Dai Dark, published by Seven Seas, is the latest manga from Q Hayashida (Dorohedoro), which is as silly and frivolous as it is morbid and bleak. Dai Dark follows Zaha Sanko, a nearly seven foot tall teenager with a gift that’s also a curse. Zaha, who comes from a world on the other side of black holes known as Darknest, possesses superhuman strength and the ability to control Dark Flesh, but everyone in the known universe wants him dead because Zaha’s bones will grant any wish to whoever claims them. Constantly beset by trouble, Zaha’s mission in life is to kill whoever put this sort of bounty on his head so Zaha can live in peace. Set in the darkest reaches of space, Dai Dark is technically a “sci-fi” story in the sense that there’s space ships, interplanetary travel, and aliens, but Hayashida clearly plays by her own rules as far as the aesthetics or logic go.
This is a world where ghosts and aliens exist side by side, and the occult governs life as much as science. A lot of times when you see this sort of blending of supernatural and science fiction elements the story is meant to highlight how these two aspects are at odds with each other. To this day, people will die on the incredibly dumb hill that horror and sci-fi are oil and water and cannot mix. Hayashida’s world does not see these elements as at odds with each other. Yes, you need a suit and oxygen to survive in the vacuum of space, but you can also graft two extra heads to your own in case you get lonely or get turned into a slithering monster if you get sucked into a black hole. Rather than a blaster or other futuristic weaponry, Zaha uses a hatchet like a slasher villain. Hayashida’s emulsion of science fiction and fantasy elements is completely matter of fact, and doesn’t feel like it needs overwrought explanation for while the world is like this. This is a universe governed by cruelty and decay and for some reason feels more relatable than a lot of comics that are supposed to be about the real world. Much like Dorohedoro everything has a palpable layer of grime, and much of the architecture of ships and buildings evokes a combination of cancerous internal organs and dilapidated apartment complexes.
Zaha’s only friends are his sentient backpack and a demon (more on them later), and he is perpetually on the run from people that want to kill and skin him. Given the setting and the predicament of our hero, at a glance it would seem like this is a very dour and bleak comic, but Q Hayashida has a sense of humor that really elevates the story. Zaha hides under the alias Meatball Spaghetti, his spaceship’s communication system is a dog-like creature with a tube coming out its butt, and demons will proclaim “Death by poking” as they tap you on the forehead. Hayashida walks a delicate tightrope of having some real stakes facing Zaha, along with really hammering home the sheer loneliness of his existence, combined with this inviting and goofy sense of humor. Death can be gruesome and painful in Dai Dark, but it can also be delivered with Three Stooges-esque comic timing.
Much like Dorohedoro, Dai Dark has a small ensemble of misfit weirdos as our protagonists. There’s Zaha, Avakian (a sort of sentient life support system/backpack that turns into a skeletal robot, or robotic skeleton), and Shimada Death, a towering creature that devours dead spirits which manifest as floating turkey-like drumsticks with skulls on them. If you read Dorohedoro then the character archetypes won't be too unfamiliar. Zaha Sanko, like Caiman, is as loveable as he is violent and an outsider that doesn’t belong to polite society and even not-so-polite society wants him dead. Shimada Death, like Noi, wears a seemingly masculine costume with a fearsome mask, but is a beautiful and gigantic woman underneath. I should be judging Dai Dark as its own work, but I have a hard time keeping Dorohedoro out of my head as I read this. This is only the first volume so we still have to wait and see where the story goes, but Dai Dark has made a promising first impression.