Hark, the hapless Homeric herald returns! “A Dark Interlude,” which is most definitely not a sequel, drags us back through the trauma-limned looking glass into the Fearscape. Warning: mild spoilers ahead.
Script: Ryan O’Sullivan
Art: Andrea Mutti
Colors: Vladimir Popov
Letters: AndWorld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Calling him Homeric would likely piss off dear Henry Henry (hereafter HH) right off, so we’ll let it stand. He does deserve a bit of grief, mind, for murderous actions that will likely bear nasty fruit in this new jaunt. “A Dark Interlude” begins with a preface from HH penned from his speechless incarcerated state that definitely doesn’t incite anything in the text or reference anything in the meatspace that happened this year at all. Meanwhile, Jill’s care of the next incarnation of the Muse is questionable, and Arthur’s sister is scrambling to keep her job and convince HH to publish Terror Forming II. And something’s deeply amiss in the Fearscape itself, because it seems a previous scrivener of some repute hasn’t followed the archetypal script.
O’Sullivan knows how to funnel readers into a state of frustration and intrigue. He does this by introducing just enough plot underneath the bluster (not just HH’s, mind) to keep us flipping the pages. “A Dark Interlude” is a reminder of why “Fearscape” is good: it layers intrigue and mystery and banality on top of good, weird fantasy storytelling. There’s simplicity at its core that resonates emotionally beyond the twists and turns and references for the oh-so-clever of us to follow to … what, exactly? Exactly. The literary among us will rejoice, and O’Sullivan knows how to keep us guessing as to larger intent and narrative direction.
Mutti and Popov work together to create an almost seamless visual experience that grounds all that twistiness. There are some neat tricks in “A Dark Interlude,” like HH’s obscured face, often by word balloons but occasionally in a charcoal silhouette, that contrasts nicely with the Hero’s multicolored cubic pate. Our previous scrivener’s drained almost entirely of color but done in an almost shorthanded version of his century’s style, as Mutti understands how to include the most relevant detail and eschew frills. Mutti’s also good at diminishing background detail, and Popov picks out the montage of previous heroes in a litany of period-appropriate pops, along with the ever-present Fearscape-purple miasma. There’s a particular ballet in this piece that’s only accomplished because of the visual symmetry Mutti puts into the final layouts, and the entire experience is a visual, textual and even auditory extravaganza.
O’Sullivan clutters the page with HH’s tangled narration but keeps the other characters’ dialogue short and punchy. AndWorld’s clever font choice from “Fearscape” works well here, and HH’s narration boxes are shorter this time around but just as ponderous as they’re supposed to be. Mutti leaves good space with simple, grounded backgrounds and placement is on point. The balloon stroke is peaky and fountain-pen-esque, while the box stroke is more sure. The balloons over HH’s dome in the prison scene are clever and in line with some of the visual and lettering gags from “Fearscape.” While we don’t have sound effects in this or the original, it’s a good choice given all the dialogue layered on top of Mutti and Popov’s visuals. Finally, the introduction’s font choice makes it recognizable, and we need that clarity to carry off the piece’s meta-satire. That’s not to say it’s flip, rather that there’s a theme across the industry and the “Fearscape” universe in general at play here.
Overall, “A Dark Interlude” is a worthy companion – not a successor! – to “Fearscape,” and does good work to set up enough tension and intrigue to carry off another mini. We’re plunged back into the convoluted workings of a narcissistic mind or two, and there’s trouble in the violet-soaked imagination space that will, no doubt, come to quite a head over time. O’Sullivan, Mutti, Popov and Andworld do great work together, as they’ve done before, on this incisive and often viciously humorous look at art versus the art industry, and the pretensions and pretending that try to choke each into submission.
The Verdict: 9/10 – “A Dark Interlude” sets the stage for a twisty, engaging companion piece – not a sequel! – to “Fearscape.”