Arguably one of the most brutal periods in human history, the Dark Ages were so impeccably grim that being sold into medieval prostitution and dying of consumption were perhaps the highlights of your short and miserable life. Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but this particular dim era in our few thousand years of existence wasn’t called the “super fun number one” age for a reason. Disease was rampant, war was fruitful, and Jesus was just plain running amok what with the hangings and murders and such. Dark Ages #1 though decides that sacrilege and head lice are not nearly enough to wipe out the human race and introduces a new element to the mix: aliens. Big, freaking aliens. And boy, does it do it well.
Dark Horse’s newest sci-fi/medieval times comic opens up on a rogue troop of warriors wandering the ever grey landscape of Europe in the Vile Year of Our Lord 1333 (though, technically, the Dark Ages were from 476-800, making the comics particular time period the Late Middle Ages which ran from 1300-1450.) Led by an overly serious Captain and his band of not so merry-men, the army searches for a fight to join, hoping to get a “bit of the coin” in the process. One night, as they camp under the stars, a meteor crashes to Earth and with it, the last dregs of sanity. Within the rocks lie creatures they had never seen before and before they can react, they are suddenly attacked with the soldiers’ numbers quickly dwindling in the onslaught. Though things seem bleak, there is more trouble on the horizon as the warriors are soon forced to bring their injured Captain to a strange monastery, where there is more to the monks than meets the eye.
At first glance, Dark Ages seems to be the type of comic that has eyes bigger than its stomach. With so many elements and genres going on, the concept of a medieval/alien/horror bonanza sounds like a poorly devised Sy-Fy movie; a story that could easily spill into the absurd and stretch the far- reaching plot way too thin. Luckily for us, Dark Ages is a comic and a comic is way cheaper to produce than a movie, which allows for an idea as bizarre as knights versus aliens to actually flourish instead of getting stuck in production hell amid cheap CGI graphics and terrible acting. From the very first page, we are treated to a very deliberate story, one that takes the reader from the sweeping landscapes of a tired, war-torn Europe to the instant, overwhelming madness of a sudden outer space invasion. And these aren’t your little, gray-headed aliens either; we’re talking some crazy, Cthulu shit! That’s a hard plot to pull off, but when it’s done this well, not only do you get sucked into the story, but end up feeling pretty bad for these poor bastards who were already so deep into their problems, feeling that God has abandoned them. This comic is the perfect balance of spiritual questioning, flash violence, and the horrible realization that everything you believed in is wrong.
For the writer/artist team of Dan Abnett and I. N. J. Culbard, Dark Ages is the second collaborative comic these two have produced. The first was Vertigo’s very successful vampire/Victorian detective story The Deadwardians. Much like Dark Ages, The Deadwardians was also set in a time far, far away with a strange monster twist that sounds too good to work, but like its successor, it was pretty damn awesome. Their newest venture gives the duo a second opportunity to stir up the historical pot, with Abnett penning a smooth script that honestly, reads like a movie. The plot brims with the underlying fear of the creeping horror of space, yet still manages to give plenty of visual gore for those of us who prefer our madness to be a little more literal. Culbard’s art help brings the vision to life with his subtle, square-jawed style. It feels a bit like Mignola art but with smoother edges, so it’s really cool for the oversized monsters. With Abnett and Culbard’s powers combined, Dark Ages steeps you into a void of terror where few have dared to venture.