Marvel Comics strives to replicate DC Comics’ surprise hit DCeased with another dark and deadly take on their own iconic superhero universe from writer Tom Taylor. Dark Ages #1 takes all of Marvel’s most popular heroes and plunges them into a world without any electrical power, a catastrophe with surprising effects on many of those heroes. Yet the debut is essentially all prologue narrating the world’s fall. It introduces a new threat and a core cast of characters to trace this new status quo, but barely considers the question of why readers should concern themselves with all of it beyond the recognizable faces stuffed inside.
The cause and effects of the Earth’s fall in Dark Ages are largely disconnected. A spread introduces readers to The Unmaker—an unnecessary, new Marvel cosmic entity designed as if it were a visual gag about Justice League’s Steppenwolf simply being insufficiently large and spiky—after nearly 10 pages foreshadowing how powerful it is. The Unmaker isn’t the threat of this story, but the source of its premise as it eventually produces a scenario ending the output of all electricity on our planet. It is an intriguing “what if,” but certainly not one requiring so extensive a prologue that the story only arrives in the final few pages.
Following Spider-Man through this elongated introduction adds little to the proceedings. Many of the pages are dominated by a splash panel (or entire page) that cannot justify its corresponding real estate. Artist Iban Coello delivers lots of familiar faces standing or floating about in this space or another vision of villains who are either unmemorable or made much more intriguing appearances in other recent comics events. This is a story that sprawls but fails to earn all of the space occupied for the relatively minor additions made on each page.
Taylor has deservedly received recognition for his ability to distill iconic characters in series like Injustice and DCeased, but in these pages Marvel’s icons feel removed from the specificity which often provides them purpose and weight. What’s more is that where the DC universe can be boiled down to a big “Three” or “Seven” for spectacle, using a handful of characters in this kick off makes the entire world seem far too small. Character deaths are made out as head-scratchers, rather than tragedies, and the entire affair seems like it could have been accomplished with far more style in three pages rather than thirty.
That the consequences of all this prologue remain unclear, or even impenetrable, when the cliffhanger arrives suggests that this is not simply a mistart. Electricity has only been essential to human technology and progress for slightly more than a century, yet the finale of this issue wants to embrace the same apocalyptic tone that comes with recent films like Army of the Dead or A Quiet Place without connecting points A and B. In 6-issue miniseries this disconnect undermines what space remains to establish and tell a clear disaster narrative no matter how clearly Coello can detail a single moment of terror or jubilation. Regardless of how well past events have functioned, Dark Ages #1 reads most like a parable about lightning striking twice.
Published by Marvel Comics
On September 1, 2021
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Iban Coello
Colors by Brian Reber
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by Iban Coello and Frank D’Armata