As you know, I love Vertigo books. Here's a look at this year's best Vertigo (and most likely best comics, period).
These are the core titles of Vertigo this year that really stood out to me, the ones that have already had their "Best New Series" nominations and may still have years more down the road. And don't worry there's quite the variety, from historical fiction and the political to the hilarious and historical fiction...I love it all.
Although Vertigo has for the most part become independent of DC over the years, every now and then they'll take a DC comic and give it a "Vertigo twist". Take for example, Madame Xanadu, a character who first appeared in the late 70's, before Karen Berger (Vertigo's founder) even began working for DC. And yet now, she has gotten herself her first (ongoing) series and it's for Vertigo, which means creative freedom all the way!
One thing I really love about this series, is all the DC/Vertigo character cameos. Although, I'm not really a fan of DC comics in general, I do recognize the characters as they appear and I find those moments exhilarating like any comic nerd should. To see Etrigan, Zatara, Spectre, Wesley Dodds, Death of the Endless, Phantom Stranger, Morgaine le Fey and most recently, the Martian Manhunter without being bound to the tiresome events like Blackest Night or stories associated with these characters is a fun little addition.
Of course, the series has a lot of other great qualities, I don't feel it's the typical Vertigo series, I mean of all the titles I read it often feels like it's on the lighter side...now maybe that's just me being desensitized but I think it could be appropriate for children...I mean apart from Jack the Ripper murdering prostitutes and Torquemada burning heretics at the stake and a little bit of this and that. But no, this series is fantastic, the entire series has been taking us on a journey through the life of Madame Xanadu, which happens to span hundreds of years so there's a lot of action to look forward to. However, 2009's issues were primarily set in the modern age.
In the beginning this series seemed to revolve around Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger's strange relationship over the span of centuries but this year the comic appears to have taken a new direction. Now we see Madame Xanadu slip into the role she will serve in present day, opening up her shop in (New York City?) where anyone can come unafraid and seek her magical services.
This year also saw a temporary change in artists, for a five-issue story arc, Michael Wm Kaluta (the man who is responsible for the cover featuring Madame Xanadu in the first comic she ever appeared) did the covers and the inside art. Yes, it was a change, and although I'm not always a fan of change it was a nice fit, and the story was fantastic. It spun two narratives, one set in time of the Spanish Inquisition, a tale of love and the wickedness of society. The second tale is in the early 1900's, and I won't spoil all the details but Wesley Dodds (the protagonist of one of Vertigo's longest-running series which happened to be co-written by a certain Matt Wagner) guest stars!
Of course eventually that story had to come to an end, and the great Amy Reeder Hadley, Richard Friend and Guy Major returned to do the art for the series and to be honest, it was a little refreshing. Not that I didn't enjoy Exodus Noir, I did quite a lot, but it felt more like something that should be a spin-off mini...it had a whole different feel to it and it has been nice to have things back to the basics. And now, with this most recent arc (which will wrap up later this month) and the splash page finale of issue seventeen combined with upcoming solicits for January and February I can guess the new direction this comic is taking but you never know (unless you're part of the creative team), maybe it's just a temporary shift. Either way, I expect great things from this title in 2010...then again, I actually thought it was going to be wrapping up soon or taking place in more present day, so I don't know if it's scheduled to end soon or the unforeseen will happen but either way, I approve of this series, from the beautiful artwork to the amazing stories, definitely recommended.
Launching late last year, Unknown Soldier is possibly the most badass politically aware comic ever. This is another one of those concepts that DC has used in the past back in the 70's and 80's (and Garth Ennis wrote a four issue Unknown Soldier mini for Vertigo over a decade ago) but this time, Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli have brought us a completely different take on the story. For one thing, this Unknown Soldier is not an American patriot but a Ugandan peace activist. Yes this series deals with the issues in Africa (specifically Uganda) but don't let that turn you off, I mean I won't spew my political views on you but whether or not you care about this issue, you can enjoy the series. It's nice to see how much effort goes into researching the problems and just trivial info about the location. Heck, when Alberto took his much-needed break from doing the art for two issues, Joshua had Pat Masioni from Africa do the art because he wanted an artist from around the area where the story takes place. So you can tell Joshua is dedicated to his story.
Now, apart from all this political awareness, you also get just an all-round badass protagonist. I mean you must be wondering when I said he's a peace activist how he's supposed to be the Unknown Soldier a.k.a. the soldier who gets things done, all morals aside. Well, you see, in the first issue (which has been collected in a six issue trade, Haunted House), he runs out to save a young girl from the rebels and, well, he snaps. A voice starts telling him what to do, how to kill, end this war once and for all...and he acts on impulse. We sort of saw a Jason Bourne-like past with flashbacks but I'm not sure if the creative team ever plans on going back to that, it seems to have fallen by the wayside at least for now. Although he is the Unknown Soldier, it is quite obvious he doesn't enjoy this life, in fact recent events have led to the possibility of him leaving this life behind him. I'm not sure how I feel about that personally, because it leaves me wondering what direction this book is taking and if it'll last much longer if it's "resolved" so soon, but I trust Dysart and Ponitcelli know what they're doing.
If you like a multitude of both internal and external conflict, then you will enjoy this story. If you like a story that follows a protagonist that seems too awesome to be real (you know, James Bond, Jason Bourne, etc.) but in a world filled with real-life situations and problems, then you too will enjoy this story. Okay, I shouldn't say will, everyone's different...but I think this series should appeal to a wide-range of readers. Check it out.
My first thoughts on this series were rather uncertain, I'd heard good things about it and expected nothing but the best, and what I got fell a little short. Of course, that was only the first few issues, by the end of the first arc (#1-8) I was already a Northlanders fan and with the second arc (#9-10) I knew Brian Wood had pulled me in and there was no hope of escape for me, I had found the treasure trove. And then came arc number three (#11-16)...oh, by the way, before we go on, I should probably mention Northlanders arcs have no connection to one another. Each one is a new story, new characters, new location, etc. The only story that has ever possessed any connection to another was #20 which basically served as an epilogue to the title's first story arc.
Now what is Northlanders actually about? Well, if the title hasn't already made it obvious, it's a story about the people of the Northlands. Vikings and other similar cultures. But like I said, each story is different, each one's a new world you can jump into. This year we saw a lot of "smaller scale" stories, after the conclusion of The Cross + The Hammer (which blew my mind btw and made me love the entire story more) we got a one-shot detailing the art of single combat. Brian Wood has a tendency to put a lot of detail into the little things in the story, the setting and so forth, although I'm not always a fan of that, or at least too much of it. I feel he does it well. After that story we had a two issue arc about three women under siege in a fortress, you know for as little action as there was in that story, somehow I enjoyed it more then most of the stuff I read. Then of course there was the stand-alone issue I mentioned before, the epilogue to the first arc. And now we have this great story starting (the Plague Widow) about a village hit by the plague and how the town deals with it. The culture makes some of their decisions appear inhumane to well, anyone, but at the same time necessary. Northlanders takes history and makes it real, not the fairy-tale stuff they feed you in school as children, but real history, brutal and horrible. I love it! Now, I can understand if not everyone is a fan of Wood's unique writing style, but you can always give it a try. And if you just want to jump in on the series, #21 is a great place to start. Brian fashioned the cover to look like a #1 so people wouldn't be intimidated since the story begins in the issue, you don't need to worry about missing back story. Experience history as if you were actually there! (Okay, that may be an exaggeration but I'm allowed to stretch the truth, right?)
Jack of Fables
Like many successful titles, Fables has had its own share of spin-offs, one-shots and minis. And it's most successful spin-off (in terms of length at least) is none other then Jack of Fables, an ongoing title following Jack Horner, the douchey Fable who got banned from Fabletown. Personally, I think you should read Fables first before Jack of Fables, even though the two titles are pretty much completely separate, Fables gives you an introduction to Jack, it also better explains his current situation at the very beginning of the series (although admittedly the first issue has a small recap). However, at the same time, some people like one title and not the other, which I can understand, they are rather different at times. Where Fables is written by Bill Willingham, Jack of Fables is written by Bill Willingham AND Matthew Sturges. Why does a series need two writers you ask? Mr. Revise asked the same question, and I've pondered it quite a bit myself but come to no conclusion.
What sets Jack of Fables apart from its root-series? The protagonist of course. Jack Horner narrates the series (for the most part) and often has interjections that inflate his self-image or he denies things that might tarnish that same ego. This is a comic where breaking the fourth wall can happen at least once per issue, but it works, it flows well and only adds to the humor. And the humor is what I love so much about this title. I have recommended it to many people, posting little snippets of epic hilarity in the form of some of the best dialogue and situations you can imagine. Another great thing about the series is it's not just about the laughs, there is a story line throughout, a very well-written one. The question is, does one writer take the story and one injects the humor or do they both do equal shares?
Of course, things are not all perfect in the world of Jack of Fables, this year saw some drastic changes in the series, thanks to the Great Fables Crossover. Initially I thought the event would have no effect and I wasn't exactly sure if I liked that idea or not, and now that I've seen it has had great impact, I'm still not sure about how I feel. Up until that point, 90% of the supporting cast seemed to be Literals, or at least tied into that story line, and the Great Fables Crossover brought that entire story to a close. So then, what direction was Jack of Fables supposed to head in now that it's underlying story for a thirty-five issue run was over? As far as I can tell based on the latest four-issue arc which concluded earlier this month and the solicits for upcoming releases, they've decided to replace our main character! Even though you can't see it, my mouth is gaping at this new twist. It seems Jack Frost shall be the new star of the series and although I like how they eased into it with The New Adventures of Jack and Jack, I can't help but feel ill at ease with this development. Jack Horner was the reason I was reading Jack of Fables, so with him gone, can it possibly be as awesome? Who knows, maybe this is just a temporary change, although #40 says that Jack is doomed and it's all Jack's book now, the narrator has lied before, specifically about upcoming events, so maybe it's just a ruse meant to frighten me. Either way, I hope Jack Frost can live up to the legacy of his father, he is an interesting character and its nice to see him find his way as a hero, it's just...he lacks all the bad qualities that made his predecessor interesting.
Here's to hoping the series continues to appeal to my interests, but if it does not, I still vehemently encourage readers to give the first six trades a try, oh the laughs they brought me...good times, good times.
House of Mystery
I'll be the first to admit I've never read the original House of Mystery, although I can't deny it must have been at least somewhat great since it's one of DC's longest-running titles of all time and come on, at one point Cain was the host, what more could you ask for? Besides that, it also happens to have been the first DC comic, Vertigo founder Karen Berger ever edited. So, this series has a lot to live up to, or at least that's what the solicits and editorials have given the impression of. But I'm going to go out on a ledge here and say Matthew Sturges' adaption has stepped out of the shadow of it's predecessor. Then again, I'm not a fan of the Bronze Age, so I may be biased. But one thing I know I love from the original House of Mystery is Cain! Yes, at this point he's probably most often associated with Neil Gaiman's Sandman but his humble beginnings were in his House of Mystery. So if you know anything about what's been happening in the current House of Mystery volume this year, you'll know I absolutely loved it. This was one of the titles I was most looking forward to every month. Last year the story focused mostly on a group of individuals trying to escape the House of Mystery, and each issue comes with a story within the story, usually someone telling of an escapade in their life. Well, this year, things became a lot more action-packed, explanations to the mysteries surrounding the House and its occupants were revealed, the villains finally came out of the shadows (Cain!!!!!!) and several main and secondary characters got killed!
And on top of all that, the series had a " Halloween Annual", in honor of the horror...now normally I'm not a fan of annuals but I thought it was a nice idea, you didn't need to be reading anything to get into it, and you didn't need to read it to understand something you were already reading. It was nice to see some of my favorite characters all in the same comic without it actually being some nonsensical crossover. It also gave us our first sneak peek at the world of I, Zombie...excited for that in the 2010 year. But I've gone off-topic, back on topic, I feel House of Mystery is a brilliant blend of writers and artists (since there's often a changing cast thanks to the "second story" in every issue and the anthology 13th issue. And the overall story has been utterly superb this past year. And if you are afraid of catching up on 20 issues, guess what? Matthew Sturges has said #21 (January '10) will be a great jump-on point for new readers. So no need to fear! As someone whose already reading it, I fear that means it'll feel like everything's starting over from scratch, but I can only guess of what the new year will have to offer and hope the series will continue its ascent to greatness.
Fables, one of the greatest titles of this or any age, yes there are some naysayers out there (you know who you are) but this is Vertigo's top-selling comic and you should hope so after a whopping 91 issues (the only other titles to have had this many issues released under the imprint are 100 Bullets and Hellblazer). Although I won't go as far to say Fables is my favorite comic ever, it is is the one I've invested the most into (in terms of issues)...and I can't think of even a single issue of the main series that has fallen flat for me. You know sometimes I come out of a comic worried where the direction is headed, this isn't one of them. Bill Willingham is amazing and should be listed amongst the godliest of writers. Recently I renewed my passion for this series when I picked up the 1001 Nights of Snowfall trade paperback, I can see why it got the award for Best Anthology.
Now, although below I shall review the issues of this year, I assure you the series will be way more enjoyable if you read all the back issues, they have been collected very well in 12 trades so far with a 13th set for February release. And if you think, well screw that, I'm not wasting my money. It's not a waste of money, you will find the series to be well worth the cost, and each trade is jam-packed with so much awesomeness you'll feel like you haven't paid enough!
So the year started off with the conclusion of the Dark Ages story arc and from that one thought comes to mind, the picture you see up a little and to the right. I too sit and mourn the passing of @#$@ (if you don't already know who it is it's only because you have never paid the slightest bit of attention to Fables), he was one of my favorite characters ever since the Fables: The Last Castle one-shot (collected in Vol. 4). That's all I have to say on that, the story was truly tragic, one of my favorites. Oh and of course it birthed one of the coolest nemesis' to date, Mister Dark.
Then we had the Great Fables Crossover, initially I was unsure how I'd feel about it, reading solicits and not being caught up to recent day on the titles yet I didn't know what to think, but if you want the reasons why you should read it, Vertigo had this awesome editorial on reasons to read it, too bad I can't find that right now...maybe it's on the Internet somewhere. The basic idea though is its not some whole giant convoluted crossover...it was 3 issues, 3 titles, 3 months. And the three titles were Fables #83-85 (duh!), Jack of Fables #33-35 (a spin-off of Fables) and The Literals #1-3 (a mini spin-off of Jack of Fables released solely for the event). Truth be told, the storyline mainly involved Jack of Fables ideas and themes and some people who just read Fables may not have enjoyed and understood it so much but that's why I read both! It brought some nice closure to events in Jack of Fables and kicked-off some new changes for that title as well, it's effect on Fables...remains to be seen. Either way I think it was a great story, but as part of another series, as far as Fables is concerned it didn't actually seem all that essential IMHO.
Finally, the story line that was wrapped up just a few days ago, Witches, ah, this too has become one of my favorites already, perhaps because of the freshness in my mind or perhaps just because each new story means more build-up to make the story afterward even better. Whatever the case, I enjoyed this arc intensely, but highlights included: getting a lot more insight into the world of the magic Fables and seeing just how cunning and devious all of them are with their hidden agendas; and most importantly, Bufkin finally came out into the spotlight in an action-packed tale that has become his defining moment. I mean he's sort of been around the entire series with a little cameo in over half the issues but it wasn't until now he came unto his own and it was wonderful, I'd love to see a mini on him one day.
So my final words: give in to the masses, jump on the bandwagon and read Fables!
Minis and One-Shots
Okay, so I don't have as many of these to spotlight since I kept to the on-going's for the most part this year but I did come across some really good ones...however, don't expect as much insight with these choices, because being as short as they are, to give away some things I may end up ruining a large percentage of the content for you. On the upside, if you get any and don't like them, you'll not be out much time and money since they are just a few issues.
A re-take on the Invisible Man. Now hold on just a minute, don't even think about groaning with the thought that, re-doing a classic can only end miserably. In this original graphic novel, Jeff Lemire brings in an original and IMO beautiful style of artwork that fits the story perfectly. And then the story, well, I can't really describe it to you without spoiling. But the main point is a small town is disturbed from their day to day routine when a stranger arrives, covered in bandages, who stays up in his hotel room for days on end, bringing up many questions in the town of Large Mouth. The ending was executed to perfection, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who just wants a stand-alone one-shot. You just have to have a taste for Lemire's art I suppose (see Sweet Tooth for examples of his art/writing) but otherwise I can think of no downside.
Ah yes, Bang! Tango, a six-issue comic from the first half of 2009 (that has sadly not been collected yet, if ever which I personally find disappointing but I guess I can't expect everything to be re-released in trade paperback form, they're getting out some good stuff from years past so I have no right to complain). Anyways, back on Bang! Tango, it's a "one-of-a-kind" comic about a former gangster trying to escape his past life by becoming a tango dancer. But just as things seem to be working out, someone from his past comes and he fears will ruin it all. The entire series was well done, from the flashback sequences to establish a history, to the vast array of characters you won't find in your typical comics, and of course best of all...is you never know what's going on inside the mind's of the supporting characters and that leads to quite a few unexpected surprises. Both for the reader and the protagonist. Brilliant stuff, also the art is positively outstanding, vibrant and perfectly fitted to the sexy feel one should associate with the tango!
Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye
If you are a Grant Morrison fan or lover of the "off-the-wall" and unconventional comics, Seaguy is a must read. Morrison created this zany and cartoony world several years ago in the three issue mini, "Seaguy" which was collected in a trade I recommend you pick up. However, apparently due to low sales, his second three issue mini wasn't published. But he was resilient and he convinced DC to publish the second volume after all these years, and that of course is "The Slaves of Mickey Eye". This series features a more grown-up Seaguy, one not so naive and just seeking adventures, there's a lot more "doom and gloom" to the whole thing. And although it's a little sad to childish Seaguy has left us, everyone grows up some time (as I realize every time I see my nephews). This mini was epic through and through, with some humor at times, some tragedy at other times and times where you just jump up and throw a fist in the air accompanied with a triumphant battle cry. Of course, even this is not the end of Seaguy, for like his epic, The Invisibles, Morrison intends this to be in three volumes. The third of which shall be called "Seaguy Eternal". I have no idea when it'll be coming out but I'm hoping 2010 sometime! Aye, aye, Seaguy!
Vertigo Crime is Vertigo's first sub-imprint in practically a decade, it's a line of comics dedicated to telling black-and-white, original noir-style graphic novels. And although it seems the event will really begin in 2010 (with The Chill for Jan, The Bronx Kill for March and Area 10 for April), the event kicked-off this year with two releases. Dark Entries written by famed mystery writer, Ian Rankin and Filthy Rich written by "Mr. 100 Bullets" himself, Brian Azzarello. I enjoyed both of them, but I'll admit I didn't really feel they represented a single genre at all. They were very different to me. If you like gritty, noir stories I'd say pick up Filthy Rich...if you want more horror-style, mystery I'd recommend Dark Entries (which is actually a John Constantine story, but it's a one-shot and can be enjoyed even without knowing the character). Either way, both comics are for people who aren't looking for a light-hearted comic.
Favorite New Ongoing
Three new ongoing titles have dawned this year, and although I could probably review them all, I've decided I would pick my favorite of the three and review that. The three are: The Unwritten (eight issues), Greek Street (six issues), and Sweet Tooth (four issues). You can find a video review of both Greek Street #1 and Sweet Tooth #1 here and here respectively...and a less-in-depth review of Sweet Tooth #4 here.
Now let's be perfectly honest here, the reputations of a new comic's creative team can seriously boost the initial sales of that new title, and for me Unwritten was no exclusion to the rule. As you should know by now, my favorite comic of all time is Lucifer. And so clever marketers at Vertigo advertised Unwritten before its release as being the handiwork of Mike Carey and Peter Gross, but what was more important is they were solicited as the "Lucifer creative team". So it's no surprise I was already bragging about how great the series was before it was released, and I have looked forward to every issue ever since with much anticipation.
But, it was with the fifth issue of the series that I knew The Unwritten had come into its own, no longer bound by the reputation of Lucifer's tale, this story rose to being one of my favorite comics of all time. There's still quite a bit of mystery surrounding just what exactly is going on, but our protagonist is one Tom Taylor. He's famed around the world since his father wrote the Tommy Taylor series (read by one third of the world, think Harry Potter) and seemingly named his son after the protagonist of his own books. Now, one thing I like about comics like the ones I have become accustomed to is that the protagonist is not necessarily the most featured character in every issue so you can get a whole slew of interesting characters rather then just one.
In the first four issue arc of Unwritten, Tom was thought of by many people around the globe as the character Tommy Taylor incarnate, but his rise to fame became his downfall when a mysterious organization set him up to appear a murderer of a group of authors. It was in issue five that we see a little back story on this mysterious organization and some of the work they've been doing in past centuries, but like I said, still a lot of mystery to keep you invested in the story and anticipating the big reveal. You can pick up the first five issues in a trade come January.
The current arc is set in Donostia, a prison in France where Tom was sentenced after the mass murder he was framed for committing. I absolutely love the story right now, Mike Carey's writing and Peter Gross' art combine for one epic series. This month's issue only succeeding in boosting the title up even more points (if that's possible) with an "interlude". I won't spoil any details, but I've had some fun noticing slight similarities to Lucifer and with this issue I immediately thought of Martin. Now I'm not saying that this is just a Lucifer rip-off, or in the shadow of the former, or even remotely similar story-line wise...it's just one of those nerdy passions of mine to make the little connections.
So in conclusion (since I may have gotten off-track), if you have gotten interested in picking up only one title from this entire article, let this BE THAT ONE, one of the best comics on shelves these days, pick it up! If you don't like it, you probably don't like anything other then superhero comics which is fine, but then you probably never read this far in the review anyways before finding "better things to do".
Epic Titles from the Past
These were my favorite titles from past years that Vertigo chose to reprint or collect this year, ranging from several epics that I don't even need to say anything about other then the fact that they were part of the After Watchmen event to smaller-scale epics that are basically unheard of (which is what I'm typing up this article for, to make the unknown known).
Some weeks ago when I first saw this comic on the upcoming releases list G-Man posted, I jokingly recommended it to Inferiorego (he's one of those cool staff guys you may see roaming around) for well...obvious reasons. But to be honest, back then I knew nothing about this original graphic novel except it had already been released in hardcover in 2008 and this was just its first trade paperback release. That and I knew it was Vertigo. Well, sometime after that I happened to be at the store to kill some time and surprise, surprise, I meander over to the graphic novels. But the comic I was looking for wasn't there, and I'm not one to make a trip for nothing...so I begin to browse starting with the A's...and that's how me and The Alcoholic first met. And oh what a memorable meeting it was, this has to be the most riveting "autobiography" I've ever read (and possibly the only one). Now, okay, I'll admit Jonathan Ames says it's got a lot of fiction involved, but the point is you can't really discern which parts are his life and which are just made up...which only succeeds in making the story more interesting. Either way it is wonderful writing on Jonathan's part and Haspiel's artwork is superb. It's very different from your typical superhero comic, nothing, well...super about any of it...it's just real people, real life, not the kid-friendly take on life either. Although the underlying story seems to be one man's fight with alcoholism, there is so much more to it then that, friendship, lost love, a miserable tale at times, yes, but there is a little hope in it too. I honestly don't know how many people would be fans of this comic, but if you want to try something different, something "real" (I know people say Spider-Man is relatable but that's a complete load, can you shoot webs? do you fight super-villains all the time? I didn't think so...) Not everyone will have gone through all these experiences, or at least I hope not, but there's always lessons to be learned from a story about addiction since it's a trial every human faces. My only complaint...the dimensions of this trade make it a little shorter and wider then my other trades and it looks out of place :(
Blood and Water
Now, I realize that the only reason this five issue miniseries from several years ago was collected in trade paperback after all this time was to cash in on the vampire craze...but I'm not upset Vertigo decided to take advantage of this craze. Otherwise it may have been quite some more time before I ever noticed this little gem. Now, for all you who think I am bias and claim all things Vertigo are perfect, let it be known I wasn't entirely happy with this series. I did not like the last two issues, or at least, I felt they didn't live up to the first three, the last two sort of degenerated into just another vampire story, in my opinion it lost what the first three issues had. However, what those first three issues had was phenomenal, in fact I'd dare say they were three of the best single issues I have ever come across in my comic-reading career. Now maybe I was just hit with something personally, but Judd Winnick's writing in the first half of the series is beyond words. Yes, it's a vampire story but reading it, it feels like so much more then that, it's a story about friendship, about mortality, about human fears and desires...it's about celebration and tragedy. I felt so close to the protagonists...even as vampires, the insight into humanity was wonderful. I really wish this could have been more then just a mini, that maybe the ending could have been elongated or adjusted a little. Yet I still want to point people in the direction of this comic...not the first on my list, but amazing in its own right.
Originally published in five double-sized issues about six or seven years ago (and since reprinted in both trade paperback and hardcover form), the creative team of 100% is special in that both the writing and art was done by Paul Pope. It allows for more creative freedom I suppose when you're the entire driving force behind a story and Paul Pope definitely has the talents of both a great writer and phenomenal artist. This story takes place in 2038, so expect some weird concepts and activities, such as Gastro. But at the same time, the characters are still human, with emotions just like anyone else. I mean, they're just humans; strippers, bus-boys, bodyguards, wrestlers, artists...and this story tells of their human connections with one another. It's a beautiful story and obviously I'm not the only one who thinks so since it was part of the After Watchmen event this year. If you can enjoy a story without super fights, or zombies or any of that "good stuff", then give this a try. You won't be disappointed.
Shade, the Changing Man
As the guy who gets associated with knowing his Vertigo, I am ashamed to say up until recently I had not read an issue of this, one of the six core titles that started the entire imprint. If you don't know the history, what happened was Karen Berger gathered some DC writers, artists, and titles under one banner and the Vertigo imprint was born. So, six long-running titles suddenly started showing the Vertigo imprint on their covers (Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Sandman and Shade). The problem I've been having with many of these titles is finding trade paperbacks, because of these six only The Sandman has ever been fully collected. That's why I was so excited a few months ago when I found out Vertigo would FINALLY be reprinting the first Shade trade and releasing a second. I currently have no idea if they intend to continue collecting the seventy-issue series (I very much hope they are...) but I expect now that I've bought the first two trades and submerged myself in this mad world, I'll have to track down the individual issues, it's quickly becoming one of my favorite Vertigo titles.
In this series, Peter Milligan took an old DC character (now that I think about it, even his revamping is probably considered old by today's standards, that was twenty years ago) and remade him to be the protagonist of a title aimed at mature readers, an "intellectual" comic. This title takes a look at America, the American Dream (the main villain, at least thus far has been the "American Scream"), the flaws in it of course. Our main character is an alien from Meta who has been sent to Earth to cure it of its madness...some of his origins still need to be delved into I think, although we've got a decent amount thus far, the first trades definitely give you enough of a taste that you're yearning for more, especially with all these unfinished plot threads left hanging now... Which is why I think it'd be best for Vertigo if they got on the ball and collected this series, maybe one a month? Even if they don't do that though, I definitely think you should pick up the first two trades, even if you're not an American, it's just a great commentary on all types of people, their motivations, their dreams. And when I heard that Shade will be appearing in Hellblazer (which is currently being written by none other then Peter Milligan) I was quite enthused. Definitely give Shade a try if you're into the non-typical comics that can also bring some deep thought. Fun stuff!
This is a comic that long ago proved itself, but I'd like to spotlight it simply because this year I finally finished reading it, DC has decided to start a hardcover collection as part of the "After Watchmen" event, and of course because it gets mentioned more often then you'd think on the forums and many times I feel as if no one has actually read it. So here's my letting you all know to read it or stop talking about it. It's a pet peeve of mine when people discuss great comics I love, without actually discussing the content and just the hypothetical stuff.
So, if you don't already know what Preacher is, it's Garth Ennis at his best (even if he claims The Boys will out-Preacher Preacher). However, as should not be a surprise if you've read Ennis, this is a comic that caused(es) a lot of controversy for its language, violence, blasphemy, bestiality, etc. All in an effort to make us take a step back and look at religion and of course, society. But yes, if you are easily offended or still on the innocent side, this is not for you at all. One of my fears about HBO making a series of it was that it would raise even more controversy and non-comic readers would start protesting comics...and then all Hell would be unleashed.
However, since that hasn't happened yet, we still can enjoy Preacher...the comic is absolutely hilarious...in that, I know I should be reeling in disgust but this is just too good, kind of way. With a cast of individuals including, but not limited to: a teenage boy with an arse for a face, a business tycoon who gets off with meat products, a very foul-mouthed man trying to bring about Armageddon but finds himself constantly concerned about the fact that his head looks like a penis, the last descendant of Jesus Christ who just happens to be mentally retarded, the one-eyed product of generations of in-breeding who dreams of marrying his sister one day, a god who abandoned creation, an Irish vampire with a drinking problem, a man whose raped just about every animal in creation, and of course what seems to be the most renown character on this site: the Saint of Killers.
Look, if that wasn't enough to entice you...you are beyond hope...but for those of you who have found yourself intrigued, you can pick up the entire Preacher collection in nine nice trades (or you can wait for each new hardcover to come out and get them that way, the second one comes out in February).
Vertigo definitely had a vast abundance of beautiful covers (as it does every year) and I rarely ever come across one I don't like. So, although I had a very hard time even narrowing down my favorites to the Top 30, I decided I would bring it all the way down to the Top 5 since I don't really have any artistic talent and don't know how to describe why I love covers other then "they look pretty" and didn't want to make this a gallery with no actual words because then you couldn't read it. So without further stalling, here they are:
I'm not going to lie, choosing a favorite cover of all the first issues released this year was hard (even if there were only about half a dozen to choose from), but eventually it came down to the premiere comic cover of new talent, Chrissie Zullo. When I first began reading Fables, I had heard speak of the amazing reinvention of Cinderella that Bill Willingham had created and although I had yet to encounter this femme fatale Cinderella myself (her first shining moment being in Fables #22), just seeing James Jean's covers I instantly fell in love. And let me tell you, when I finally did read some of her tales I was not disappointed. But not only is she a fabulously written character, everyone loves to draw a femme fatale so it's only natural her pin-ups are equally magnificent. So yeah, that's my speech...click the cover for a larger view and all that jazz.
Despite loving more then one artist's final cover to usher in the conclusion of a series, the choice was inevitable that I would favor the cover of the most epic series that sadly, had to end this year. Yes, that's right Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets, one of Vertigo's longest-running titles. The culmination of ten years worth of effort, and the same creative team throughout its entire run. Now that deserves some acknowledgement. So, to Dave Johnson's 100th cover to the 100th issue of 100 Bullets and the final curtain, we bid our tearful farewell to an unparalleled epic.
Okay, as much as Glenn Fabry's Greatest Hits #5 gave me a few chuckles by displaying the enviable life of a rock star superhero, in the end I had to go with the comic that has given me the most fits of laughter. The Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables starring the comic book world's biggest douche-bag, Jack Horner. Oh how I have loved this series ever so much and besides the contents of this issue which conclude the long-running Bookburner fiasco, the cover is a nice blend of humor which is actually all the funnier after you read the issue. Although it spotlights the Fourth Little Pig, what really makes me laugh is the four individuals you see in the background, the three Page Sisters and of course, Jack. Almost since the first issue of this series Jack has been promising (it's a comic not limited by the fourth wall) in the "what happens in the next issue" section that he'll do all three Page sisters, at once. And you know, after a while you come to realize Jack's just a liar and nothing he says can be trusted...and then you see this cover and after 32 issues you finally think that dreams do come true. And then you read the issue...hahaha! Jack, you are a hero to ladies' men everywhere.
Okay, so for the fourth cover I had to debate between many different covers and although there are some really amazing covers I think you should browse through (Northlanders and Fables), I decided I would have to channel my inner male and go for the sexiest cover of the year. And as much as the whole Bang! Tango thing is sexy if you are into BDSM and trannies and all that fun stuff, I went with Hellblazer. No I have not read Peter Milligan's work on the series and I am ashamed to say it, but it's not in my nature to just jump into a series without first reading the back issues. And with Hellblazer, that means a LOT of back issues. But come on, just look at that cover, it just oozes seduction and sexual desire, how can you not love it?! And the backdrop is simply stunning and the perfect feel to anything John Constantine. Ultra sexy!
Favorite Cover Artist
A slew of the best artists that have ever graced the pages of a comic book with their work fell under the Vertigo banner this year and as much as I'd like to be able to take the time to praise them all, I had to pick a favorite and my pick was Esao Andrews. I mean the 2008 covers by Sam Weber and Glenn Fabry for House of Mystery were great, but the 2009 covers? Even better. Esao has a gift for drawing the horrific, the tragic, so it should be no surprise he did the cover for Vertigo's first-ever Halloween Annual. So yes, check out all of his covers, I just posted the one I felt was the most...poetic. Beautiful artwork like this saddens me though when the comic finally does come out and part of the piece is covered by titling and barcode. If I was more of an art enthusiast and had money to waste I would totally buy large versions of these and hang them in my own personal art gallery!
These are the comics I think are great but have not reviewed for a variety of reasons:
Y: The Last Man: This happens to be one of my favorite comics of all time, and they have been collecting it in Deluxe Edition now but the reason I don't review it is because it has been in the spotlight for the past couple years, it's not really anything new or unknown, LAMP has mentioned it many times, as has IE, the fact is...if you haven't read this already, there's nothing I can do to sway you. All I can do is pity you for missing out on one of the greatest comics of all time.
Hellblazer: Although I find John Constantine to be a fascinating character, Hellblazer is the only currently ongoing Vertigo series I am not yet caught up with since I feel the need to read many more back issues before I jump in to a title that's already surpassed the 250th issue milestone. But from what I've already read and from what I've heard of the stuff I haven't got to yet, I recommend at least checking out a trade or two.
100 Bullets: Once again, I have the same problem with Hellblazer, except 100 Bullets concluded this year so I don't have to worry about "catching up"...however, I have already read over thirty-six issues of the series and can assure everyone that it's an amazing series and I am confident it'll only get better as I continue my own reading experience with it. What would you do if someone gave you 100 untraceable bullets and all the evidence you need to prove someone else is ultimately responsible for the problems in your life?
Absolute Death: Okay, as much as I absolutely adore Death of the Endless, I have to admit I'm not really a fan of the "Absolutes" but if you are, pick this up, I've read the stuff collected in there and it's wonderful. Absolutes are only reserved for epics anyways, so I think the fact that this was ever published should be a testament to it's greatness.
Young Liars: I really loved this series in the beginning, but near the end things seemed to fall apart for me, and it was then that I found out the series had been cancelled, and I can only believe David Lapham was unable to play out his intended finale and therefore the series never was what it could have been. I for one, as a writer, can never be comfortable with the idea that a writer's vision was cut short and the ending has to be rushed or changed but sadly that's what it seems had to happen here.
Haunted Tank: I read this series at Inferiorego's recommendation, and oh what a recommendation it was, I could not say it any more eloquently or persuasively so just read his review of it.
Transmetropolitan: I absolutely love this series and am buying the new edition trade paperbacks as they come out but I can't think of a way to properly review it (possibly because I feel like my brain is fried...never reviewed so much in so short a time frame). However, if you are interested you can ask around on the site, quite a few users are big fans of this series and I'm sure would gladly give you a taste. I can't really say anything that the masses haven't. It's a hit, what more can be said? Besides that Spider Jerusalem is one of my favorite characters in this or any medium.