Review: ‘The Un-Men’ and ‘Faker’
In a bit of a strange coincidence, Vertigo has two new collections out this week that both prominently feature futuristic science and genetic manipulation. The books couldn’t be more different, though, with The Un-Men ($9.99) shining a freaky spotlight on some minor Swamp Thing characters and Faker ($14.99) taking a more serious look at the intersection of intelligence of the natural and artificial varieties.
Let’s look at The Un-Men first, if for no other reason than it being the better of the two books. Writer John Whalen takes the largely forgotten mutated monsters and carves a perfect little niche for them – Aberrance, a town of genetic weirdos.
Without ever becoming self-serious, the story explores the rift that’s formed between those in charge of Aberrance and the lower class of freaks. When one of the protesters turns up dead, a federal agent (an albino, which makes him the normal guy) steps in to investigate. Wackiness ensues.
While the murder mystery never takes on any import, the book sludges along with constant splashes of the bizarre and disgusting, each chapter managing to out-freak the last. It’s spiced with some catchy dialogue, such as, “Rome wasn’t sacked in a day.”
The big conclusion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the art is a bit too ordinary for the subject matter, but The Un-Men is still one of the most entertaining and creative new series from last year.
On to Faker, a story that never stops taking itself seriously. At the center are some college kids who are really miserable pricks, bamboozling their way through life, taking advantage of everyone they can.
One night, the four friends party a little too hard, and they wake up with blank memories and a fifth friend who has no trace of existing, aside from in their thoughts. That’s a great setup for a story about the struggle to find an identity in college wrapped up in the mystery of the new friend, but writer Mike Carey never gives enough depth to the former and reveals the latter too early.
The new friend (SPOILER ALERT) is a kind of chemical manifestation of the group’s memories, created when someone spiked their drinks with an experimental liquid memory. The friends end up on the run from the government lab that created the stuff, and things spiral into an over-the-top conclusion that’s just as ridiculous (and startlingly similar to) the end of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher.
As I said before, there’s a strong premise here with some great elements, but it feels about another draft or two short of a finished comic. There are maddening leaps in logic (this extremely dangerous liquid memory is just sitting unprotected in a college lab?) and the greater themes don’t emerge. Carey also has a different character narrate each chapter, but that structure becomes so unwieldy he eventually abandons it.
Faker does have some intense, lively art from Jock. But overall it shares one of its characters worst traits: pretending to be something greater than it is.
Van Jensen is a former crime reporter turned comic book journalist. Every Wednesday, he braves Atlanta traffic to visit Oxford Comics, where he reads a whole mess of books for his weekly reviews. Van’s blog can be found at graphicfiction.wordpress.com.
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