REVIEW: TKO Shorts: 'Dame from the Dark' by Rob Pilkington, Kit Mills, and Ariana Maher

Magic isn't always glitz and glam and sometimes there are darker secrets lurking behind the trap doors and red velvet curtains. Private detective Tommy, and his spirit comrade Eva, have come to teach magician 'Le Samson Fantastique' that some acts aren't always illusions...

Dame from the Dark

TKO Studios (One-Shot) 

Written by Rob Pilkington

Art by Kit Mills

Letters: Ariana Maher

Publisher: TKO Studios

Release Date: March 1st, 2021


★★★★★ (5/5)

TKO Studios has been churning out wave after wave of phenomenal graphic novels with talented creators like Jeff Lemire, Steve Niles, Roxane Gay, Steve Epting, Jen Hickman, Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire, Steve Wands, etc. Now they're offering original one-shot comics under their TKO Shorts line. 'Dame from the Dark' from writer Rob Pilkington, artist Kit Mills, and letterer Ariana Maher is one of those shorts and it's a complete delight. 

If you like old school comedy mysteries with the witty banter of the films of the 1940's and the style of film noir of the same era then 'Dame from the Dark' is for you. It's set in present day Los Angeles but the story takes place in a place called the Magic Manor, a venue reminiscent of the real Historical Landmark Magic Castle in Hollywood. The perfect setting for such a throwback approach to this story that finds private dick Tommy having a drink with his...assistant. 

His "assistant" is the ghost of an aspiring actress, Eva, who was murdered in the 1930s. She embodies all the spunk and moxie you'd imagine from an ingenue of that film era. She's a great counterbalance to Tommy's grumpy put-upon detective as they track down a runaway at the "Le Samson Fantastique" magic show. Samson is another great character, an illusionist modeled after some of Vegas' most flamboyant self-absorbed showmen who also happens to be an abusive douchebag. He's a detestable prick that makes for an easy villain but it's indicative of an entertainment industry that still tolerates jerks like this and that some things from Eva's time haven't changed that much.

Together, Eva and Tommy try to convince the runaway who works for Samson to return home to her family. Pilkington juggles the seriousness of Samson's toxicity with the comedic chemistry of his leads with great care. Eva, who only appears visible to Tommy, even crosses over momentarily to aid in the proceedings. Mills' character designs and colors are vital to the tonal success of the issue. Tommy has the look of an everyman schlep while Eva is dressed impeccably as she looked in 1932 and appears in black and white. The contrast is intentionally striking and a great way to differentiate the two leads. Maher's lettering contributes to some great creative choices that liven up the dialogue especially Eva's. 

'Dame from the Dark' is such a delightful funny noir-inspired story that I want a full graphic novel anthology of the adventures of Tommy and Eva. Not only that, I want a 10-episode season of a live-action adaptation on Netflix. The homage to wacky comedies and film noir from the films of the 1940s is perfectly used without being overdone. It's just a highly entertaining comic that adds to the quality of the TKO Studios library.