The first issue of a new series is as much about not giving away why you should be reading the book as it is trying to keep you doing just that. Nobody wants to be completely spoiled on a horror movie’s villain based solely on the pre–credits kill. You can’t show off too much of Pumpkinhead before meeting Ed Harley, so don’t expect to be meeting the force–natural or otherwise–that is to become the antagonist of Vertigo’s The Dark and Bloody just yet, either.

The Dark and Bloody - Escaped

“This ain’t about cruelty–it’s about survival”

Issue one of The Dark and Bloody is very much the lead–up to a title sequence, and, like Pumpkinhead, this appears to be shaping up into a tale of backwoods vengeance. We open on protagonist Iris Gentry in Black Lick Hollow, Kentucky, at the age of seven, as he is forced to dispose of a sack of something better left unseen. Iris, in direct opposition to the images evoked by his name, will spend much of a life that takes him to far away Iraq and back again not looking. As his father once told him, “This ain’t about cruelty–it’s about survival,” and say what you will about Iris Gentry, but he has proven himself to be a survivor. He’s even managed to make a family of his own in his wife, Sarah, and his son, Shiloh. The proverbial sacks he has had to avoid looking into to stay alive are thus far a mystery, but judging by the appearance of Shiloh’s unexpected new friend, a girl named Ayah, they are likely not to remain that way much longer.

The Dark and Bloody - Open

Writer Shawn Aldridge, author of Vic Boone, presents an introduction deep in metaphor that is, at times, quite blunt with its symbolism. Though, narrative wise, the first issue is a bit of a tease, there is much that can be drawn from it. Iris, the Greek Goddess of Rainbows, is an unusual namesake for a male protagonist, issues of eyes and sight notwithstanding. Gentry is a deeply religious man, and rainbows can also mean something else if you read your Old Testament: a promise to never again take lives. In Ayah we find another loaded name, this time taken from the Quran, meaning “proof of God.” Draw your own conclusions as to the plot which is to unfold here. The writing is plain and unpoetic, which is as it should be. Still, it would be nice to get a better feel for the characters’ personalities than “repentant Christian,” “drunk veteran,” or “disapproving wife.”

You never quite get the flavor of backwoods stagnation and grime the story would have you feel.

Scott Godlewski, artist on the sci-fi western Copperhead, is perhaps a dissonant element in this mix. His art is fun and cartoonish, if a bit by–the–numbers, and hardly serves to instill a sense of the horror which is to unfold. You never quite get the flavor of backwoods stagnation and grime the story would have you feel. One skill Godlewski excels at, however, is showing the effects of age, action, and life in general on the features of his characters. Though these characters may be broad, you never doubt that they have all seen things they wish they hadn’t in one way or another
The Dark and Bloody - Tradition

Ultimately, the sum total of The Dark and Bloody’s first issue is the first five minutes of a competent, yet unremarkable horror movie. At the end of the day, there is just not a lot here to recommend or criticize. Taken alone, this issue has almost no meat to it. Whether or not the following issues can provide a little flesh for these bones remains to be seen.

The Dark and Bloody: Issue 1. By Shawn Aldridge. Illustrated by Scott Godlewski. Vertigo Comics, February 10th, 2016.