Reviewed by Chad Glapion.
Lovecraft readers are experiencing a renaissance. Lovecraft and stories influenced by his work are becoming more commonplace. One of the mediums Lovecraft’s influence has become most prominent is the world of comic books and graphic novels. Whether it’s Alan Moore’s various mythos explorations or Ed Brubaker’s Fatale, which Mike Davis recently covered, comic books are the forerunners of new Lovecraftian fiction.
Dark Engine is one such fiction. If Lovecraftian fiction is loosely defined as the unknowable horrors that lurk beyond the world we know, then Dark Engine fits that definition perfectly. Exposition moves at a snail’s pace, and the fragmented storytelling between Sym, her creators, and a mysterious figure referred to as the Dragon offer little help. Normally, this would be considered bad writing. But the dark, intriguing world writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens created engrossed me nonetheless.
The story takes place in a fantastical post-apocalyptic world. Alchemists created a woman called Sym. She’s sent back in time, tasked with righting the wrongs which have led to current calamity. Things went awry somewhere; Sym is popping in and out of different time periods–and slaughtering nearly everything in sight. The story pulls no punches when it comes to depicting Sym’s brutality. The very first panels alone show a confusingly gruesome spectacle. I had to stop and reread the scene a couple of times before I deciphered the happenings among the carnage. This was a common occurrence, but once the reader is familiarized with the chaotic gore, the story opens up and becomes surprisingly engaging.
One of the interesting things about Dark Engine is the nature of Sym herself. Her means of saving the world are not clear, her only demonstrated motive is killing whatever attacks her, and she doesn’t actually speak until issue 3. Though Sym is a protagonist, it’s not clear if she is in fact a hero. Despite that, I still find myself caring about her safety when she’s attacked by a group of Vikings, and I’m awaiting the next issue to make sure she’s safe after things take a Lovecraftian turn in issue 4. Hint: It involves tentacles.
Dark Engine is a violent phantasmagoria. If you’re turned off by the lack of exposition, I believe the wait is worth it with this one. Reading Dark Engine is almost like putting together a puzzle, it’s up to the reader to put everything together. Besides, the art from John Bivens and coloring from Kelly Fitzpatrick fit the character and story well. If you’re a fan of Lovecraft, or comic books in general, I believe you can find something of value in the strange gore filled world of Dark Engine.