Back from the dead, Dark Horse’s The Occultist entertains and brings a retro levity to the horror/superhero genre, but struggles to stand out from the pack.
Formerly the basis of a 2010 one-shot (and 2011 miniseries), The Occultist has returned to Dark Horse Comics in an all-new ongoing penned by Mike Richardson and Tim Seeley. College student Rob Bailey has been entrusted with the Sword, a grimoire of nigh-infinite mystical power. And if you possess the Sword, it is your duty to take down whatever magical nasties and big-bads show up — if you can figure out exactly how, that is. This first issue wastes no time jumping right into the story, and while readers of the our hero’s previous exploits will likely have no trouble picking up on things, it may be a little confusing for those who aren’t familiar with the earlier publications.
The tone of The Occultist, and in fact nearly everything else about it, is very much in the old school Marvel tradition, covering every department from the characterization to (in many cases) the dialogue. For those who like their comics, and in particular their horror comics, on the edgier side of things, this might be a distraction, but overall it isn’t as much a distraction as it could have been.
The art, by ex-Runaways and Gravity artist Mike Norton, is elegant in its simplicity, and very nicely colored (by Allen Passalaqua). The action is well choreographed, and Norton’s style isn’t the sort that ever lets you get confused about who is who. While the art may not be a huge part of the book’s appeal, Norton’s work has just enough of a unique flair to deflect any accusations of genericness. He does his job to help tell the story, and he does it well.
Branded (perhaps unimaginatively) by Norton as “What if Peter Parker became Dr. Strange,” The Occultist does manage to be more than a mish-mash of superhero pastiches, but only just barely. The relationship between Bailey and Detective Anna Melendez is closer to the well-known buddy cop formula than the traditional stock role of the sidekick. The comic has a wry sense of humor, too, that occasionally borders more on tongue-in-cheek Piers Anthony-style comedy than the retro-camp goofiness you might expect. When the action heats up, though, it’s all too easy to see this as just another derivative superhero title. Those who enjoyed the character’s past adventures, or fans of lighthearted horror in general, will want to check this out, but for those with darker tastes this might be an easy pass.
Mike Richardson, Tim Seeley (W), Mike Norton (A) • Dark Horse Comics, $3.50, October 2, 2013