The GeeksverseREVIEW | Dark Matter, Vol. 1: Rebirth TPB (Dark Horse Books)

REVIEW | Dark Matter, Vol. 1: Rebirth TPB (Dark Horse Books)
Published on Sunday, October 28, 2012 by
Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, producers and screenwriters for the popular Stargate TV franchise, try their hand at writing comics with Dark Matter. How does their collaborative sequential art debut fare? Our review has all the details!

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Combines intriguing mystery with thrilling space opera.
  • Exposition expertly and seamlessly incorporated into dialogue.
  • Solid art.

Cons:

  • None of significant note.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Dark Horse Books (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
  • Publication Date: October 2012
  • Story by: Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie
  • Art and Covers by: Garry Brown
  • Colors by: Ryan Hill
  • Letters by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
  • Format: 104 page full-color trade paperback. Collects Dark Matter #s 1–4, originally published in single magazine format by Dark Horse Comics in 2012.
  • List Price: $14.99 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale now

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Suggested Background Reading

Wondering why this trade paperback review isn’t under the Leaving Proof column/article category? Read this for the explanation.

Full Review

Reviewer’s note: The section below contains spoilers for Dark Matter, Vol. 1: Rebirth.

Veteran screenwriters Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie‘s Dark Matter begins with the crew of a cargo spaceship waking up from stasis adrift in interstellar space, their episodic memories deliberately erased it seems, by an unrevealed perpetrator. The crew explore the vast confines of their vehicle in search of clues as to who they are, the purpose of their mission, and the spacecraft’s ultimate destination, the details of which have been purged from the onboard computer’s records prior to their revival. The ship’s hold reveals a sizable cache of weapons and they stumble upon a caretaker android who is soon able to restore the ship’s original course plotting and starts work on the long process of recovering the crew’s biographical data. Each of the ship’s six human crew also have individual riddles to contend with—dreams, personal trinkets, retained skills, and inherent tendencies—that might provide further hints as to their identities if properly deciphered. Mallozzi and Mullie use the locked room mystery of the book’s first act to clearly establish the main cast’s characterizations, even as they draw from common archetypes in contemporary action-adventure and sci-fi entertainment. The designated hero, the loose cannon, the gentle giant, the lone wolf, the authority figure, and the whiz kid have their counterparts in the crew but to the credit of the writing duo’s skill, they don’t come off at all as lazy and recycled tropes, their well-worn familiarity breeding accessibility instead of the reader’s contempt.

When the ship reaches its preprogrammed destination—an independent frontier colony under threat of dispossession of its home planet by a galaxy-spanning mining consortium’s invading forces—the story effortlessly and seamlessly shifts to high-concept space opera mode. The crew find themselves sympathetic to the colonists’ plight and strongly leaning towards joining in the defense of their home, but just as they are ready to cast their lot with the planet’s inhabitants, the ship’s android recovers their deleted biographical data which points to the crew being in the employ of the aforementioned consortium: They are actually a band of homicidal mercenaries hired to serve as the invasion’s spearhead. It’s an interesting narrative twist that re-couches well-worn arguments concerning identity, criminal responsibility, and the “nature versus nurture” debate. Is each crewman’s individual identity more than just the sum of his or her accumulated memories? Is their complicity in past crimes mitigated by the circumstance that they no longer retain conscious knowledge of committing them? Is the fact that the crew’s first and strongest instinct was to defend the colony an indication of an innate human goodness and sense of altruism?

From that point forward, the story plays out in the tradition of the Seven Samurai (that the ship’s crew is composed of seven individuals—six humans and an android—and one of their number is quite literally a samurai is no coincidence, I think), although Mallozzi and Mullie still manage to upend reader expectations and keep the storytelling stakes high with some well-timed deviations from Kurosawa’s formula. The book’s ending is open-ended, obviously designed to lead into the next mini-series, but it is nonetheless satisfying in that it ties up the most immediate plot threads.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is just how smoothly the writers weave the exposition into the dialogue. Dark Matter‘s web of corporate politics, space colonies, and made-up future technology conventions never feels overwhelming because Mallozzi and Mullie give out just the right amount of expository detail at the right time, trusting the reader to fill in the blanks as necessary. It also helps that the protagonists begin the story as amnesiacs investigating their past and present—any extended elucidations feel organic to the story and character development.

Artist Garry Brown’s character and prop designs are solid, showing traces of influences from films like Aliens, contemporary video games, and 2000 AD comics art. The visual storytelling is similarly cogent, eschewing panel and perspective gimmickry for the most part in favor of more straightforward scene composition and panel-to-panel transitions. The inking’s preponderance of heavy blacks conflicts with clarity on rare occasions, but in general is employed by Brown to great effect for texture, depth, and contrast.

Dark Matter, Vol. 1: Rebirth is a consistently entertaining read—an expertly crafted sci-fi comics work that draws ideas from a diverse array of influences and weaves them around a thoughtful, character-driven adventure—that can also serve as a practical example for novice writers on how to incorporate universe-building exposition discreetly into dialogue and narration. Recommended.

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