Dark Sector Zero
Written by David Wohl
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz
Letters by Troy Peteri
Top Cow Productions
Cover price: $2.99; On-sale: Dec. 12, 2007
Sienkiewicz, Sienkiewicz, Sienkiewicz.
Just saying the name out loud, it… well, it makes me scratch my head and google the damn thing because I’ve never really known how to pronounce it.
Bill Sienkiewicz (that’s “sin-KEV-itch” for the google-impaired) is a legend within the comics medium. His work on Marvel’s New Mutants in the early ’80s, followed by his groundbreaking work on Elektra: Assassin has pretty much cemented him in the comic book art hall of fame (should such a thing ever exist) as one of the most influential talents of our lifetime. Echoes of his moody, often chaotic art style can be found in the works of artists like Mark Texiera, Ashley Wood, and even Australian superstar Ben Templesmith. To many, Bill Sienkiewicz is a god.
But I… just… could never really get into him. I know, I know… A lot of you probably think me insane (and the rest of you are going, “Sinkewhatsit?”).
Before you take away my keyboard and hang a bell around my neck, making me wander the Internet muttering “Unclean” to anyone who may otherwise find value in my opinions, just hear me out! I respect the man, and I can see and appreciate how his work changed the industry, and brought comics a bit of the respectability it had been deprived of for so many years. I’m even a fan of the next generation of artists he influenced. Wood? Awesome. Templesmith? Love ’em. But, for some reason… I just couldn’t ever really get enthusiastic about the work of the man himself. Until — ironically — now.
Why ironic? Well, because this isn’t some grand independent work of his, or a return to the universe that launched his career… It’s a video game comic.
Dark Sector Zero documents the history of the fictional country of Lasria, the shining jewel of Eastern Europe, until it fell under the heel of first Nazi and then Soviet occupation in the 1940s. In the 1980s, a mysterious virus strikes Lasria, killing most of the people infected and transforming the rest into misshapen beasts that, in turn, attack others, spreading the virus further. (Starting to see where this is going?) The outbreak is eventually contained, and what remains of Lasria goes dark… until the virus strikes again.
The comic is essentially a twenty-two page advertisement for the Dark Sector video game. Though, unlike many other “Sneak Peak” comics that have paved the way before it, Dark Sector Zero” manages to get the formula right. Written by David Wohl (Witchblade), the issue does a good job of taking a story that consists of nothing but exposition and making it an interesting read. The larger plot of the game is given adequate set-up without any of it coming off that way until, of course, the very end… but I don’t really think there was a way to avoid that. The writing is solid and the book does the job it was created to do — it piques one’s interest about the video game (and, I must admit, the game does look damn cool).
Now, take Wohl’s decent script, which unfolds the story through narration, having each page represent a different snippet of Lasria’s timeline… and then add to it the artistic mind of Bill Sienkiewicz. This is the book — and I can still hear some of you cracking your knuckles and dangling that bell at me — *this* is the book that makes me sit up and say, “Hey, that Sienkiewicz guy ain’t half bad!” He does a truly excellent job of capturing the slowly evolving tone of the story, carrying Lasria from picturesque wonderland to the cold, haunted wasteland it’s become by the end of the book. Some images have the quality of a photograph weathered by age, while others are nothing but streaks of shadows and distorted imagery — just clear enough to give you an idea of what’s going on, just chaotic enough to make you wonder.
There is a disappointment factor, and it comes from the main purpose of the book. You see, I don’t read game magazines anymore, nor do I surf the web for information on what’s coming out. So, the existence of a Dark Sector video game came as a complete surprise to me. By the end of the issue, the intriguing backstory, with its mix of Cold War ops and X-Files freakiness had me kind of excited for later issues! And then… in the final pages… you realize it’s just a promo for the game.
The great failing of this issue is that it doesn’t fail at all. It’s the prologue to one of the coolest science fiction comics NEVER written. Instead, you’ll have the game to play… and that could be cool in its own right! But it’ll be an action game. Not the grey, gloomy, spooky mystery the comic sets up. And it won’t have Sienkiewicz’s artwork. So, alas, I sink back into my rut, having only experienced a brief glimpse of a story in which Bill’s art could truly stimulate me. Still, I’m sure there is plenty more brilliant work from him just around the corner.
In the meantime, what we’re given with Dark Sector Zero is a haunting, beautifully drawn, but ultimately disappointing lead-in tale. While the issue will probably be worth something to Sienkiewicz enthusiasts or fans of the game looking for every bit of merchandise they can find, the book’s strong beginning fizzles at the end when you realize it’s nothing more than a glorified commercial. Still, the creative effort is not to be ignored. I give it a B+.