Tagged: Vertigo

Review: ‘The Dead Boy Detectives’ by Bryan Talbot and Ed Brubaker

By my count, there are four good reasons to buy [[[The Sandman Presents: The Dead Boy Detectives]]], now out from Vertigo.

First, it’s cheap, at a slight $12.99 for some 100 pages of comics.

Second, it’s a heckuva good mystery yarn with plenty of occult elements.

Third, it’s part of The Sandman world, and there are plenty of readers who snap up anything associated with Neil Gaiman’s creation.

But the last — and, for me, best — reason to pick up the book is that it further illustrates Ed Brubaker’s dexterity as a writer. I’ve long said that the thing that makes him so talented is that if his name wasn’t on the cover of his comics, you wouldn’t be able to recognize him as the author (also, his books are all quite good).

Unlike a Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis or Brian Michael Bendis, Brubaker writes comics without stamping his voice all over them. And, in [[[The Dead Boy Detectives]]], he shows off a wholly new voice, slipping seamlessly into the world of the ghostly boy sleuths and their London setting.

Like all great P.I. stories, this one begins with a girl, then gets all weird with shriveled dead bodies, witches and immortal creeps. It’s not quite unpredictable yet manages to be surprising.

But, mostly, the great characterization of ghosts Charles and Edwin and their childish interplay is what makes this one a winner. Well, that and the other reasons listed above.

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.

Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Van Jensen directly at van (dot) jensen (at) comicmix (dot) com.

Review: “Air” by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker

There’s something so unabashedly original about writer G. Willow Wilson that it’s nearly impossible to not enjoy her comics projects, like last year’s graphic novel [[[Cairo]]] and this week’s new series [[[Air]]].

Wilson brings an entirely new voice and outlook to comics, keeping relevant to contemporary culture while digging into issues like terrorism, nationalism and identity. In Air, the focus is on Blythe, a stewardess who has the unfortunate disposition of being afraid of heights.

While a lesser writer might use that gimmick as a crutch, Wilson allows it to simply exist as one aspect of a fully realized world. The focus from the first stunning page (M.K. Perker deserves a lot of credit here) is on the shadowy forces hijacking Blythe’s airplane, and a world of intrigue opens up chaotically.

For such a structured writer (Wilson’s end note on writing is worth a read), she lets the reins go slack a little too much in this issue, with its convoluted narrative and repetitive settings.

With nearly every scene being set in an airport or airplane, it’s difficult to follow the issue’s chronology, though that has the likely intended effect of establishing how confused Blythe is.

Vertigo allowed me to read the first arc of the story, and it takes about that long to gain a sturdy footing in this new world Wilson has created. But it’s an endlessly fun and inventive ride, and by the sixth issue Air appears on the verge of becoming the next great Vertigo book.

If nothing else, it’s deeply ambitious and delightfully new. Of course, I might be biased, as Wilson is a fellow journalist turned comics person.

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.

Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Van Jensen directly at van (dot) jensen (at) comicmix (dot) com.

Review: New ‘Fables’ & ‘Jack of Fables’ Volumes

Review: New ‘Fables’ & ‘Jack of Fables’ Volumes

[[[Fables]]] is one of the big successes of the current version of the Vertigo line, where every book has a Hollywood-style high concept: all males on Earth are killed – except one!; New York’s mayor can talk to machines!; Refugee fairytales live in the modern world! And, in another Hollywood-esque twist, Fables even has a spin-off of its own, like Diff’rent Strokes begat The Facts of Life.

Last month, both the parent and spin-off series had new collections, with titles that implied a connection. So let’s look at the two of those books together:

Fables, Vol. 10: The Good Prince
By Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and others
DC Comics, June 2008, $17.99

Fables, as you might know, is a series in which all of the folkloric and fairy-tale characters that you’ve ever heard of are real, and originally lived in an array of alternate worlds. But “the Adversary” – whose identity was revealed a few volumes ago – led huge goblin armies to conquer nearly all of those worlds, sending a few (but mostly very well-known) Fables to our world, to live in secrecy in an enclave in New York City.

More recently, the cold war with the Adversary is beginning to heat up, with Fabletown’s leadership striking alliances with the “Cloud Kingdoms” (you know, where the beanstalk led?) and with the as-yet-unconquered world of the [[[Arabian Knights]]]. (There’s also an unsubtle parallel between Fabletown and Israel that Willingham is a bit too fond of.) As we hit this tenth volume, we know that the Adversary is building for a major attack three years from now, and the characters of Fables learn that quickly as well.

The last storyline, [[[Sons of Empire]]], served to ratchet up tension, but [[[The Good Prince]]] goes the other way; Flycatcher – Prince Ambrose, the Frog Prince – has finally regained his memory, and is grieving over the loss of his family centuries before. But Red Riding Hood goads him out of his misery, and he rushes off to get fighting lessons from Boy Blue.


Review: ‘Madame Xanadu #1’ by Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley

Fresh off another successful Grendel run and two excellent Batman miniseries ([[[Monster Men and Mad Monk]]]), Matt Wagner is switching gears so hard he may have just shredded the transmission.

A revival of the occult heroine Madame Xanadu? Really?

Sure enough. Wagner is writing the Vertigo series, the first issue of which debuted this week. It’s, well, odd, for lack of a better word. The first chapter begins in Arthurian times as Xanadu tries to prevent Camelot’s bloody fall.

Wagner channels a bit of Shakespeare’s lyricism in Xanadu’s dreamy, esoteric narration. And much of the goal seems to be recasting the common legend in surprising ways, not the least of which is Merlin as an old horndog.

The art, by relative newcomer Amy Reeder Hadley, is as graceful and natural as the titular character. The slight manga influence further similarizes the book to Elf Quest, which it mirrors fairly closely in tone.

The only real problem so far is the lack of scope in the first issue. Not a whole lot happens, at least till the last page, and there’s almost nothing to hint that this series is going to be an epic love story between [[[Xanadu]]] and the Phantom Stranger that lasts through several ages. I had to check the PR cheat sheet for that info.

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.

Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Van Jensen directly at van (dot) jensen (at) gmail (dot) com.

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.


Review: ‘Young Liars’ #1

I covered a handful of new series debuting this week in my Weekly Haul column earlier this week, but one new series slipped past. Thanks to the kind folks at DC then for sending over the first issue of David Lapham’s Young Liars, one of the more puzzling series to come around lately.

It’s not that Young Liars reinvents the wheel. It’s actually very similar to another new Vertigo series, The Vinyl Underground, in that both follow spunky young hedonists. The narrator is Danny, a Texas kid who moved up to New York to be a rockstar and failed miserably. But the central character is Sadie, an heiress who took a bullet to the head and lived, although the wound removed every inhibition she had.

The first issue is mostly set in a club, with Sadie alternating between dancing and beating the holy living snot out of people as Danny fills us in on the backstory. The gist is that Sadie’s dad and some unsavory characters are all tracking her down, and unpleasantness is about to meet this small group of friends.

While I was pretty disappointed with [[[The Vinyl Underground]]], [[[Young Liars]]] has at least piqued my interest. More than anything, I’m curious where Lapham is headed, but that’s based more on his past work than on the content of this issue. It’s more of a collection of fun pieces than a cohesive story so far, and it pales next to Lapham’s excellent Silverfish graphic novel from last year.

File this one under too soon to tell.

Review: Crossing Midnight, Vol. 2

The news of Mike Carey writing a fantasy/horror comic set in Japan sounded too good to be true, and when Crossing Midnight debuted more than a year ago it struggled to live up to that promise.

Carey created a deep and supernatural world to backdrop his story of mystery: Two twins, Toshi and Kai, were born on either side of midnight, leaving each with an otherworldly power and putting them at the mercy of dark forces. But Jim Fern’s stiff art and some uneven storytelling held the series back. When sales weren’t strong, the rumors of a looming cancellation kickstarted.

After the so-so showing of that first arc, I gave up on the series. But, when Vertigo sent over a copy of the second volume (the cover seen at right is from DC’s website, but isn’t the cover on the actual book), Crossing Midnight: A Map of Midnight ($14.99), I realized I just didn’t give the series enough of a chance.

The volume picks up with Toshi, the female twin, struggling as a slave under an apparently evil spirit. She must fly through Japan at night, cutting unpleasant memories from people’s dreams and collecting them for some unrevealed purpose.

Following the archetype of most stories featuring children, Toshi’s impudence puts her and others into danger as she squares off against one of death’s faces. Perhaps because of the more fantastical nature of the content in this volume, Fern’s art loosens and adeptly adapts an ethereal tone. Later, Eric Nguyen takes over on art and, if anything, is an improvement.

Meanwhile, Kai stumbles onto a group of “telephone club” girls — early teens working essentially as prostitutes — and must help save them from an evil spirit that’s on the prowl. While this storyline feels a bit tangential to the larger theme, it is easily the high point for the series. Carey clearly has strong opinions of such clubs (he denounces them in a postscript) and how deplorable it is that they operate uncensored.

It is only then that the book goes farther than dipping a toe into Japanese culture, and Carey unleashes his horror-writing instincts. Sadly, the series seemed to be finding its footing just as the rug was being pulled out from under it. As Carey wrote on his Web site, [[[Crossing Midnight]]] will be wrapped up at issue #19.

Carey wrote that he knew a cancellation might happen, and all the plot threads will be wrapped up in that final issue.



This graphic novel is pretty good just on its own terms, but it’s an excellent object lesson. If you know of anyone who thinks that comics are essentially limited in scope to brightly-clad folks punching each other with great vigor, this will help to expand their horizons. It’s the story of Laika, a Russian dog who was the first living creature from Earth deliberately sent outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s an impressively-researched story braiding a fictional back-story for Laika (and several other characters I believe are also fictionalized) with the story of the “Chief Designer” of the early Russian space program, Sergei Korolev. And all that is told in comics, and, I suspect, primarily aimed at the grade 6-12 audience.

I’m not familiar with Adadzis’s work, but the note on him in [[[Laika]]] calls him an editorial consultant who “creates words and pictures for a living and loves both equally.” According to his website, muck of his work has been for children, especially recently, though he did something called Millennium Fever (with Duncan Fegredo) for Vertigo in 1995 and [[[Children of the Voyager]]] (with Paul Johnson) for Marvel in 1993.

Laika is a dense book; we start off with a flashback to Korolev’s release from the gulag in 1939, stop briefly at the first successful Sputnik launch in 1957, and then dive back into a long account of the life of a dog. (Who, as we all can guess, eventually becomes Laika.) This graphic novel is about two hundred pages long, and each page has about ten small panels, in shifting grids with occasional snippets of white space. And there’s quite a lot of dialogue along the way, in what I’m tempted to call the Russian manner. It’s not a quick read by any means, and the panels can get quite cramped at times. It’s never difficult to read, but there is an awful lot here. Those who judge books by how much time they take to read should enjoy Laika.