Comics: Dark Ark Vol 1 - Reviewed

Daniel reviews Dark Ark Vol 1

When I was a lot younger, I was forced into going to Sunday school with my step sisters. To this day I have no idea why, as neither of our families were religious. Perhaps it was the free babysitting service. It’s a fair trade right? We give you the day to sit in peace, and all we ask in return is the opportunity to indoctrinate your children. They gave us free biscuits and I had a thing for one of the girls there, so it wasn’t all bad. That was until the story books came out.

Naturally, one of the books was the tale of Noah’s Ark, the noble spirited hero saving all of the world’s animals on his VIP cruise ship. Even at that young age I felt like the story was too perfect. Never mind the incestuous connotations of repopulating the world with only one of each sex, which seems to be a popular theme in the bible. See His other works such as; two people one apple, the ultimate overreaction, and of course the well known family favorite; kill your son so I know you love me.

How did the lions not eat the gazelles? How did the rabbits not overpopulate and consume all of the food? It really was the faultlessness of the story, the happy ending and lack of human and animal struggle that ruined it for me. The clear cut good vs evil narrative never appealed, even at that young age. Conscious beings are nuanced complex creatures, which is why Dark Ark's plot is more enticing. Despite the unicorns, miniatures and werewolves, this story feels more realistic when compared to its spiritual predecessor. The imperfections in Dark Ark's characters are what drive its plot, and that is why I enjoyed it so much. Sunday school be damned, let the monsters take the stage!

From writer Cullen Bunn and artist Juan Doe comes this unique horror drama. Dark Ark, by the writers own admission, is a goofy premise. Our protagonist (Shrae) has been tasked with protecting the unnatural monsters and creatures of the world by a mysterious dark lord, presented as the devil archetype. Shrae, his family, the monsters and a group of imprisoned sacrificial captives do their best to survive the trials and tribulations of the ark.

Doe does a fantastic job at bringing the ark and its creatures to life. He utilizes an intentionally limited color palette for his backdrops, which makes for a melancholy and moody setting. These creatures in their natural habitats are designed to disappear. They exist under your bed, in the woods where your children play, in ancient tombs and derelict buildings; they are not designed to stand out. Doe was challenged to make these shadow dwellers pop, and I think he’s succeeded in that.

Having every mythical creature under one roof gives Bunn a great opportunity, which I thought was fulfilled wonderfully. From the start you are introduced to a variety of species. You're guided through the ins and outs of monster culture. Their hierarchies, traditions and beliefs culminate to produce a rich social landscape. The behaviors of the characters are a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be incarcerated. In many ways our protagonist is the warden, and the monsters his prisoners. You watch any prison documentary and you will notice the similarities being portrayed. A delicate balance is maintained between them, not only between Shae and the monsters, but between the monsters themselves. There is a good grasp of social politics being portrayed here, which steadily cultivates a palpable tension for the reader.

This is the first part of a much longer series of graphic novels, so I am hesitant to conclude an opinion just yet. The character arcs haven’t had time to mature, nor has the plot. Overall, I feel as if the first installment has done its job. The Dark Ark Volume One offers an engaging story in its own right, and has also given me a taste of what’s to come. I had fun, and isn’t that why we all read graphic novels, to have fun and explore?

The foundations have been laid, and it may come as no surprise that I will be returning to this series as it develops.

-Daniel Roberts