What has come before: technically nothing, since this is a prequel.
The folks at Top Cow have been doing a lot to try to lure new readers and lapsed fans back into the fold. They have been tying up dangling subplots in their comics in preparation for fans jumping (back) on board. They have been offering trade paperbacks at the introductory price of $9.99.Finally, they have been releasing the occasional one-shot like this one, a tale of one of the previous bearers of the Darkness in the late 19th century.
There’s a very mild spoiler in this review, so let’s meet up again after the break.
The art in this comic is exceptional. Marvel fans know that Jorge Lucas is great at drawing superheroes. Here, he proves that he can draw anything, as this comic features demons, Victorian-era prostitutes, burning buildings, and psychedelic hallucinations. And it all looks alternately horrifying and beautiful.
That said, I found the story a little thin. Writer Rob Levin is trying really hard to channel the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft here (the cover blurb actually says “Lovecraftian Horror!”, but I’ll blame that on the editors rather than Levin himself). The first few pages are mired in exposition, and the story doesn’t really seem to get started until halfway through the comic. Plus, the comic felt a little preachy (Drugs BAD! Infidelity BAD!). Personally, I would have liked some more information about the Darkness itself, and I’m a little surprised that Levin, a longtime editor of said comic, wouldn’t indulge potential new readers in this manner.
I will mention one other thing that I enjoyed about this issue: Top Cow’s willingness to draw attention to the creators rather than the characters. There’s a page that tells you what the writer and artist’s next projects are, so you can follow their work if you enjoy it. Plus, there’s a text piece about Lovecraft himself, as well as recommendations about which stories of his to start with. Encouraging comics fans to read more classic literature deserves a shout out, so good on Top Cow for that.
So to sum up: if you like ghost stories, or if you read comics primarily for the art, then this is worth a look.