As a sucker for anthologies, and especially horror anthologies, I had to read Are You Afraid of Darkseid?. Unsurprisingly, there are some stinkers, but overall, there are enough good bits to warrant a read. However, the price tag makes that bargain a little harder to make.
The central, self-titled story, “Are You Afraid of Darkseid?” opens this and recurs, starring the Teen Titans, written by Elliot Kalan with art by Mike Norton. This serves as chapter ends between stories…and it’s completely unnecessary. The banter isn’t funny, although it does show a strong sense of character in each of the Titans. There are setups that have sudden payoffs, especially regarding Roundhouse, and it has a tacked on “teamwork is magic” message at the end. The art is quite solid at rendering the characters, but the environment lacks detail and strong color work beyond having a bluish/purple sky and orange campfire for “spookiness.”
One of the better stories is “Bloody Mary” written by Kenny Porter and illustrated by Max Dunbar. A troupe of mischievous kids venture into a creepy hotel for kicks only to encounter a real monster with the help of Harley Quinn. While the art is too generic and bright (lacking shadow and mood) to push a horror tone, it has a cool premise done well despite too much dialogue. Action heavy, this issue’s visual flow can get a little crowded, although not intelligible.
Another solid entry is “Backseat Killer” with art by the iconic Rob Guillory and written by Calvin Kasulke. Story-wise, this is a pretty basic “Batman chases bad guy” premise with a lame non-twist. The real star of the show is Guillory, who showcases his most dynamic, flowing art to date. At this point, you could put him on a mainstream Batman comic and he’d be a great fit — no longer just a stiff, grungy Image artist on the sidelines of the industry.
“Escape the Dark Fortress” by Dave Wielgosz (writer) and Pablo M. Collar (artist) has a solid, character-revealing premise that pits John Stewart against a mind-bending entity. While the art is too digital and clean, Wielgosz uses this story as an opportunity to delve into Stewart’s past and place in the universe. And you have to appreciate that almost Grant Morrison level of defining character in such a short space of time.
While pretty, “The Endless Staircase,” illustrated by Jesus Hervas and written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, is overwritten to the point that its splash-tactic gimmick loses its luster quickly. I understood some of the lore references, but not all of them, so if you’re not fully on-top of DC insider info, you might be lost.
Delivering the Aquaman monster fights in “The Ogopogo”, Ed Brisson and Christopher Mitten sadly saddle this story with cheap “save the animals” mantras. The same preachy quality applies to the next story, “Black-Eyed-Kids” by Terry Blas and Garry Brown, which involves Wonder Woman rescuing poached animals that are disguised as demons…but also children? However, it’s worth a skim for Garry Brown’s scratchy figures that tear across the panels as if they want to crawl and jump out of the pages. Also, Marissa Louse kills it on a selective color palette.
Last but not quite least, “The Cellar” written by Jeremy Haun and pencilled by Tony Akins sends Superman and Lois Lane out to find missing girls locked in, well, a cellar. Akins brings both eerie and exciting images to life, balancing Superman and horror. Problems arise from the tone: despite the unsettling premise, Clark and Lois are all smiles and jokes the whole way through, which ends up being the creepiest element of all.
None of these stories are masterpieces, but Are You Afraid of Darkseid? is on whole a positive, pain-free experience to get you in the October mood even if each installment is bookended by inane Teen Titan banter.
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