Darkest Hour

"Survival is the issue..." — Arturo.

Review by Mike Truman


A-
Great

Like most of the comics, this story is a strange one. It posits that the vortex not only opens a portal between universes, but individual portals inside each Slider. Thus, subordinate personality traits can rise to the forefront and result in altered — not parallel — versions of each person. If you buy it, this is an engaging work. If you don’t buy it, it’s still pretty damn good.

The three-part saga opens with the disgraced Zercurvians from Armada slowly wasting away in the space between dimensions. With no hope left, the Zercurvian leader focuses on revenge. He fails in trapping the Sliders in the void, but is he able to transfer his hate into them. Once this admittedly ludicrous leap is made, the story is set to take off.

Bad traits start to manifest themselves when Quinn swipes a jar of pennies from a kid running a lemonade stand. One slide later, Wade crosses the line violently and decks a litterbug. Rembrandt, tempted with eternal good looks, betrays his friends. Arturo, searching for his due, takes over a group of Ronin. Sometimes they come to their senses before it’s too late; most of the time Quinn has to save them from themselves. The last slide starts off as potentially the worst yet when they land in the Bennish Empire, only to find the space cadet is throwing a toga party. Here comes the biggest shock yet — they’re home.

Oh cruel fate! To find the right spatial dimension while in the wrong individual one! Being home brings none of them any comfort as their behavior grows increasingly erratic and violent. Fearing their own self-destruction, Quinn works out a way to slide them back to themselves, but to do so they’ll have to enter the vortex again. Quinn attempts to rebound them back home but the device fails. They emerge themselves, but completely lost.

Unlike some previous entries, “Darkest Hour” succeeds in balancing the needs for comic book action with strong character development. Having three issues instead of two to work with certainly helped. The pacing is just right. As a reader, we’re not being blitzed from one KRA-KOOOM to another. There’s time for thoughtful reflection, and that’s necessary for this piece to work. The drama is not necessarily in what’s happening at the moment, but what might happen as our heroes sink deeper and deeper into darkness.

All four heroes, loveable that they are, having glaring character flaws. Arturo’s are closer to the surface than the rest, so he seems the least affected. When he does give in to his impulses, they almost seem rational. The rest can be a bit more jarring. Rembrandt is undoubtedly vain, but his giving nature offsets his self-centered worldview. When it becomes all about him, it gets scary. While there is a devil tempting him, even the devil is shocked by the lengths Rembrandt takes to ensure he gets what he wants.

Wade never dominates the story, but her outbursts are shocking. She’s always felt powerless and that manifests itself as a blind rage that can be set off at any moment. Her flower pot job could have killed a normal human, and she ends up taking a fire extinguisher to her former employer. Like a zealot, the world becomes black and white to her and woe unto the wrong color.

That leaves Quinn, who is the only character that I felt was misrepresented. In some respects, his weaknesses are similar to Wade’s and I suppose the writer wanted some differentiation. The things that plague him are the loss of his father and the isolation of his childhood. I fail to see why that would make him petty or greedy. His obsession with the pennies makes little sense as it’s not something we’ve ever seen inside him. More in character (in an out-of-character sense) is his hitting on Wade, which he manages to get out of without extreme violence inflicted upon him.

In addition to a great character piece, the story is helped by outstanding alternate worlds. Usually the two do not go hand in hand. Watch most of the great character episodes and the alt-world is usually muted or unseen (although in fairness, that’s true too here as one of the worlds turns out to be home.) The world I wish to focus on is the robotic world dominating the middle of the story, as it’s easy to envision a future where humans become increasingly synthetic. Where is the line between man and machine? These machines are run by human brains. They are not artificial intelligences, just artificial bodies. Other humans have digitized themselves and now roam the expanses of the internet. Plenty of dystopian novels have written futures where humans are eternally plugged into one central hub, but not like this.

In addition, we get another bonus world where Japanese culture dominates the Pacific Northwest, if not the entire country. I regret that it’s a throwaway world that is not explored beyond the confines of a sandbox. Still, it is far preferable to the abomination that opens the comic. The kid Quinn steals money from is none other than Vern Tessio of Castle Rock. Yes, we know Jerry O’Connell was the fat kid in Stand By Me. We don’t need to beat him over the head with it, and we certainly don’t have to slide to fictional realms to bludgeon the point.

But that’s petty quibbling. If you want a real complaint, it’s probably the inclusion of home. If the comic universe and the television universe are one and the same, it’s hard to include something of that magnitude when you know the television show will never reference it. Could the story have been resolved without it? Yes. Would it have been as poignant? Perhaps not, but sometimes those are the sacrifices that must be made. I recall being annoyed they made it home the first time I read the comic; that complaint has been tempered somewhat since. It’s just such a good effort by all involved that I’m willing to let a lot of things — Zercurvians, individual dimensions, etc. — slide that I would not in a lesser performance.

Notes on the Artwork

Outstanding, particularly the second issue “Dimensional Shadows.” Despite the use of multiple pencilers, the comic remains a pretty consistent look. There is a significant exception. The final pages of the Japanese adventure look like we’ve temporarily left the Sliders universe and entered a Peanuts strip. It’s jarring, but it’s over quickly.

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