Steve Niles is well known for “30 Days of Night,” and rightly so. He is less well known for “Simon Dark”, a short-lived series from 2008 which centers around dark magic and demons. It also stands out for being set in Gotham, and in a year-and-a-half run never guest stars any member of the Bat-family.
Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Scott Hampton
The most offbeat superhero in the DCU, from the creator responsible for the most offbeat horror comic, ’30 Days of Night’! Gotham City has a new protector…the urban legend they call Simon Dark. And he’s a very thin line of defence against a vicious serial killer!
144 pages / $14.99
The plot for this volume is difficult to summarize. It’s not that nothing happens – a lot does – it’s that the collection is largely just an introduction. The action in the early chapters exists more as a way to show who the characters are, and not just because action is cool. Through his encounters with Eddie the Machete, Simon meets and interacts with the people who will become his supporting cast. By the end of the trade, you’ll know who Simon and his friends are. You also know there is a villain, but not the goal or motivations of said villain.
As a collection, the single issues fit together mostly ok. The breaks are obvious, mostly because of the use of framed and splash pages. The plot doesn’t skip too much, as each chapter usually switches to a different scene. The one exception is between issues four and five, where the dialogue hiccups for a couple panels before moving on.
Niles’ character work is top notch, with every piece of dialogue sounding natural. There’s a particularly heartbreaking scene where Simon learns he’s the only one who can survive being decapitated. Up to that point, Simon has seemed like a dark vigilante who dealt brutal justice, but he was actually just innocent and child-like, thinking he was giving murderers the equivalent of a swat on the wrist. There’s also a surprisingly funny scene in chapter five when a man gets both hands ripped off.
If the writing has a weakness, it’s the lack of a solid narrative to hold the chapters together. Niles spends too much time letting us get to know the characters, and not enough time developing a plot. By the end of the trade, the villains remain mysteries in hoods, with only a hint at some brewing trouble. No conflict is really presented or resolved. These issues feel like the first act of a larger story, instead of a story by themselves. Now, it’s important to know this isn’t exactly Niles’ fault. He wrote a good tale, it just took more than six issues to tell. If DC had collected the first twelve issues instead, this wouldn’t be an issue. Then again, maybe the cost of the collection would’ve been prohibitive.
Scott Hampton’s art is a great fit for this book. It has a rough, gritty feel similar to Sean Phillips, and Chris Chuckry’s flat palette help to evoke the sense of darkness in this otherwise nice part of Gotham. Hampton’s scenery is both detailed and subtle, easily distinguishable without distracting from the main focus of the panels. The way he blurs the edges of the background evokes a sense of distance and fog, while at the same time acting to show the disconnect the characters feel from their surroundings. Hampton packs at least some scenery into every scene, never taking a short cut to leave empty space. If the art has a low point, it’s the occasional flat or lifeless expression. The two main females in “Simon Dark” are sometimes hard to tell apart, except for the colors of their coats. Most times though, these aren’t an issue.
As far as special features go, the trade is bare bones. Covers are included between chapter breaks, but that’s all there is. No sketches, no scripts, and no introduction or afterword. The book is still a good value, though, because the cover price essentially gives you an issue for free. Copies are also available way below cover price on Amazon, including one as low as $3.99.
Final verdict: 6.5 – A good read, but only worth buying if you’re ready to commit to the second trade as well.