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Dark Horse Comics

More Dark Horse Reviews

Written and Drawn by Various

I have absolutely become a huge fan of Dark Horse’s omnibus series, and this excellent effort makes for a good showcase as to why. The original trade paperbacks that collected much of this material have kind of faded from view at this point, but the quality of the stories here has never flagged. And this particular book brings together one larger saga that took place over multiple series, that of the planet Ryushi and administrator Machiko Noguchi. Her story, which takes her from a life of simple bureaucrat to galactic-level hunter, provides the background to the outstanding action-adventure story spanning these four hundred pages.

Back when the first issue of ALIENS VS. PREDATOR shipped, I remember the frenzy amongst fans of the series, and no one was disappointed. Writer Randy Stradley had executed a perfect idea as to how the two franchise would work together, and every story thereafter would follow it. It even got a nod in the feature film PREDATOR 2. The idea was simple: the Predators use the eggs of a captured alien queen to create training opponents for young hunters. Yummy. And indeed, the first ALIEN VS. PREDATOR film uses that conceit as well. In fact, as you read this book, you’ll realize just how much of that film’s ideas were lifted from Stradley’s work, and I don’t think he was given proper credit for it, unfortunately.

Machiko represented someone you’d only see in a comic, and sadly, that fact remains mostly true. She’s an Asian female action heroine. Hollywood? Forget about it. You have to import films from overseas to see that here. Yumiko Shaku, Shu Qi, Zhang Ziyi… about the time they get a shot at leading a Tinseltown actioner, I’ll have re-grown all my hair. Machiko also starts out as more than a bit of a pill, but she grows into herself, and into her responsibilities as the lives of her ranchers are threatened, as the series wears on. And her ultimate choice at the end of the first story was a huge “wow” when the book originally hit stands. Oh, and again… ripped off for the movie, too. Le sigh. Art chores in this volume are handled by folks like Phill Norwood, Alex Maleev, Javier Saltares, and Chris Warner… not a weak link in the bunch. In short, this is a winner all the way around. Other volumes in this series will struggle to live up to this one, for sure.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Paul Chadwick

In the Pacific Northwest, a strange sinkhole has opened to reveal something strange and unknown. Pieces of strange flying technology, bizarre creatures of unknown origins… it’s as if a completely different planet exists beneath ours. Hoping to keep up with his competitors, industrialist Charles Hoy hires six adventurers to enter the world below and retrieve technologies he can hopefully use to keep his company at the top. But no one can be prepared for just how strange and how deadly this new discovery will turn out to be.

WORLD BELOW was Paul Chadwick’s first major step away from the CONCRETE universe, and was meant to allow him to stretch his creative muscles. Certainly, in that respect, the book was a huge success. Whether it was “The Stove”, “The Spire”, or the “Zombies”, Chadwick put together enough strangeness and cerebral horror for five years’ worth of comics. Unfortunately, the series ran into sales problems after four issues, ceased printing in color, and was put to bed four issues later. So what was a creative triumph one hand was a sad statement about the nature of the direct sales market on the other. And the disappointment Chadwick felt about the book’s sales certainly came through loud and clear in the way the eighth and final issue ended.

I purchased the original issues as they came out, and I remember how unsettling they were to read; they were intelligent, challenging… but there was also a sense of creepiness and unease that stuck with you. Anything was possible in WORLD BELOW; the characters were three-dimensional people, and not perfectly heroic, and the sense was that they could die or be maimed at any moment. It was such a rare feeling to have when reading a comic, that unpredictability, and reading them again in this wonderful collection, that sense came flooding back to me. This is a book that, given second life in this format, should find the audience that missed it so completely eight years ago.

Chadwick writes a very honest and blunt introduction to the book, and in it he mentions that he may once again bring THE WORLD BELOW back to life, albeit in wildly different format. I hope he makes good on that idea; the concept remains fresh and has plenty of room to play in. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, this rediscovered gem is worth your time and money.

Marc Mason

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