Dark Ages #1 Review

by Charles Martin on September 01, 2021

Dark Ages #1 Review
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Iban Coello
Colourist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It's been a hot minute since Tom Taylor got to helm a Marvel comic, and now he comes roaring back with Dark Ages #1. 

Right from the outset, this comic artfully sets itself up as a "What If?"-style alternate universe. This is done in a nice show-don't-tell fashion by having Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and their daughter Dani meet up for a pizza party with the Parkers: Peter, MJ, and their daughter May.

But this isn't a cozy story about family relationships. Well, it is, a little, but it's mainly not that. There's apocalyptic danger in the offing, and it doesn't take long to make itself felt. Everybody with Spider-Sense -- Peter and May as well as non-Parkers like Miles Morales and Gwen-65 -- feels a terrible storm brewing.

Long story short, there's a cosmic nasty imprisoned inside the Earth and it's starting to wake up, threatening doom for entire galaxies. Spidey books it to the Baxter Building to spectate as the Fantastic Four (plus Moon Girl) figure out the problem and assemble a team to deal with it.

But Spider-Man isn't part of that team. He's relegated to the sidelines as other heroes descend into the Earth's core to face the boogeyman, and he narrates the terrible toll paid both inside the planet and on its surface. There are a lot of hero deaths here and a lot of catastrophic damage.

Dark Ages certainly doesn't scrimp in the casting department; Mr. Taylor pulls in tons of great characters. (That includes a few panels of his fave Wolverines, Laura and Gabby Kinney.) And Apocalypse is slated for a major role moving forward; that brings up some fascinating questions about how much, if any, of Jonathan Hickman's new Krakoan continuity applies here.

On the visual side of things, artist Iban Coello and colourist Brian Reber certainly do their utmost to sell this as a desperate fight for the fate of the universe. Mr. Coello's detailed, slightly retro character designs reach their zenith during the epic fight inside the Earth, making the issue's allotment of deaths feel perhaps even more impactful than they deserve.

Mr. Reber helps the panels along with carefully coordinated colouring, injecting useful depth into Mr. Coello's art and helping to organize this fast-paced story by differentiating the scenes with distinctive palettes.

Even though this comic does a great job of telling a dire end-of-the-world story, I can't give it a full thumbs-up endorsement. The reason why is simple: This issue is just a prologue. Dark Ages isn't about those poor doomed heroes fighting a cosmic baddie at the center of the Earth; this series is about what comes next.

With their great sacrifices, the heroes do defeat "The Unmaker" inside the Earth. Dark Ages is really about the fallout that comes after their victory. Peter Parker is our narrator all the way through, and his final pages are telling: He explicitly waves us through a seven-year time-skip.

Even before that jump, there's an unshakeable feeling of historical exposition to this story. Peter's telling us about set-in-stone events that happened in the past, and that distance does severe damage to our engagement with what we're reading. No matter how dramatically this event changed the world, no matter how high the body count was, it all unfolds as a fait accompli.

Dark Ages #1 is a strongly-illustrated tale about how the Marvel universe -- or at least one version of it -- ends in apocalyptic chaos. It does an impressive job of establishing a new status quo and lays the groundwork for interesting stories to come. But its matter-of-fact, past-tense tone robs this apocalypse of its full measure of drama. This series may well progress into greatness as it continues, but even if it does, this initial chapter is destined to go down as an awfully dry prologue.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
Lukewarm as I am about this comic overall, I have to admit that any story that gives us a Peter Parker daughter is gonna tickle my fancy.