Jospeh Mallozzi and Paul Mullie have had their four issue Sci-Fi romp Dark Matter: Rebirth collected into a single trade paper back by Dark Horse. The story has a lot of familiar beats to it: People waking up in a star ship under emergency condition only to find they have no memory of who they are or why they are there, but retaining their skills. It is very familiar to fans of Sci-Fi and has been explored in different ways; see the films Dark City and Pandorum for two very different perspectives on the “waking up with no memory” plotline. Dark Matter takes advantage of the graphic novel medium by giving us a collection of characters who are trying to figure out what is going on, why they were awaken, and who they are to each other. There is a menacing robot, who attacks until disabled and when rebooted has no memory of the attack, or why he is on the ship, or who the crew members are. Much part one is dedicated to explaining the array of skills each character has, and showing an edgy lack of harmony – no one turns to another here for comfort, it is as if they expect the person next to them to try to strike them down at any moment.
The group follows what little data they can recover from their ship to the coordinates of their destination. There they find a planet about to engage some mercenaries meant to steal their planet from them for a major mining company to use as a launch point. Unwilling to sell their claim, they have resorted to weapon smugglers, and await a desperately needed shipment of arms. The heroes of Dark Matter have a cargo bay full of weapons, and carry a pendant that is meant to serve as recognition between the colonists and the gun runners, and realize they are the smugglers. After a debate between those who wish to take the weapons and run (they have already been paid for, so there is no money in it for the shipmates) and those who wish to complete the mission, the group decides to hand the weapons over. Knowing full well the colonists stand little chance against mercenaries and the armed security forces of the large mining conglomerate. Of course, just after the exchange is made, more data is culled from the wounded ship and the heroes find out they are not the smugglers, but the mercenaries. Now what should they do?
Despite the predictability of the effort, it plays like a good action yarn and is a rather fun read. There is no attempt to mask the plotline’s predictability, the writers rely on character’s to make familiar territory fresh. It is like going to a favored amusement park – you know the ride, but love to take it again anyway. The story of internal struggles, then external ones manifest from the decisions born of the prior, combined with a tale of possible betrayal and of possible redemption, are enough to keep the reader turning the pages. Unfortunately the graphic novel ends in a very TV style kind of easy-fix-to-all-the-problems the crew faces. In a way it is a cop out, wrapping up what had been complex issues in a few pages that make you ponder: “if they all knew that, why didn’t the solve the conflict without our heroes help?” The final prose that is disappointingly unimaginative. I suspect the need for the easy resolution ending lies in the publishing risks taken when a new line is started. It is safer to have the four issues reach an ending in the event no more issues are ever ordered, but there could have been another issue or two to this story to give us a deeper ending than we got. Despite this, Dark Matter is strong enough to be worthy of continuation.
The art somehow manages to be both grim and colorful, but not colorful in the old batman and superman way. A heavy hand is used to ink the pages, giving it a feel of sepia tone, yet the colors sparingly chosen for each frame seem extra vibrant, as if the color itself was a light source. Wonderful detail work, close up of an eye that is nearly completely black with a vivid blue highlight for example, make the work one worthy of taking a slow pass through just for the art alone. I read this on a Kindle Fire and I have no idea if the print media conveys the same feel, but as an electronic reader, through a simple PDF, it pops! Kudos to Gary Brown (art) and Ryan Hill (Ink). Their combined effort is the tipping reason to pick this one up.