New To You Comics #81: Monsters, Intrigue, And Horrific Violence In ‘Dark Ark’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to AfterShock’s Dark Ark Vol. 1, created and written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Juan Doe, with letters by Ryane Hill and Dave Sharpe. Here’s what AfterShock says about the book: 

‘The wickedness of mankind has moved the Creator to destroy the world by way of the flood. Noah has been tasked with building an ark to save his family and the animals of the world. But this is not Noah’s story. For darker powers have commanded the sorcerer Shrae to build his own ark and save the unnatural creatures of the world—such as the vampires, the dragons, the naga and the manticore. But what will happen on a vessel crawling with monsters, where insidious intrigue and horrific violence are the rule of law?’

Brendan Allen: This is one I really enjoy for several reasons. It obviously checks off a lot of my usual boxes for dark fantasy and horror elements, but I am also a sucker for new perspectives on ancient mythos. Same reason I loved Mad Cave Studios’ Nottingham by David Hazan and Shane Connery Volk. A beloved story, repeated for centuries or millennia, turned on its ass by flipping the perspective.

Dark Ark  opens with imagery from the Hebrew narrative of the great flood as recorded in Genesis. Among the thirty-foot waves, we catch glimpses of submerged cities and human bodies floating aimlessly. Noah is on his giant boat, surrounded by the beasts of the natural world. We all know this part of the story. Cullen Bunn doesn’t waste a lot of time rehashing the familiar details before diving into the reason we’re all here, that OTHER ark.

Bunn does an amazing job structuring this microcosm that is instantly familiar from centuries of oral and written tradition, and also oddly foreign from this new perspective. The possibilities are wide open as he sets up the ultimate supernatural murder mystery.

Tony Thornley: I would say the only Judeo-Christian story that rivals the tale of Noah and the Ark in “popularity” is probably David and Goliath. When you think about it, that makes it kind of surprising that you don’t get very many revisionist myths about the ark and the flood. I think that’s the reason why this one just clicked. 

It felt like a wholly fresh take on something familiar, and I enjoyed that. You don’t have to be a Sunday school kid to know the Ark. You can step into this with familiarity with the scripture story/myth and enjoy the dark fantasy take on it.

Brendan: Exactly. And while it does expand the known story quite a bit, it actually could co-exist with the flood account in Genesis. So far, nothing contradicts the known mythos.

Tony: Yeah, definitely. I liked that part of it a lot. The thing I think I thought of the most reading this was that this was not unlike the myth of Lilith, the mother of all darkness. In some myths, Lilith was actually Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden rebelled. She then gave birth to the monsters and creatures of the darkness that lurk on the edges of our world.

When Bunn does in Dark Ark feels like an extension of that. If Lilith gave birth to the monsters, and the monsters are still around, clearly they survived the flood. Well, how? That’s the sort of clever thinking I like in a story that plays with common myths. Adding the wrinkle that the Dark Ark has been given the command that Noah’s Ark MUST survive also ensures that the obvious source of conflict is removed from the equation, which makes the storytelling even more clever.

Plus, this had some genuine tension and thrills. I wouldn’t say it was scary, but it really was tense in places.

Brendan: Right. This first arc is more of a murder mystery with supernatural elements than a straight horror book. There’s a lot of great interplay between Shrae and the monsters when shit starts going down, and this delicate balance between all the factions on board. There are also the humans below deck that are only just there as feeder stock, which adds a whole different layer to the story. 

Tony: Yeah, definitely. And the art makes sure those layers are omnipresent.

Holy cow, Doe did a great job with this book. I’ve enjoyed his covers for years, but I cannot think of a book I’ve read with his interiors. I like how stylized his figures are (making the monsters even more monstrous), and his coloring is so good. It’s slightly abstract, without feeling unnatural.

Brendan: The monsters are fantastic. Doe’s sinister, sharp lines give each of the monster menagerie a distinct and ominous presence. 

He really works some magic with the setting, too. There are loads of challenges with these kinds of ‘one set’ stories. There are only a few places where the action can take place, above deck, below deck, and maybe a couple sublevels below that. Scenes in the bowels of the ship are tight and claustrophobic. Scenes topside are opened up slightly more, but it’s still surrounded by water on all sides. Really drives it home that this is a closed circle mystery. 

Tony: Yeah, I definitely enjoyed that. I also really liked the design of the Ark itself. There was no mistaking it for Noah’s ship. It was black, looming and sinister. Just really creepy. Makes the whole locked room mystery of the murder really scary and imposing. 

I know we don’t talk about the lettering much either, but I do have to point out how well Hill and Sharpe do. They use different balloons and fonts for each type of creature. It gives them all a unique voice and presence on the page as the conflicts happen. It’s a small thing but it’s very cool.

Brendan: I did notice that. The unicorns kind of had their own little thing going on, didn’t they? I wondered if they were speaking unicorn language or something, but they were understood by the other players, so probably not. Their speech was just visually prettier. Because unicorns.

Where’d you land on this one?

Tony: I know we’ve talked about a lot of Bunn’s books the last 18 months, but this is probably my second favorite of his works. It’s gorgeous, creepy, and very intelligent.

Brendan: Second favorite? What was the first, then?

Tony: Harrow County

Brendan: That’s fair. What’s up next?

Tony: You’ve introduced me to a bunch of books by Donny Cates, so I’m going to return the favor. We’re going to check out Venom: Rex by Cates and Ryan Stegman!

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