Andy’s Read Pile: Dark Ark Vol. 1

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Andy Hey Gang! Andy Larson back again, taking a break from playing decades old Star Wars PC games to give all our Ghost fans out there the 411 on some comic books I’ve been reading lately.

Yeah, there’s only so replaying of Knights of the Old Republic II that a fella can take, even if it’s modded version which actually restores all the cut content from the original game that was Obsidian was rushed into releasing prior to true completion.

As an aside, that may not seem like a lot but as someone that was terribly let down by the ending of Knights of the Old Republic II especially in comparison with the original BioWare classic, it definitely is. You see, Obsidian has actually made a ton of really decent games over the years that have been overshadowed unfairly by their predecessors.

For example, Fallout: New Vegas is actually a much better game from a story line perspective than it’s more well known “brother” game Fallout 3, with a narrative that’s more in line with the original spirit of the classic Interplay games. Same thing goes for KOTOR 2 to a lesser extent as most think it’s massively inferior to the original game in that series, but in reality, it just needed some minor tweaking to be a super worthwhile sequel.  Besides it’s got probably one of my favorite Sith bad guys at least from a visual perspective in all of the Star Wars expanded universe in Darth Nihilus.

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I mean the guy is a living Sith mask and robes with the power to drain life out of anything. It’s insanely bad ass! Even the Emperor can’t swing that kind of dark side weight around, the guy is a walking black hole of force stealing cruelty.  It’s a boss battle worthy of video gaming so if you are a Star Wars fan and you haven’t played this game, just duking it out lightsaber style with this Kabuki masked SOB is worth the price of the 5 bucks it would probably take to get this game on Steam now.

Anyways, enough on old Star Wars games. Let’s switch gears back to the original purpose for today’s article, which was covering a comic book just as creepily awesome as Darth Nihilus himself. You see, several months ago when my fellow co-hosts, Chad & Stew, got back from C2E2, the annual big comic convention in Chicago, one of the folks that they got to sit down for an interview with was none other than Cullen Bunn. And one of the books that they discussed was a series he wrote recently for AfterShock Comics, which posed the question: What if during the biblical flood, there was a second Ark? And what if instead of animals, it was hauling monsters?!?

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Talk about a idea for a book that definitely dug it’s hooks into me. So of course, I had to give it a read and let my anxious readers hear my thoughts. With that said, let’s take to the high seas for a boat trip of a most sinister kind with the first 5 issues of “Dark Ark” written by Cullen Bunn with art by Juan Doe.

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10 Cent Synopsis:

Soon after God covered the Earth in 40 days and 40 nights of rain and sent Noah on his trip to save the last vestiges of both human and animal kind, little did we know that a second Ark had also taken sail with definitely a different end result in mind. Ordered by a demonic overlord, the human sorcerer, Shrae, has been tasked with rescuing all of the dark and chaotic monsters of the old world and bringing them safety into the new.

That means his boat is full of all kinds of unnatural horrors: from the legendary manticores, to blood sucking vampires and everything in between.  Orcs, nagas, goblins, dragons, if it goes “bump in the night”, Shrae has it aboard his ship.

However, soon after we release that Shrae not only has to bring his cargo safely through the storm, but also he has to ensure Noah gets through all of this alive as well, as of course Noah is supplying the “food” that will eventually nourish his hellish brood in the world to come.

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That’s easier said than done with the Vampire lord, Nex, challenges Shrae for control of the ship, threatening to end this little sailing excursion long before they will ever reach dry land.

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Initial Thoughts:

One of the greatest things about really good ideas is that often times they are so blatantly obvious after the fact but prior to that moment when the light bulb of creativity shines brightly in that one person’s head, that idea just goes overlooked. Dark Ark is one of those kind of ideas because honestly it pulls from a very tried and true storytelling device that nearly works every time.

That being telling the “flip side of the coin” story. Especially when the original side of the coin is so very well known, like in this case, the biblical flood story.

Whether you were raised a good old God fearing country boy like me or just someone that can appreciate the historical perspective of the tale and similar ones like it for example from the epics of Gilgamesh, nearly everyone knows the story of the Noah leading the animals two by two into his giant ark at the end of the world.

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Therefore, to pull from that classic story the flip side of that coin and tell a tale about an “Anti Noah” and his “anti animals”, well that’s nothing short of genius. So much so, that again, you wonder why it’s taken so long for someone to actually write a decent story about this premise. Then again, as I’ve mentioned on the podcast, it did take Marvel 300 issues of Amazing Spider-man to put 2 and 2 together and give us an “Anti Spidey” in Venom,  so I guess some ideas again aren’t as obvious until someone actually puts pad to paper and writes it.

Anyways, boy, was there a lot to love about this book just coming from this simple premise. The characterization of both Shrae as the ringmaster of his floating circus of terror as well as the some of the monsters themselves is nothing else than superb, invoking the same feeling as one would get from a medieval throne room, what with the backstabbing and intrigue as the monsters game for position in the hierarchy.

Plus, when you throw in the fact that Shrae is cast as somewhat of an anti hero, not only tasked with bringing his own savage passengers to safety, but also ensuring under penalty of eternal damnation that Noah and his boat also survives, you really end up feeling for the guy. Despite being a devilish warlock, you can sense the weight of the entire world on his shoulders and that makes for a good protagonist.

But then again, Shrae isn’t really even the star of this book. That honor belongs to Kruul the Manticore who with his gruff and surly exterior secretly masking a charismatic heart of gold, it’s no wonder he’s the breakout character of the entire series thus far for me. In my head, I hear a raspy low baritone voice similar to Idris Elba barking out these one liners and I can’t help but smile every time I see him on the page.

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Here’s hoping we get a ton more of him in the rest of the series, although I definitely have a feeling we will as it seems like the author Cullen Bunn has a soft spot for him too.

 

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Fun Facts:

I’m not sure if there’s a market out there for “Biblical Flood” related comic books, but if any of my readers are interested in checking out a second one, let me suggest picking up a copy of Jason Aaron’s 5 part mini series from Image Comics entitled: “The GodDamned”.  However, I will caution that even more than Dark Ark, this book is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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Teaming up again with R.M. GUÉRA, with whom Mr. Aaron had created the much lauded  crime series SCALPED, The Goddamned is definitely a super violent exploration of some of the most vile and depraved parts of human nature set against the backdrop of a Pre-Flood Old Testament world. In fact, I’ve mentioned this series in passing so many times on the podcast that some of our more loyal listeners have asked me why I’ve never recommended it as a read pile selection or at least wrote a full article on the web site about it.

The simple answer is: it’s just way too intense. And that’s saying it nicely. I mean the entire book is about explaining what a horrible place the Earth had to be in order for God to just say “Well, yeah, I screwed that up. Better start from scratch”. And with that, sincerely Jason Aaron doesn’t pull any punches. From the child slavery pits, to Noah being depicted as a barbaric murderous zealot, some of the scenes are definitely enough to put you off your food more than a bit, and leave you feeling clammy and uncomfortable.

Maybe some day I’ll grow a pair big enough to go back and cover this book for this site. However, until then, just know that there is this other “Flood” book out there that you could check out for yourself if this kind of subject matter is the bees knees to you.

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Final Thoughts:

Again you’d think that with what I mentioned above with my initial thoughts that this book would have gotten a “A+” grade. But I’d be amiss if I didn’t bring up one part of this series that really didn’t work, and as such did bring the grade down slightly. That is the fact that these first 5 issues does spend some time characterizing the rest of Shrae’s family which are on this trip with him.

I understand in drawing parallels to Noah, it’s important to give him family members that are on this epic journey with him. Likewise, the character of his daughter, Khalee, does provide a form of audience surrogate, asking questions we the readers want to know and filling in some important backstory.

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However, in my opinion, Shrae’s family could have been capped at that. Give him a daughter to help humanize him a bit, but then cut everyone else. None of those other family members are important and they just get in the way of the larger and much more interesting “family” that Shrae interacts with in terms of the actual monsters. Even when one of his daughter-in-laws is bitten my a vampire and it’s possible the yet unborn baby could be a foul demon, its not really essential to the main story we are trying to tell here.

Just stick to the monsters, Mr. Bunn. Like the scenes in which Shrae interrogates them trying to find the murderer of the Naga Queen like it’s an episode of Law & Order. That’s what brought me into the tent to begin with and even a couple pages of the interactions with the other family members is just wasted space that could be spent better exploring the inner politics of the nefarious creatures living below deck.

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The other minor gripe deals with the unicorns subplot, two beautiful creatures trapped among all of the other denizens of the night as it were. Although I agree that it was necessary to do what was done in issue 5 to move the plot along, I also think that their story seemed oddly paced.

It’s as if they were supposed to have more of a part to play in the overall story arc, but a decision was made at the last second that they would be better cast in a different role, and well…let’s just say I’m not sure whether volume 2 of this series will have any horned horses running around. Maybe that was to create tension or a cliffhanger style hook at the end of the first trade worth of books to catapult you into the next, but whatever it was, it just seemed a little forced.

But in the end, I do have to say that everything I just mentioned amounts to not much more than minor quibbles on the overall tale. Let me repeat that I enjoyed the hell out of this book. We’ve often comment that the hardest part about telling an indie comic series is the whether the author can make you care enough about the proceedings to make you want to come back issue after issue. From the original concept to the fascinating characterization of Shrea, Nex, and the fan favorite Manticore, this book excels in keeping your attention with crackling dialogue and pitch perfect art.

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I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this series is picked up as some sort of TV show at some point in future, whether that be animated or otherwise. It seems like the perfect blend of a historical event everyone knows about with a horror twist that will appeal to a mass audience.

In short, if successful storytelling was measured in raindrops, Dark Ark definitely lives up to its moniker in being a book about a flood.

 

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Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B+


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