Dinosaurs in Tasmania?
Thirty Years in the Making
The publishing history of Tad Pietrzykowski’s iconic Aussie superhero is long… and short.
As detailed in a previous review, The Dark Nebula first appeared in 1982, spent the next decade appearing in various titles under the Cyclone banner (including eight issues of his own title), then… he went away. In the next three decades, the alter ego of Mark Medula would appear only on the web and in one print appearance in the Decay horror anthology series from DarkOz Comics. International recognition was born through the web appearances and a series of trade paperback reprints – but no new comics were published.
So what happened?
In the foreword to The Dark Nebula #10, Blaire Wentworth explains why The Dark Nebula stopped, and how and why he came back. It’s an interesting story, touching on the vagaries of independent publishing and the power of the American publishing giants. I will leave that to the reader. Suffice to say: he’s back. And he means to stay.
The Story: There Are What in Where Now?
Dinosaurs. In Tasmania. Well, why not? Can you think of a nicer place to hide for 65 million years? Tasmania, of course, has a history of people hunting for creatures long thought extinct, a well-known example being mentioned briefly in this tale. Additionally, with its vast areas of pristine wilderness and its relative isolation, Tasmania exudes enough of an exotic aura to be the perfect location for such a tale.
Mark Medula, his wife Ann and their son Josh are not in Tasmania to find dinosaurs. They simply want peace and a break from the demands of the superhero life. A chance to be people. What better place than a quiet little town in the Tassie lakes district? What could go wrong?
This particular quiet little town seems to be anything but. The town is buzzing with activity as an assortment of dinosaur hunters prepare for their shot at the local beast. After some interplay between these groups and a rather bemused local park ranger, the various hunting groups roar off in great haste, leaving an equally bemused Mark and Ann in their wake. Part of Mark’s pondering relates to the oddly familiar park ranger, setting up a thread that will be tugged at later.
Now, every comic book series that means to stick around needs to start planting the seeds of future plot developments. A brief interlude follows, setting the scene for future developments, while reminding us that our hero is in fact a cosmic hero. We briefly meet ‘characters’, for want of a better word, from The Dark Nebula’s past, with a strong suggestion that they will play a part in his future.
Digression over and future setups dealt with, we now return to the main story. The balance of the tale is a series of somewhat amusing and misdirecting encounters between Mark and Ann, the various hunters and several potential dinosaurs.
At every turn, Mark’s and Ann’s desire for a peaceful break is thwarted. Seemingly everybody looking for the dinosaur finds a way to cross the paths of our increasingly frustrated heroes. In the midst of this, Pietrzykowski sets up a neat little joke that is left subtly hanging, only to rear its head much later when perhaps forgotten by the reader.
Inevitably, the combination of frustration for Mark, and a clear threat to his family, unleashes his alter ego. The Dark Nebula has had enough and sorts out the situation in next to no time. Nobody here is even close to a match for our hero and all are dealt with accordingly.
But what about our interlude? What about the oddly familiar park ranger?
This mystery and that at the heart of the story are both resolved with the reappearance of a character from The Dark Nebula’s past.
As mentioned before, the brief interlude in the middle of this tale seems designed to set the scene for future events. Indeed, in the epilogue to our tale, the planted seeds are watered and begin to germinate. After pausing to bring home the joke set up many pages earlier, a dramatic final-page follow-up to the earlier interlude leaves the reader hanging, eagerly awaiting the next issue.
Story and Art
In contrast to the previous issue, comprising a large array of talent, The Dark Nebula #10 is the work of three people. Tad Pietrzykowski is the writer and Shane Foley the artist, with Dave de Vries assisting on design, lettering, cover colouring and other unspecified tasks.
Tad has packed a lot into a story that runs for twenty seven pages. An elaborate main story, with enough twists and turns to hold the reader’s interest, is spliced nicely with prelude, interlude and epilogue. The prelude frames our main story, while the interlude and epilogue (tantalisingly labelled “epilogue/prologue”) begin the setup of future tales. With a lot to cover, the temptation for a writer is to write a lot. Here, although there is much to say, Tad strikes the required balance, helped to some degree by deft placement of dialogue balloons.
Cover and interior art are by Foley. Particularly notable in Foley’s work here is his flexibility when it comes to panel detail. When elaborate backgrounds are required for atmosphere or plot advancement, then just the right amount of detail is provided. In panels that are more character-driven, backgrounds simplify and, in some cases, disappear. The result is an effective channelling of reader focus to the important elements in the scene. Line work is clean and clear and action is nicely conveyed by a combination of panel layout and visual effects.
The ultimate proof of the success of both writer and artist is that a very eventful story with a great deal of required exposition feels neither rushed nor crowded.
The return of a comic title after a very long hiatus poses special challenges. It must, firstly, be able to be read and enjoyed by the new reader. It must be true to its history and thus satisfy the returning fan base. And it must be a bridge from that history to the future, so that readers new and old will gladly continue the journey.
This reviewer is in the curious position of being both old and new reader, having read the original graphic novel on its release and then missed virtually all subsequent appearances. From this perspective, it is clear that The Dark Nebula #10 has met the three challenges well. An all-new adventure is interspersed with a brief refresher on past events and a glimpse of things to come. One possible quibble is that little time is given to introducing characters to new readers. But that is very much a trend in modern comics and, in this case, the slow reveal of our main character will likely enhance the sense of mystery for the new reader.
The Dark Nebula is back and there is plenty to look forward to for new reader and veteran alike.