Posts Tagged ‘ Vertigo ’

Vertigo Comics Capsule Reviews

Karen Berger recently announced that she would step down as the editor of Vertigo, the comics imprint she has shepherded since its creation. At first, I wasn’t too concerned about this: Two decades is a long time to stay at one job, and she could have plenty of reasons to move on. We don’t know the story behind the scenes, though, and I find myself getting progressively more worried. With Hellblazer ending at issue #300, and shocking realization that that is the longest-running continually-numbered series being published by DC or Marvel today, it’s obvious that change is in the air for the big companies. Vertigo’s monthly sales numbers haven’t been healthy in a long time, and it has apparently justified its existence by finding the occasional hit that keeps selling in book format. But with superhero movies now bringing in more money than book sales could ever promise, and with TV and video game tie-ins defining more of the low-end market, Vertigo’s niche may no longer make sense to the executives.

No matter what happens, though, it’s clear that Berger’s legacy goes well beyond Vertigo. When the label started, intelligent adult comics seemed like an aberration. Now, titles like that are everywhere. In fact, the scene has grown so much that Vertigo’s specific style of literate fantasy now feels like just another niche.

While looking over the latest Vertigo series that I’ve read, I noticed some definite trends. These stories tend to be based around high concepts and rich settings, but the plots often feel like afterthoughts. Whether this is indicative of the imprint’s editorial leanings, or just a coincidence, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, though, there is still some very good stuff coming out from Vertigo. I hope that we don’t lose it.

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Jeff Lemire – Sweet Tooth (Comic Review)

(Based on issues #1-28 of the Vertigo series. According to comments I’ve seen in interviews, Lemire expects this to be roughly the halfway point.)

Sweet Tooth #1 cover

Sweet Tooth

Jeff Lemire is relatively new to the comics scene, but he’s quickly become known for his loose, expressive art. His figure-work has a sketch-like freedom to it, with lines on the face often having more weight than the actual contours that would normally stand out. It’s fitting, then, that his current title is about a world in which the human body is on the verge of falling apart.

Sweet Tooth is in many ways a typical post-apocalyptic story, in which the few survivors of a plague are at the mercy of cults, thugs, and militias who only claim to have others’ best interests at heart. The catch, though, is that all children born since the plague are all human-animal hybrids. The main character is a deer-horned boy named Gus, who has made friends and enemies as he explores the world. While the hybrids fit into the world thanks to Lemire’s art, they don’t make scientific sense. The series is dropping increasingly strong hints that the religious ramblings of Gus’ dead father may be more important than science.

Lemire writes and draws Sweet Tooth, and has managed to do both on a monthly schedule (along with writing a few new DC superhero series). It helps that his art is supposed to feel rushed and imperfect, but is impressive nonetheless. (A few fill-in artists, most notably Matt Kindt, have stepped in for occasional flashbacks. Kindt’s art feels in line with Lemire’s style, though it never takes advantage of the looseness to experiment with the form.)

Lemire does not write very strong characters, but he draws them with such power that they seem three-dimensional. His plots are much more convoluted than any individual character, though, with betrayals, mysteries, and different factions vying for control. I’m honestly not sure how to expect the current story to play out, and I think I will be equally surprised whether the main group of characters stays together or splits up.

Lemire’s other strength is in action scenes and dream sequences, when the abstractness of the scene lets shapes or panels flow in unexpected ways. Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t capitalize on this as frequently as a post-apocalyptic world would allow. Entire issues go by that feel like filler, and especially when the plot fragments to follow multiple characters at once, the pace slows to a crawl.

That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent portions of the story: The entire first arc, for example, is a fascinating read. One early issue is just a single scene, showing a standoff in a brothel, but the tense mix of action, morality, and danger seen through the eyes of a young boy is well worth reading. On the other hand, the last three issues have told a side story from centuries ago. It is relevant to the main story, but we have no real investment in those characters (and remember, characters’ actions are not Lemire’s strong point) and the important information could have come across in half that time. The two issues before those both happen after Gus is injured, and they have been taken up almost entirely with Gus’ dream sequences and the other characters’ attempts to help him. One issue of that would have been more than enough.It’s not in the traditional “decompressed” style, but it is slow. I’m not sure whether Lemire’s sense of pacing is just off from what I want, or if he is stretching it out as he tries to figure out what comes next.

At its best, Sweet Tooth is surprising and emotional, not to mention truly interesting to watch unfold. It deserves the devoted fans who are writing into the letters column and even getting tattoos. At its worst, though, it seems rushed and a little boring, and makes me hesitate to introduce it to new readers. I’m not sure which aspect will win out over the course of the entire series. It’s shown enough potential to get me firmly invested in the ending, but also squandered enough to keep me from recommending it at the present.

Grade: C+


iZombie (Comic Review)

Cover to iZombie #2

iZombie

(This is a review of issues 1-18 of the ongoing series.)

You can learn a lot about the Vertigo series iZombie from the title. Originally solicited as “I, Zombie”, a name referencing Asimov’s classic I, Robot as well as the Vertigo property I, Vampire, it was changed to iZombie at the last minute. This name is either a nonsensical attempt to sound like an Apple product, or intended to imply that this is a new brand of cool, slick, popular zombies. Either interpretation would fit the series.

The main draw of iZombie is artist Michael Allred. His art is fun and breezy, with a pop sensibility can turn grotesque monsters into trendy versions of themselves that deserve that Apple-style “i” prefix. However, in most people’s minds his art is directly associated with his crazy, surreal writing in the Madman comic. iZombie is written by Chris Roberson instead, and Allred’s art suffers without that creative spark in the story.

Gwen, the zombie lead, is a recently-deceased woman who retains her personality andInternal art from iZombie humanity, but will lose it if she doesn’t eat at least one brain a month. So she works in a cemetery that specializes in natural burials to gain access to the still-fresh brains of people she won’t need to kill. The catch is that eating a brain gives her the memories of that person, and she feels obligated to help them complete their unfinished business. The comic interweaves several plots involving the supernatural folk living in her area. Among others, Gwen hangs out with a ghost stuck in a 1960’s mindset and a wereterrier (like a werewolf, but unthreatening), and a sorority of vampires outside the town run a paintball business to attract their victims.

Yes, this series features a wereterrier and paintball. There is also a government task force called the “Dead Presidents”, whose name should be taken literally. Moreover, after Gwen meets cute with a monster hunter (who doesn’t notice that Gwen isn’t a normal human), he surprises her on their first date with a miniature golf outing. Not only does Gwen take this strange date location in stride, but she isn’t scared off when he gives a speech about the important role mini-golf played in his relationship with his mother. There are echoes of this a few issues later when Amon, the mummy character, announces that Skee Ball is the “passion” of his millenia-old life.

Mini-Golf!In short, this is a series in love with its own cleverness, where many of the interests that drive the characters are geeky pop culture elements. This could work, especially given the atmosphere created by Allred’s art, but it would be more effective if the ideas were more original than friendly werewolves. At the very least, the story needs to be less driven by random coincidences and characters who don’t act at all like believable people.

A good microcosm for the series as a whole is issue 6, which tells the backstory of wereterrier Spot. He’s a geek who loves comics and role-playing, but can’t talk to girls, and seems meant for the readers to identify with him. How did he meet up with Gwen’s group? Well, he kept staring awkwardly at them in a diner until she invited him to join them. Not only was that interaction completely unbelievable, but it doesn’t explain how these supernatural beings found each other. It’s difficult to accept that normal people don’t know about monsters when this group keeps bumping into strange creatures around every corner. In that same issue, Spot’s grandfather dies, and the narration goes out of the way to explain how Spot hadn’t talked to him in years and never thought to worry about the old man’s age or health. It’s not a problem, though: The grandfather’s soul becomes trapped in a chimpanzee’s body, and once again a supernatural creature accidentally joins the group without alerting normal people.

The most effective parts of the story are the mysteries that unfold very slowly, such as Gwen’s forgotten past, how it may relate to the mummy Amon, and whether a mad scientist is trying to raise a Lovecraftian horror. New pieces of information are doled out regularly, though they occasionally come up thanks to more coincidences (especially with people from Gwen’s past). In fact, the comic is usually juggling four or five plots at once. Roberson balances them very well, and in the right situation, it would be effective. Here, though, since half of the plots tend to be uninteresting, it just makes the story feel like it’s progressing too slowly.

iZombie has the right art and attitude to make it a lighthearted romp through monster cliches, but it falls short in the implementation. Without more original ideas and better plot devices, all those clever pop culture references just feel like cynical ploys from someone who doesn’t actually get them himself.

Grade: C-