Pullbox Reviews: The Dark Age – What happens when metal turns to dust?

  • The Dark Age
  • Red 5 Comics
  • Created & Written by Don Handfield
  • Art by Leonard Rodrigues
  • Colors by Dijjo Lima
  • Letters by DC Hopkins
  • Cover Art by Nicholas Ely
  • Edited by Todd Smith
  • Issue #1 available now, #2 available September 4th

Featured on Free Comic Book Day, from the creator of The Rift! In the near future all metal on earth suddenly turns to worthless piles of rust and dust. With no technology, no guns, no computers, humanity reverts to a violent feudal system. Each pocket of civilization is ruled by knights of wood & glass & concrete. This is the new Dark Age.

(Review covers issues 1 & 2, but we didn’t have any cover art or preview pages from the second issue… All images are from issue #1)

On the day the “fan turned to shit”, all of the metal in the world disintegrated. The Doomsday Preppers believed that salvation would depend on canned food stored in underground steel bunkers. Survivalists stockpiled weapons and ammunition, thinking that the concept of “less is more” was for losers. They all starved when all of their work turned to dust around them. In the end, the earth was inherited by history buffs, and the truly dedicated Ren Faire enthusiasts. Stone arrowheads and wooden clubs became the tools on which survival would depend.

Ethan, a former archeology teacher turned leader, has forged a semblance of order out of the chaos. With his daughter Jonnie and son Jonah at his side, he’s fought- and killed- until the newly founded United States of Canada provided a foundation on which the hope of civilization could be built. For years, the largest threat to that order came from the “Porkers” (eaters of the “long pig”), a savage society of cannibals taking up residence in the ruins of New York in the name of their Blue God.

Now, however, a new threat is rearing up, looking to challenge what Ethan and his people have built. With an eye toward taking back the country under the banner of the United Empire of America, this force is well-armed and determined. Their weaponry might have once served on the paintball courses of old, but now their projectiles can crack a rib. Possibly more disturbing, the armor for these forces appears to be made from a thin plastic, but can be sealed against airborne dangers. If the UEA has rediscovered biological warfare, Ethan and his family will have a new kind of fight on their hands.

We’ve all seen the post-apocalyptic story done many, many… so many times. Back in the 80’s, it was a staple for the action movie industry that leaned into the relatively low production cost needed to cover hockey pads and baseball bats. A lot of it was awful, but some of it touched on the right balance of story and action to live on in the collective consciousness (yeah, talking about you, Max). Likewise in comicbooks, the post-apocalyptic has been visited and re-visited every few years whenever the trend came back around. While comics never had to worry about special effects, or the eternal debate over CGI vs practical, it has gotten tough to hit on a story that steps out ahead of the herd.

Don Handfield has managed it. The Dark Age embraces everything that’s cool in the genre, and Handfield has managed to find some new ways of playing with familiar themes rather than trying to avoid them. Come on… you can’t have this kind of story without cannibals, so you have to give them a different spin. And It can’t have been easy, finding new ways to arm the survivors after all the world’s metal was reduced to sand. To do it, he turned to some advisors for that most elusive item in comics: believability. Credited with the assist are Jay Handfield, Professor William Schindler (Anthropology & Archeology, Washington College), Pat Naeve (PHD student of Medieval Studies, Cornell University), & Dr. John Lucas (Medical Consultant). Their input, no doubt, was meant to lend some credibility to the themes and tactics used in The Dark Age, and so far as I’m concerned the extra effort is well worth it. The most noteworthy tact taken by Handfield is that he focuses in a bit more on his characters instead of relying on the spectacle of the setting. Ethan himself is a pretty straight forward guy, whose losses have created a very pragmatic “deeds, not words” sort of fellow. Jonnie is the line-blurring daughter who refuses to stay down, meeting all hurdles with a quip & a ruthless streak a mile wide. Jonah, born immediately after the Dusting (my term, not Handfield’s), doesn’t know anything but the world around him, but still has it in him to hope for the best out of humanity.

Bringing this new/old world to life on the page, the artistic team of Leonard Rodrigues & Dijjo Lima had their work cut out for them. Handfield’s concept involved horse-mounted knights, wearing non-metallic armor repurposed mainly from the local sporting goods store and armed with only slightly more modern versions of weapons invented by the Maori warriors of the Pacific Islands. Regardless of how much creative input the writer has for the visual department, it still falls to the artists to make the world look good and, for the most part in this case, believable. Let’s face it, Handsfield has gone to great lengths to give his story a degree of logic and credibility. The whole thing would fall apart if Rodrigues just armed everyone with swords and Lima colored them to look like wood. No shortcuts for either of them, and it adds quite a bit to the book’s appeal.

In the lettering, DC Hopkins has done a solid job of keeping the work low key and easy to follow. Too often, a letterer will try to use fancy fonts to make their work pop, but it often winds up being hard to make out. Other times- way too often so far as I’m concerned- word balloons are placed oddly and it’s difficult to figure out what order the dialogue needs to follow (come on, how hard is it to remember “left to right”?). Hopkins has everything laid out with what may be a lack of flair, but the end result is that the story is told and the art is allowed to flow without interruption or distraction.

Fans of titles like The Realm (Image Comics), any one of the countless novels out there, and any movie with the words “Mad” & “Max” in the title should already be reading The Dark Age. And if you’ve been reading The Dark Age, I just have to ask why no one bothered to clue me into this great title from Red 5 Comics? Seriously, guys… this is two issues in and I’m just now finding out?

Okay, that’s it. I’m fine… we’re cool.

Final Score: 8

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