Vertigo #1s Round-up: December 2015

In which  Brian and Dave talk about the third round of new Vertigo titles.

Cover Art by John Paul Leon

Cover Art by John Paul Leon

Sheriff of Babylon #1 by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Dave Says: To say Tom King is the writer to watch for in 2016 may just be an understatement. Over in Marvel’s The Vision, he’s out-Vertigo-ing half the Vertigo titles. So, I was absolutely excited to read Sheriff of Babylon. And you know what? The book did not let me down. First, I just want to say something about the craft: I read this book twice. And I read it slower than most other comic books on my stack. And that’s not a BAD thing. It’s a good reminder that comics can be nuanced and complex, and King and artist Mitch Gerads prove that by crafting a dense, highly structured exercise that employs repetition and the use of the grid structure of comics to the height of the medium. What we get in the first issue is a triptych of interlocking character portraits: all players in Baghdad’s American-controlled “Green Zone.” A body is discovered, and the investigation that follows brings in our trio of main characters: American police training officer Christopher, Sofia of the Iraqi Council, and Iraqi police officer Nassir. This book is firmly grounded in reality, a fact rendered to perfection by Mitch Gerads, who handles the bleak landscape with brushy realism and a limited color palette that transforms the whole issue into a perfectly designed comic book package.

Brian Says: Tom King can do no wrong. No, seriously! The Vision has been amazing over the course of three issues. And Sheriff of Babylon is definitely on course to be one of the best books of 2016. Tom King’s story of American occupied Iraq is a serious examination of terror, war and the humans caught between. It’s just really solid storytelling. The characters have depth in just one single issue. You feel these characters living and breathing and the conflicts are written on their faces. The book use the medium to the fullest extent. Grid patterns, time sequence panels, condensed time. It’s refreshing to see so much emphasis placed on the form. This feels like a story suited to the comics page. Mitch Gerads deserves a lot of acclaim too. This book feels real, the art grounds us in the real world. The characters have weight, have unique looks. The action sequences are quick, callous even. They spell out the horror of a shooting but also the cold logic of an interrogation scene. It’s incredibly affecting and mixed with the prose, it presents a fantastic new read.

Cover Art by Brett Parson

Cover Art by Brett Parson

New Romancer #1 by Peter Milligan and Brett Parson

Dave Says: Peter Milligan is a mainstay of classic Vertigo; my first exposure to him was through Shade, The Changing Man, and his work on an individual title is often two-thirds mind-blowingly amazing, mixed with a third element that leaves me scratching my head. But still, that two-thirds is often some of the best comic-booking I’ve ever read. I find myself thinking similar things with New Romancer #1, although I’m not entirely sure where we land within the aforementioned formula. It’s an odd mix of modern tech and Milligan’s clear love for Byron (via his protagonist, Lexy), and I think the one-third head-scratcher in this issue is the convolutions that Milligan goes through to basically get to the story he wants to tell: a Frankenstein story that brings Byron into the present day. Milligan and Parsons tell their story well; the notion itself is fun, Lexy’s voice is appealing and relatable, and the elements contained within the set-up do intrigue me: artificial intelligence, dating apps, using data to build personalities. However, I’m curious if we’ll lose all of that as we get into Milligan’s core story, which seems to be heading toward Byron vs. [another character I won’t spoil] in the 21st century. Brett Parson’s art works well with the concept; he yields a clean, animated cartooning style that allows expression befitting the absurdity of the concept.

Brian Says: I was first exposed to Peter Milligan’s writing when I came back to comics in 2001 with X-Statix. I wasn’t quite prepared for that book but it took risks and pushed the boundaries of X-Men comics that I hadn’t seen before anywhere else. I’ve since read more of his work and find that I either really love it or really don’t connect to it. And now I’ve found myself in that middle ground for the first time with his work. New Romancer has a lot of things I like: allusions to Frankenstein, Byron, Byron being a jerk, technology run amok. And I think it’s all executed really well, though I’m not sure how strong the legs are for this series beyond the initial concept. Lexy’s a fun enough protagonist, though she does tread some very cliché tech character water. And Byron is Byron, which will be more fun to watch as the series goes along. Brett Parson’s art is expressive and cartoony, standing out a good deal from the darker, heavier art of the other Vertigo books. He captures the youthful, modern-Mod aesthetic for the characters giving it a distinct flavor. I want to read more before I can really settle on this one.

Cover Art by Dave Johnson

Cover Art by Dave Johnson

Lucifer #1 by Holly Black and Lee Garbett

Dave Says: Lucifer is definitely one of the titles that piqued my interest from an “Old Vertigo” viewpoint — this series follows with a version of Lucifer first depicted in the early pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and followed and expanded upon by Mike Carey in a pretty great Lucifer series. The writer’s name, Holly Black, is one I’m only casually familiar with. I knew she was a YA author, but I’ve not read anything by her. Prose authors can sometimes struggle with the mechanics of comics, but on the other hand, a prose author can also lend a narrative style that works quite nicely with the “classic” Vertigo style (as carved out by Gaiman, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, and others). And I’m pleased to say that Black and Garbett’s debut issue worked well for me — working almost too well as a sequel to Carey’s Lucifer series while also maintaining synergistic elements for Lucifer’s upcoming TV debut. I personally loved Black’s narration in the opening pages of the book, which really set the tone for me — the sexy anti-hero who doesn’t want to get involved… even as the world has other plans for him. This first issue also has one of the cleanest, most immediate set-ups of the Vertigo relaunch. It’s a murder mystery and buddy cop noir. I won’t spoil the initial mystery, but it’s kind of fun to take some classic tropes and go… “big” with them. Very reminiscent of Preacher in its way. Lee Garbett’s art portrays the characters well, though occasionally I felt like some of the detail was lacking. There’s an angel with Peacock feathers, for example, but the pattern just seems draped onto a plain triangular wing shape. It didn’t ruin anything for me, but I did notice it.

Brian Says: I have to admit that I had mixed feelings going into Lucifer. On the one hand, I was really excited to see the character revisited and to see where a new creative team could take him. (I was a very big fan of Mike Carey’s Lucifer run.) On the other hand, I was worried this would be a quick cash-in on the upcoming TV show. What we end up with is a book that is far more of a direct continuation than I anticipated and that only carries the barest resemblance to the police procedural we’re soon to be watching. I’ve only ever read Holly Black’s Doctor Who short story before but I was quite taken with her style for the issue. She understands Lucifer as a character, his charm and smarm, the understated intelligence, the wounded (quite literal) pride. The basic concept for the book, a whodunit with a missing deity at its center, is clearly established by the end of the issue, we know where we’re going in the immediate future. Lucifer, bored of his life beyond our universe, has returned in a flash of lightning as he falls to Earth. Lee Garbett’s art was at turns really strong and befit the book, at other turns it felt like a little too house-style superhero and uninspired to be linked to this book. It’s not bad, serves its purpose, but it’s often undefined or lacking depth that could really move this book to another level. At the end of the day, I was quite taken with the book and I’m glad to have Lucifer back at Vertigo.

Cover Art by Rob Davis

Cover Art by Rob Davis

Last Gang in Town #1 by Simon Oliver, Rufus Dayglo and Giulia Brusco

Dave Says: I wasn’t sure what to think about this book going in, and I’m going to be honest with you: I’m still on the fence. I’ve liked things I’ve read by Simon Oliver, including The Exterminators and The Federal Bureau of Physics, though I didn’t stick with either of those series. That said, I was excited about the tone and look of this book: the punk scene depicted with Rufus Dayglo’s “underground” style of cartooning is a lot of fun and brings something unique to the Vertigo stable. I love the little gags running around the border edges, which helped me get into the attitude I was looking for. But, on the other hand, I have to admit that the story didn’t quite come together for me. Various characters are introduced — a “getting the band together” story. Then there’s a time jump to 2018, where presumably all of the 1970s shenanigans will come to roost. Which is fine, but I’ve got to be invested, and the structure of the issue never quite got me there. I don’t need a book to have the clean set-up of, say, this week’s Lucifer, but if you’re going to jump around with a dense format, I’ve got to be invested in the characters — as I was with this week’s Sheriff of Babylon.

Brian Says: I was really looking forward to this one. I’m a big fan of ‘77 Punk Rock and British culture so it was right up my alley. The idea that it focused on a female-led band of misfits really sold me too. I liked the beginning of Simon Oliver’s Federal Bureau of Physics, though I eventually found myself losing interest in that book but it seemed like this concept might be a perfect fit to the writer. The best way to describe this book is the Sex Pistol’s “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” adapted into a comic. When street punks are hired to steal the greatest punk rocker’s guitar – Pink UFO, a sort of catchall amalgam of 70s rock icons from Bowie to Gene Simmons to Iggy Pop and Captain Sensible – they stumble into an even bigger game of sticking it to the man, fast profit and ragged three chord beats. While I found the issue to a be a little dense for a first issue and to have a little bit of a learning curve in terms of figuring out what’s going on, I kind of dug it. There are some flashes to 2018 that seem to be setting up a long game con that will unfold over the course of the series, but those flashes introduced us to characters out of sequence and I didn’t think were as successful as they could have been. However, the star of the issue for me was Rufus Dayglo’s art. It fully captures the punk aesthetic – reminding one of the distorted proportions of PUNK Magazine covers and the “Friggin’ in the Riggin’” cartoon – while still being expressive and fully grounded. These panels are crowded with pogoing punks and scenesters, the main characters feel of their time. It’s just a great looking book. I’m not certain if I’ll stick with the book but I really liked the feel of this issue. It feels like the one strong single that an entire punk album is built around. Let’s hope the rest of the series isn’t 1:54 of noise.

Additional Thoughts:

Brian Says: I think it’s fair to say that this Vertigo relaunch has been quite successful in terms of new energy, new talent and new directions. Time will tell which books end up becoming the defining titles for this era of the imprint, but I can say that I have a lot more books on pull list then I was expecting. Vertigo was always a special place for comics and it’s nice to see this swing at reestablishing that presence was thought out and balanced, not a slapdash “So-and-so was great 10 years ago” type of patch-up. I’m excited to see where Vertigo can go from here.

Dave Says: Three months in, and I’m starting to add Vertigo back to my pull list, so I’d agree that this relaunch has been — at the very least — a creative success. Of the various series we covered over all three months, I’m impressed by the diversity of tones and concepts, most of which feel to me like books fitting the Vertigo imprint. Its a nebulous definition, I know, but these don’t feel like Boom or Image or Dark Horse books — and I think that was an important bit of branding for Vertigo to reassert itself into the minds of comics readers.

Next: Brian and Dave return once more to give you our final rankings for the slew of new Vertigo titles, including what we’re sticking with and what’s on the chopping block. Stay tuned!