By Ales Kot and Dean Ormston
There are times that all it takes to give a new world a try is something like The Darkness: Vicious Traditions. This issue is a one-shot story featuring a new writer to the property. The combination of the two give outsiders a chance to test the waters and see if the universe is one they might be able to invest in. With Vicious Traditions Ales Kot explores the true nature of war, violence, and human nature through the universe of The Darkness. Kot’s writing on his previous work is fantastic and this book is no different.
As the story opens, a being revives from battle as he reflects on the universe, death and man. The individual, in this story looking much the barbarian, is Jackie Estacado. Estacado is the person currently empowered by The Darkness, a power that provides him with many abilities. Estacado finds his way to a Roman Army encampment with a message for an officer of the army. Through some clues of how the man reacts to him, readers begin to understand that the power Estacado wields allows him to avoid death, though his enemy believes he is simply a brother of the man he had previously dispatched. Estacado warns the Roman that his mission is futile and that he should accept the offer to leave without provocation or battle.
A book that opens with the fallout of war, featuring such a dark character, is not one that a reader might expect to hear a stance against fighting. Estacado, here, is not a character of bloodlust, and instead seeks any scenario in which that may be avoided. Far from nonviolent, it is a curious position to be taking, and even the Roman points out such irony. Even still, Estacado warns against fighting and its inevitable destruction of all things. For a large portion of the issue, armed and dangerous characters of opposing sides talk in close quarters. It makes for a much stronger work that a one-shot story of brutality and gore. And when the book ultimately finds its characters locked in battle, the unstoppable nature of it makes all the more impact.
Dean Ormston’s art is very well handled. At several points, Estacado appears less a man and more a figure. It is a great visual for the warrior and makes his being all the more threatening. Without armor, and standing in the middle of the enemy encampment, this depiction makes Estacado seem to outweigh the shiny weaponry of the Roman Army and stand as the true threat. Moments of the book, with the character designs and coloring, look like panels that would be found amongst books within the Hellboy Universe. The muddied finish to the work compliments the narration Kot writes on the ugliness on display between humans.
The story is not one that shakes the ground. It is simplistic, in some ways, and ends almost as melancholic as it began. For something with such violence, the quiet of the book stands out the most. Kot’s narration through Estacado is incredibly poignant in The Darkness: Vicious Traditions. He brings a different lens to the world of fighting wars and national pride. He puts a face to the enemy and the almost unavoidable trajectory of mankind being at odds with each other and in that sense the story feels almost tragic. War is bloody and grim and violent. It is full of events and actions that, to create hero stories, almost feels perverse. Kot’s stance on such violence may be a different angle and subject matter than is typically found in the pages of The Darkness, but with Vicious Traditions, he is not shying away from such a viewpoint and it makes for a strong read even for readers who have never previously given The Darkness a try.