Dark Souls 01 is a sword and sorcery fantasy with potential but in need of polish. Visually the Dark Souls cast are striking and distinctive. It was a pleasure to see a black protagonist in a fantasy setting.
Personality-wise, the book’s characters fall neatly into certain archetypes. That’s understandable – fantasy is built on archetypes. But that’s simply the starting point for any character. They need to be fleshed out in order to develop into unique individuals. They need to possess believable motivation, desires, faults.
If characters lack these, it’s difficult to relate to them and if the reader isn’t invested in characters, reading a comic can become a chore, not a pleasure.
I truly wanted to like the Dark Souls characters but the writing in this issue didn’t give me an emotional hook, a reason to relate to them. I couldn’t help but feel that they were a means to an end – a way of moving the story forward.
Part of the problem lies with the pacing. The book leaps from action sequence to action sequence. While this may temporarily engage the reader’s attention, it doesn’t leave much time to develop the characters. Dialogue and narrative is often limited to exposition. There are some charming one-liners thrown in for good measure – more of these would have helped characterize the cast.
The writing is solid; it moves the plot along, it introduces the characters, it builds towards a climax. The book ends on a cliff hanger, promising another dynamic fight scene.
The artwork is black and white, with heavy rendering at times. I have a soft spot for black and white comics. In this case, however, the artwork would have been enhanced by a colorist.
Fight scenes are well-illustrated and dynamic. The high level of cross-hatching and speedlines means that it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint each panel’s focal point. Often there is a great deal of detail crammed into each page – on one hand, this is admirable; on the other, it can make a page look very busy.
With the benefit of some judicious pruning, the dialogue could sparkle. And with a good colorist, the artwork would come together.
A small but niggling detail are the costumes. I’m not sure what era inspired the world of Dark Souls and the clothing that appears simply confuses the matter further. People wear tunics, armor, what appears to be an evening dress suitable for a modern femme fatale and an outfit more in line with with a superhero comic than a medieval fantasy.
This comic fulfills the function of a first issue – it sets up the world, establishes a conflict and leaves the reader wanting more. I look forward to reading and possibly reviewing the 2nd and 3rd issues, which will hopefully develop the characters and story further.