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Darkminds: Paradox

Pat Lee is the man who brought the recent wave of '80s nostalgia in comic books, with his labor-of-love work on Transformers. While he deserves a swift beating with a sack of oranges for subjecting the world to a comic book version of Thundercats and a revival of the G.I. Joe comics as a result, Lee has his charming qualities. He's not a bad artist; pretty decent one might say, and even "groundbreaking" back in the '90s when his Anime-American hybrid style made one of the first successful attempts to bridge the gaps between American comics and Japanese comics in recent memory.

The book that brought Lee to noted fame was Darkminds: a mixture of good-old detective storytelling and the cyber-punk genre. In its day, it was considered a pretty good book, even warranting a crossover with Top Cow's lauded (but honestly crap) Witchblade.

So, since I never picked up the book in issue form, I figured I'd give it a shot. I ended up with a pretty package, halfway decent story, and an ending that doesn't do the book a lot of credit.

Darkminds is the story of the search for a serial killer called Paradox. Bodies are left all around town, mutilated, with no signs of murder, possessed of exploded spines and eyeballs or self-inflicted mortal wounds, as well as no trace of the killer. Detective Tedeshi Nagawa has been on the case for two years with no luck. That is, until he's paired with Akane Nakiko, a cyborg with the ability to "psi-scan" the minds of the dead and see their final images or thoughts (how a cyborg accomplishes this feat is never really explained).

But even with Nakiko's help, Nagawa is no closer to finding Paradox, until he becomes embroiled in the conspiracy surrounding Nakiko, the corporate rivalry between Aurora Industries and Atlas Technology, and a motorcycle gang called the Neon Dragons.

The art is Lee's strongpoint, but I can say that this book represents his earlier, unpolished work. While Lee has a knack for depicting high technology and shows a good use of different perspectives that help to keep the panels and visual for interesting and dynamic, his anatomy and facial expressions are terrible. I'm a big fan of breasts. Heck, who isn't nowadays? But Lee draws Nakiko with fairly large breasts that defy gravity in a way that makes Pam Anderson jealous. Not only that, but he keeps drawing them in positions as if they're pushed up or in or to the side, when Nakiko is just standing. Unless there's a servomotor in there, it's just bad anatomical correctness on Lee's part.

Also, his faces are too similar. This isn't just Lee's problem but one that is pervasive throughout manga and Amerimanga, but the fact that the entire book is in crisp and vibrant color (except for the faces, which are all a pallid gray) is supposed to help in the identification process. It doesn't. More than once, characters got confused (Nagawa for the gang leader Neon was a constant mix-up for me).

The story itself isn't bad. Adrian Tsang shares writing duties and helps to craft a decent and pretty suspenseful story. There's a well-paced build-up to Nakiko's past and her involvement with the Neon Dragons, and Tsang and Lee give her a personality while still remembering that she's a cyborg, and therefore divest of an overabundance much emotion. The investigative side of the comic is handled well-enough; not reaching the level of detail that Bendis is known for, but accurate enough to entertain fans of Law & Order. Nagawa is a great "frustrated over-worked cop" and the writers use him well when paired with Nakiko.

The ending revelation about Paradox is…just not that satisfying compared to the level of writing of the other mysteries and subplots in the book. I chalk it up to this being one of Lee and Tsang's first forays into writing.

Darkminds is an okay book with okay art. Warlands and Transformers are better representations of what Lee can do in comics. The book collects the entire first volume of the series and it's printed on that glossy paper that makes a book feel good and heavy. Image is charging you a whopping $19.95 for the book, with only a little cover/pin-up gallery in the back as an extra, so it's a book that you can miss without too much lamentation, and you should only pick it up if you're already a fan of Lee's stuff from Dreamwave Productions.

Robert Sparling

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