I finally understood that the story was set during World War II. Adding further confusion to its time and place, Horace is shown flying to Dagan’s prison camp in what looks like a jet powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which he takes from his massive submarine (big enough to have its own launchpad and flight deck carrying multiple modern day aircraft). I don’t know much about military hardware history, but I thought Germany’s V-2 rockets were the first application of jet powered engines in the 1940s. So what does Horace’s aircraft and submarine mean? Is it supposed to imply that he’s using his demon powers to introduce new technology before its time? Does that explain why he is shown with a cyborg arm? I don’t know if the authors were purposefully trying to be mysterious but the lapses in storytelling make for a considerably confusing read. It’s too cryptic for its own good.
For me, a weak story can sometimes be forgiven if the artwork has some value. But Dark Matters isn’t going to blow anyone away with its visuals. They’re not overly simple or “bad,” but it’s not going to stand out in a crowd either. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a frequent violence in the graphic novel. Dagan’s tenure as a prisoner of war is capped with scenes of torture, mass graves, and an escape attempt that sees people getting shot and their faces based in by the butt of a rifle. The violence doesn’t add much to the story and does have a tendency to come off as rather gratuitous. There is no outright nudity to speak of, but there are scenes of pre- and post-lovemaking between Dagan and his wife. There’s nothing wrong with violence or nudity in comics but with this book, it all feels a little empty. When I browsed the comic’s website for information, I found that it represented itself and its characters far, far better than the comic did.
The first volume of Dark Matters is advertised to be the first in continuous series. It didn’t hold my attention or garner interest in the continuing saga of Dagan and Horace. It didn’t help that I was left questioning every character and situation in the story because the illustrator couldn’t successfully adapt the script in a meaningful way (or perhaps the script itself was too vague). Were this story given more time to cook, or given to a good editor, it might have been something more worthwhile than it is.
by Pete Fitz, Jesse Threatt, Graham Bowlin
Art by James Allen Threatt
Swyft Pictures, LLC, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 17+