Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Dark One’ OGN, out November 4 from Vault Comics.

'Dark One' OGN: The DoomRocket Review

by Lauren Fernandes. Most fantasy epics follow a pattern of sorts. Often, we meet an unassuming hero who is thrust into greatness by magical forces far beyond their control. We watch them rise, ascending to greatness as they rival some Great Evil, all the while encompassing all that is Good. Eventually, at the crux of some immense battle, Good triumphs and Evil is conquered. Children sleep easily knowing that there is Good and Evil, and that Good will overcome.

As we get older, we also learn. Life teaches us that Good does not always triumph over Evil, that there are often no clear lines between right and wrong. We learn that most people possess within them the ability to perform both spectacular acts of kindness, as well as devasting acts of harm. The magic wears off. It is possible that this is why many people claim they “grow out” of fantasy; they see none of the purity of its virtues in their real lives. 

Enter, now, a creative team moved to destroy this fantasy trope. Vault Comics and fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson have partnered with writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, creating a fantasy universe that is clothed in the dressings of many other fantasy universes. There are knights, kings, princesses, goblins, monsters, fate, destiny. But Dark One functions alongside these common characters in an entirely new way. Our hero (or antihero), Paul Tanisin, initially presents as a common, angry, possibly sociopathic main character. He believes himself to be going mad, and why shouldn’t he? He sees things, has urges of intense rage and violence, always feels he is on the precipice of enacting the savagery in his veins. Paul is constantly in fear that he will harm those around him. And when he slips into Mirandus, another world, finding himself worshipped and loved by the dark creatures that live there and loathed and hunted by those of the “light”, he begins to accept his own darkness, impulses, violence. 

This writing team doesn’t give you anything for free, and none of it is particularly comfortable. The people of Mirandus, both light and dark, all live their lives according to the mysterious Narrative, a specifically-named destiny adhered to like a holy text, which dictates that when the Dark One rises, the Chosen One shall rise to slay him. This application of destiny thrusts every character into the knowing of their own fates. Every person or creature of Mirandus knows which side of fate they exist on.

The dynamic is fascinating. There is no question from the forces of the light that they will succeed—it is in the Narrative. Their triumph is known. The self righteousness of some, and the heartbreaking acceptance of defeat by others creates sympathy in unexpected places. It is a complex world, strategically built, and uncomfortably relevant as real life “heroes” of old are ripped down for the realities of their own atrocities. The Narrative is a wheel of destiny—all are trapped upon it with such intense self-awareness.

Apart from being a haunting, deeply created fantasy realm, the art of Dark One is a kaleidoscope of horrors. Nathan Gooden weaves into being the majesty of Mirandus, transfiguring the story into a visual splendor. Panels of swordfights hold all the violence and energy of film, while courtroom scenes, slow in pace, hold the reader taught like the string of a bow. And always, there is an underlying violence to nearly every page. In the few, rare moments of tenderness and vulnerability displayed in Dark One, Gooden manages to eviscerate that undertone of rage. I can’t quite encapsulate how he accomplishes this in words—it must be seen. 

If Sanderson, Lanzing, and Kelly give this book bones, nerves, and organs, then Gooden gives it muscle. He fills out the universe with his art, and Kurt Michael Russell skins the whole masterpiece. He packages it, the flesh no less meaningful than the muscle and bone it covers. Russell’s palettes are so consistent and thoughtful that, between Gooden and Russell, it is as though there was a director of photography guiding the whole process. It is a spectacular duo, wholeheartedly launching us into a new fantasy realm we’ve only begun to explore.

To articulate the entire beast is Deron Bennett of AndWorld Design. AndWorld pulls the words out of the cosmos and drops them onto the pages, with lettering that is perfectly easy to follow. This keeps the reader from wondering what bubble to read next and allows them to focus on things they should be focused on—like where the lines between good and evil truly lie and whether or not the boundless power of destiny is truly boundless. 

Can we rewrite the narrative? Or is the role we fill already written for us on the soul of time? Dark One is an exploration of destiny, one that examines villainy with an oft-ignored humanity. Paul’s struggles between fighting his destiny and accepting it—he must both own the violence of his identity and choose how to command it. If he cannot rewrite it, perhaps he can punctuate it, creating moments pregnant with pause, space for thoughtfulness, and exclamations that change the telling of the Narrative. 

A pre-written destiny, it seems, still has space for choice. 

Vault Comics / $29.99

Created and story by Brandon Sanderson.

Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly.

Art by Nathan Gooden.

Colors by Kurt Michael Russell.

Letters by Deron Bennett of AndWorld Design.

Designs by Tim Daniel.

9 out of 10

‘Dark One’ OGN hits stores November 4.  Contact your LCS to order it. (Diamond Code: OCT198697)

Check out this 29-page preview (!!!) of ‘Dark One’ OGN, courtesy of Vault Comics!