The opening of Dark Ages #1 reminds me of one of those grim, early ’80s revisionist medieval films whose fantasy elements were equally dark, weird, and foreboding. Technically, with its onslaught of alien (I think) invaders, Dark Ages is more sci-fi than swords and sorcery, but you get the drift. This aliens vs. knights scenario feels oppressively doomed (in a good way), one of those stories where a handful of badasses are unlikely to survive the horrible thing that’s coming, but they’ll at least hurt it before all is said and done.
For the first few pages, writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard keep us cold and in the muck with the wandering band of mercenary soldiers, led by Captain Hawkherst: they’re starving, cold, and hoping to make their way to France to earn some money cutting up rivals for the throne. But when a meteor crashes near their camp, unleashing something out of Lovecraft, they’re counting their dead and forced to flee to a nearby monastery.
If that description seems thin, the first issue isn’t quite that: Abnett gives us some time with Hawkherst and his men – completely unsentimental knights, all scars and talk about killing. Abnett wisely doesn’t play them as monsters, instead making his mercenaries professionals who are just very, very proficient at murder for hire.
Hawkherst in particular is a fascinating figure: Culbard portrays him as a thin, bearded, serious man. His cheeks and eyes are sunken with age and hunger (a common trait in his camp), so he looks like something out of a sad Arthurian legend. That we don’t get to know much about any of the other mercenaries beyond Hawkherst and his right hand Lucifer is maybe the one flaw of Dark Ages, because at some point, we’re probably going to want to care about the rest of the cannon fodder about to face their doom.
If you need a hook for Dark Ages, think of it as something from the Mignolaverse where it turns out the horrors from beyond the stars are weird space monsters. Abnett and Culbard play up the horror of that first attack with fire and terror for Hawkherst and his men, the kind of thing that wouldn’t be out of place in the opening act of a B.P.R.D. story. The duo, then, are in good company because I love the hell out of some B.P.R.D..
This first issue is well worth checking out – the tone is just right, the violence is chaotic, jarring, and well-executed, and there’s a tease at the end of the book that leads me to think Captain Hawkherst and the other survivors are in for something even worse next issue.