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Sandra Wolff
Dark Cloud
Sandra Wolff, author
Meet Dark Cloud, a young woman who comes from a traumatic past she can't afford to remember, leaving her on high alert and trusting of no one. The sole exception is Ricardo de Castile, the wizard-like engineer who is also the creator of the combat robot that has her back. Originally designed as a prototype doomsday weapon, the combat robot, now renamed Klaatu, has been reprogrammed by Ricardo to fight as part of a team alongside the daughter he should have had in the first place: Dark Cloud. Normally she would prefer to hide from the world as it has become, but when she finds out that her militaristic neighbor, General Stone, has acquired a nuke, Dark Cloud's love for the land will not let her stand idly by. Winner in the 2021 Hollywood Book Festival.
In a futuristic desert, the land is occupied by a faction of mercenaries, General Stone’s personal soldiers, competing for dominance with other warlords for turf and people to rule. But Dark Cloud, a mysterious woman with a traumatic past, won’t let Stone get away with destroying her home, and luckily she’s got help in the form of Klaatu, a robot programmed to be her bodyguard. With its unique and cinematic illustrated style, this graphic novel is fast-paced and action-packed, feeling like a blockbuster movie on the page, which makes sense, given that Dark Cloud, was originally written as a screenplay, initially inspired by Wolff’s love of The Road Warrior. (Wolff wrote the screenplay; writer/artist Jared Barel penned, illustrated, designed and lettered this adaptation.)

Like the movies that inspired it, readers are dropped into Dark Cloud’s world of wastelands and warlords without much explanation as to how everything got to this point, how the technology works, or who our main character actually is–in this case, she doesn’t exactly know herself. The pace is fast, and character and milieu get revealed through action, though at times everything moves so quickly that, as the hero faces convoys, militias, standoffs, and a loose nuke, it can be unclear what’s actually happening or why. Dark Cloud’s past–as well as the world’s–all are shrouded in mystery, to the point that this particular post-apocalyptic adventure doesn’t fully distinguish itself from others in its genre.

Dark Cloud is a dark, sometimes graphic, action-packed read whose story touches on complex topics like environmental degradation, exploitative labor, and nuclear devastation, with some moral murkiness and a tendency to let readers work out background and context for themselves. Barrel’s photo-derived illustrations have some dark power, and he stages action with clarity and power, especially the rampage of a terrifying robot. Also appealing: the purplish desert skies under which Dark Cloud grieves.

Takeaway: A cinematic, action-packed graphic novel full of wasteland violence and beautiful desert scenes.

Great for fans of: East of West, Savage Highway.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A-
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A-

Self-Publishing Review

“Sandra Wolff’s Dark Cloud is a stunningly gorgeous graphic novel about a woman’s quest to save land from nuclear destruction in the post-apocalyptic American West. With the help of her monk-like father figure, a loyal robot, and her own foresight, the amnesiac Dark Cloud leads the resistance against warlord General Stone before he can further decimate the environment. Full of dynamic characters, cinematic visuals by illustrator Jared Barel, and action-packed intensity, Dark Cloud is a must read for fans of dystopian fiction, even for those unfamiliar with the graphic novel format.” Self-Publishing Review, ★★★★½