Title: The Darkness: Vicious Traditions (One-Shot)
Written By: Ales Kot
Art By: Dean Ormston
Cover By: Dale Keown
Published: March 5, 2014
Comics thrive on violence, yet violence itself is rarely the subject of the stories it features in. Instead, it’s just the way that characters express themselves. I, representing good, encounter you – and you sir, are clearly evil. Thus, we will fight, until one of us submits.That’s pretty much it most of the time.
Writer Ales Kot does not present violence in The Darkness: Vicious Traditions, a one-shot from Top Cow, in such a slight fashion. A warrior encounters a Roman soldier, and their combat is emblematic of the violence that they are immersed in thanks to…any reason, no reason. One represents an Empire, the other a tribe. Neither actually feels much connection to that greater body, they merely enact what is expected of them, because to do otherwise will alienate them from their people even if they were to go through with it.
Dean Ormston’s art is blunt and brutal, entirely appropriate for the story, somewhere between Mike Mignola and Frank Miller in its power and effect, and with an identity of its own that the artist has honed drawing Judge Dredd and a variety of Vertigo projects. The landscape is one of snow and bare trees, and in it men fight, dealing horrific violence upon one another and numb to the reality of what they’re doing. The Romans are crass in their humour about what they’re doing; the barbarians are stark in other ways, a twelve year old boy one of their warriors.
Where once Britain would have been the Empire represented by the Romans, now that role is with America, and it’s possible to see in this story echoes of conflicts since World War Two. But the ripples go back further than that, and – Kot implies through the canny way he’s structured the story – will repeat with the same or equivalent participants again, and again, and again. Which is not the message about violence that comics are usually associated with…even though at the same time it’s there in the cycle of combat that costumed characters are involved with every month.
Finding new ways to depict this dog-eat-dog stuff month by month gets tiring. When the frisson of tackling bad guys goes, it’s replaced with the bogus thrill of pitting hero against hero, whether in crude form – the classic misunderstandings that lead costumed characters to battle one another – or in the guise of something with a veneer of sophistication, such as Marvel’s Civil War. Rarely, for all the effort expended, does it have any weight to it. Steve Gerber sent it all up in the seventies with his classic Howard The Duck text issue, deconstructing the comic to announce that he was delivering the story’s requisite two fights and a chase sequence with conflict between a Las Vegas chorus girl and a sentient lampshade. Kot is playing a different game here, and it’s to his credit that it doesn’t come across as one – there’s a weariness about what’s going on here which isn’t just a commentary on the comics industry’s reliance on blood, but a response to Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine.
Alan Moore was celebrated for the finger-snapping sequence in Watchmen, which in a medium where spaceships are exploded without a moment’s thought and clone armies despatched by death rays just like that was one way to look at the mechanics of inflicting pain on another person in a way that engaged the reader at a visceral and emotional level. Here, Kot and Ormston convey the futility and pointlessness of most fighting without ever using trite words like futility and pointlessness, and that’s an unexpected thing to see, and just one of the reasons this comic is worth checking out.