Last year, I was considered one of the biggest Vertigo enthusiasts around here and having read the majority of the content Vertigo released in 2009, I decided I’d sum up what I had found to be the best of the year so people would know what they missed and need to check out. It's a year later and I have hundreds more Vertigo releases then I had the year before (over two hundred of them released this year). Although I won’t deny having not gotten to a few graphic novels and the like, I have read almost everything Vertigo released this year and decided once again I’d share what I felt was the best, only whereas last year I wrote about everything I could until I ran out of time, this year I’ll just talk about my favorites in detail and briefly explore the rest at the bottom of the article.
There were quite a few ongoing titles this year, at the highest point fifteen ongoings were hitting the shelf at once…however, unfortunately despite two new ongoings launched (mentioned in their own category below), four were given the axe in 2010. I have chosen five of my favorites to highlight here (two of them being ones that were cancelled) in the hopes that maybe one will interest you enough to check out in the 2011 year.
HellblazerIf any one title were to represent Vertigo, it would have to be Hellblazer. Never the most popular series hitting shelves, it has outlasted many of its competitors and is the only ongoing title Vertigo releases that is older then the imprint itself. The book has a rich history and has been worked on by many of the industry greats, but don’t let that steer you away from the book. If you’re thinking to yourself that over two-hundred and fifty issues worth of history is too much to dedicate yourself to, then be comforted in knowing that almost any writer’s run is completely accessible without any of the others. Peter Milligan’s is no exception.
At the beginning of last year he came onto the book with #251. He’s been writing a grand epic ever since…and it just keeps getting better and better. For those of you who don’t know, Peter Milligan is a longtime comic writer associated with such names as Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, and all those other Brits who came to write for DC back in the late 80’s. The current creative team is phenomenal, from Milligan to the penciller/inker team of Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini (you may know Camuncoli from BKV’s Swamp Thing or recent Wolverine comics) who’s art really brings a vibrancy and life to the book as well as Simon Bisley’s covers which adorn the comic with some of the best pieces I’ve seen this year.
This year the story really picked up in speed and every month it has consistently been that one book I just get the shakes thinking about. I need to have it! Having set things up in 2009, Milligan now showed us just what it was he was building up to and it is big, really big. In fact, if you don’t know about it already, you’ve been following the wrong news feeds. In January of 2011, John Constantine (at the ripe old age of 58) is getting married! To someone half his age! Yep, it’s a big event for #275. It’s very plausible everything will go wrong but if you think this sounds like another gimmick in the comic industry, keep in mind Hellblazer has been in print for 22 years. Since the first issue 22 years of time have passed in the life of John. It’s about time he kept a lover. What’s been so great about it is the crescendo. Milligan brought in his old friend Shade the Changing Man (one of my favorite comic book characters!) for some insanity and the whole story has just taken the love triangle idea to levels never imagined (in a good way) and Biz is even doing some interiors!
I usually review every issue of Hellblazer the week it comes out (because it gets me that excited) and have since #268 if you want to see more details. When it comes down to it, I just ask you to give it a try, everyone I’ve convinced to read it so far has only told me good things. If you want to know where to start, three trades are out (Scab, Hooked, India) that collect #251-266...if you want to just keep reading in trade, the trade containing most of the great stuff from this year comes out next summer: Bloody Carnations (#267-275) but if you read books monthly, this is a great one to try out. And hey, if you love it, maybe you’ll check out the past runs from guys like Ennis, Azzarello, Carey, and Diggle.
Hellblazer in 2011?: I want to see Milligan remain on this book until at least #300 and if he has more stories, then beyond that, he has definitely proven himself a great Hellblazer writer. I’d also like to see this book last for many more years, decades if necessary and come to a natural ending…this year DC took back its properties from Vertigo, except for Hellblazer, which gives me hope they intend to keep what has outlasted many other books. I can’t wait to see what’s in the future for Conjob and Piffy!
Madame XanaduAh, yes, Madame Xanadu, the eldest of the four titles killed off this year, a mere twenty-nine issues. It could’ve and should’ve lasted much longer. Unfortunately even though the fan base was there, as I mentioned, DC wanted its properties back and Madame Xanadu didn’t have enough history as a Vertigo staple. Written by Matt Wagner and drawn by a variety of talented artists, Madame Xanadu has gone through various periods of the DC magician’s life, establishing a rich history for her, never taking place in the present yet still incorporating characters that a fan of DC could enjoy just getting a glimpse of.
As someone who’s a fan of many DC characters but not necessarily all the stuff coming out from month to month, it was a thrill to see various characters over the years from The Phantom Stranger, Etrigan, Spectre to Wesley Dodds and Martian Manhunter. Heck, the series even had Death of the Endless for an issue, and unlike the recent appearance in Action Comics, it didn’t feel out of place. This year the series did something rather daring and I’d say successful in creating a very amazing tale (although the book was cancelled, I do not blame it on lack of quality as much worse books are still in print).
For a six-part arc (the last six issues of the series), Matt Wagner helped us explore the six senses with a different artist for each issue and except for the finale, all were stand-alone tales that could be read on their own or in conjunction with the rest of the book. The stand-alone issue is an underappreciated aspect of comics these days. With all the events and arcs (not always bad things mind you) it can be rare to get one issue that stands up entirely on its own, but Matt perfected it this year on at least a few occassions. Whereas the first 23 issues of the series consisted of a ten-issue arc, five-issue arc and eight-issue arc…the last six proved Matt is quite capable of crafting a complete story in just twenty-two pages.
If you’re reluctant to check out the book (seeing as there will be no more new issues) and you’re not sure you want to commit to the four trades that will collect it all I would at least recommend you check out any number of issues from #24-28 (26 and 27 were my personal favorites) and although they may not tell you exactly what to expect from the other twenty plus issues, they’ll definitely let you know if you can enjoy the type of comics Vertigo has to offer. If you do get a trade, honestly any trade will feel like a complete story (the way it was written, what with the time-jumps and all) so don’t worry about committing all at once, but do check it out.
ScalpedLet it be known, I don’t like when my ongoing books don’t ship on schedule (which is why I applaud you, Jimmy Palmiotti). Whereas it ruined the enjoyment of the Fables family of books this year - which read better in trade anyway - Scalped managed to remain one of my favorites despite the troubles keeping up a monthly schedule at times. Why? Because each and every issue was powerful. The guest artists were all magnificent and captured the feel of the book, and of course R.M. Guera continued his dominance as the main interior artist but let’s not forget the writing…
I believe most people know Jason Aaron these days for writing things like Punisher and Wolverine, but if you haven’t checked out Scalped yet, you’re really missing out. It’s in a creator-owned work that someone in the comic industry can really define themselves. Scalped, like the aforementioned Madame Xanadu, proved its mastery of the short self-contained story with several one-shots and a two-parter. However, what probably got the most buzz was the book’s arc of the year, Unwanted, which dealt with the topic of abortion.
Abortion is not a new topic in comics and has been dealt with several times in the past. cI’ve read comics where either route has been chosen…but what made Scalped unique and interesting is Jason Aaron has created a world that is not just about the big players. Everyone gets their story, it’s about all the people who have to live a life every day where the world’s against them. Because of these various characters and viewpoints, it means neither “side” won over in the end, both were enacted at some point in the story, and both well presented. There was no agenda at work here, unless it was to stop making people get so heated towards one another, it was just a pure story. The point is this book captures the real feelings of pain and frustration that anyone in the situations portrayed in the comic would feel.
Scalped is gritty and it's real. Don’t be surprised if tears come to your eyes as Hazel and Mance’s hands clasp one last time, or you come to feel an attachment to Sheriff Wooster Karnow of all people when he’s finally tested. If you can handle a book that will possibly make you feel stuff, I recommend you check Scalped out. Six trades out already, with a seventh collecting most of the stuff from this year coming out soon, this is a book that’s great right from the beginning and will be right to the end.
Scalped in 2011?: What I wish for Scalped is that it ends naturally. As far as the book has come, that is the least it deserves…now where that end is I haven’t the slightest idea…I’m not sure how far Aaron intends to take this. I would think the ending was coming in the next year or two but I’m no fortune-teller, all I do know is next year comes the 50th issue and it seems they’re going to build up to it with quite a few interesting things I can’t wait to read (if the solicits are telling the truth).
Unknown SoldierAnother of the cancelled books this year, Unknown Soldier was one of the best stories on shelves this year. Period. It’s that book where the creators put far more effort into it then they had to, but they did so because they actually cared about what they were putting out. It was that book that picked up a part of the world most of us will never see or experience and let us share in it. The book was filled with research and accuracy was always important to Joshua Dysart, the only fill-in artist ever on the book (#13-14) comes from the area of the world the book features.
If you don’t know already, the book takes place in Africa, Northern Uganda (Acholiland) to be specific although it does move around to other African countries at times. It doesn’t take place in the present, it takes place in the past few years, yet I believe it will still retain its power decades into the future. What Unknown Soldier is, is taking an old DC concept from the war comics of the 50’s and combining it with a war unlike any of those seen in said comics.
However, although the character Unknown Soldier is a DC character, truth be told the term predates DC and is actually commonly used as part of the term “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. Now I’m not going to get all encyclopedic on you all because I can’t do it in an interesting way, but rest assured, Dysart keeps Unknown Soldier informative to the plight of real people while still crafting a story that can get any action fan excited.
Unlike many other books that get cancelled over the years, Unknown Soldier did not go out with a cliffhanger, some page that tells you what became of everyone (well actually there is one of those but it’s as a supplement, not the finale itself) or just an abrupt end that doesn’t feel conclusive at all…it ends. It ends how it should always have ended. Dysart proved himself capable of what few others are, the ability to take news of a cancellation and spin in into one of the greatest endings a comic has ever had…I can name very few legitimately great endings because unfortunately comics don’t like to end and it almost always seems the ones that do, did so because of low sales. Unknown Soldier is a twenty-five issue read (four trades come May) and definitely a MUST-read for anyone who wants to see how to end a comic or how to just write one in general. And the art is fantastic, don’t forget, Ponticelli is very talented as proved by the fact that even though he drew all but #13-14, if you look at the issues before that gap and those afterward you probably wouldn’t even know it was the same artist, he has proven himself capable of drawing in more then one style. As for Dave Johnson’s covers? Check them out for yourself…simply beautiful. It was fun, Dave.
The UnwrittenMy favorite of the three ongoings launched last year, and one of my favorite ongoings this year…The Unwritten is definitely living up to the potential it possessed last year and I only see it reaching new heights in future years. The writing and art continue to be top notch from one of the finest creative teams in the industry and the story only gets better and better. The concept is brilliant and thus far has not been damaged in any way, in fact it has only gotten more intriguing as new plot threads appear.
I have to admit, when reading this series, what really gets my mind whirring is the organization that opposes our heroic trio. Ever since #5 they have raced through my head. To see some of their inner workings in the recent 18 issue while still having so much mystery surrounding them...I am still fascinated to learn more of them as the series progresses.
Of course, there has always been a flaw in Unwritten that wasn't present in this team’s more renown work Lucifer…and that is, I don’t feel that attached to the characters. At least not yet. It’s the story that has me so invested but whereas I can feel a connection with Lucifer, Mazikeen and Elaine…with Tom Taylor, Elizabeth Hexam and Richard Savoy I feel nothing. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true…thanks to the phenomenal and very unique 17 issue of the series, I have begun to love Lizzie’s character and the interactions between characters is improving but still…I’m not quite there yet, but maybe part of the journey is growing to love the characters because as of right now, I still love the comic so someone must be doing something right. This is a great book to check out for a unique wish-you-thought-of-it concept and I’ll definitely stick with it through the end.
The Unwritten in 2011?: Twenty issues in and I still feel like we’re just getting warmed up, I’m hoping this book still has several years ahead of it…I feel like this book could be an epic when it‘s completed on par with the books featured within it.
Although the ongoings are what keep me reading comics from week to week, every few weeks it’s nice to get a self-contained book or perhaps over a span of a few months get a short story…although I admit I have a much harder time keeping up with all the original graphic novels that get released then I do the ongoing comics, I almost always find the experience to be very much worth it. They find a way of drawing you in…and before you know it, the story’s over.
The Bronx KillThis year the Vertigo Crime books have taken off, with only two released last year for its launch, this year another half dozen came out. Let me tell you, there is some great content in this line but I think my favorite this year (although it was a hard choice) was The Bronx Kill by Peter Milligan and James Romberger. Vertigo Crime books are noir stories, done in black and white naturally, and this one did a perfect job capturing the feel of the genre: the pervading sense of dread, the unanswered questions and of course the ending that is not happily ever after.
Noir comics are not for people who are looking for an uplifting story, but they are some of the most enjoyable books to watch unfold (like 100 Bullets for example). The Bronx Kill is definitely one of those, between pages 46 and 48 the twist if you will, occurs, and from that point on I found myself engulfed in the story, I had to know what happened, I felt Martin’s plight. And then of course you start questioning everyone in your mind, what’s really going on…and well, when you find out the real answer, it’s certainly far from disappointing but it’s not what I expected (which is a good thing if you ask me).
This book is definitely proof that the Vertigo Crime is a successful effort on the part of Vertigo, and that preview they’re running on next year’s Rat Catcher…I love this line.
DaytripperAlthough the first issue came out last December, the latter nine came out this year and wow, when this was going, it was definitely one of the hottest books every month. I’m just going to throw this out there because it’s not a secret anymore as it was when the story was kicking off but the main character (Bras) dies at the end of every issue. No he doesn’t have superpowers, he’s just a regular guy. Before we had the ending some people would get quite curious how this was possible.
I on the other hand was not…I loved each and every one of those first eight issues, the poignancy of the death was never lost on me…of course I’m that guy who reads a zombie story and DOES NOT want to know how the outbreak started, I couldn’t care less, I think giving away the real answer is the wrong choice. I didn’t want to know if the real Bras lived to the ripe old age of 117 or was miscarried several months into pregnancy, I liked the idea of a new take on his life every issue.
If you haven’t figured it out, they did give us the real Bras in the end…which I guess I should admit was not a bad thing, done how it was it didn’t ruin any of the previous stories and it answered people’s questions and I still think the series is one of the finest ideas in a comic. I want to see books like this in English classes (not that kids these days actually pay any attention and I should know seeing as I was in a high school English class seven months ago).
Now, I’m a trade guy but I’m not a real fan of the hardcover format. Unfortunately as of now I believe that is the only format this book is being released in…so…I personally prefer the single issues but a lot of people like hardcover’s so it’s probably meant as an honor for the book so definitely pick it up in single issues or hardcover, whichever you prefer, you won’t be disappointed (unless you want superhero vs. superhero action, they don’t have that here).
Demo Vol. IIDemo, the first volume, is a brilliant and acclaimed collection of twelve issues, all there own beginning and end, that was published seven years ago by indie publisher AiT/Planet Lar. The book helped bring attention to two very talented people in the comics medium (writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan) who are one of the best creative teams in the industry as well as both amazing on their own or when paired with others. But it is always a treat when the two unite again for something and a second Demo series, well, that news had me ecstatic!
The original Demo series was collected in a single trade paperback by Vertigo, and since Brian Wood is writing two ongoings at the imprint currently and has been for a few years it seemed only natural it is where the new Demo series would find it’s home. One of the best things about Demo Vol. II is that despite its ties to the second biggest comic publisher out there, it still has that indie feel to it, an identity all its own. Each and every issue is so personal with its own set of back-up features such as a column from both Brian and Becky about working on Demo and various sketches, previews of the upcoming issues, you could forget the book is published by the same people who give us all those books that have the same back-up features in every issue for the week (or sometimes the month).
As Brian says, what makes Demo so great is you couldn’t imagine it without Brian or Becky. They make the series what it is and it’s fantastic. The books were originally a play on the teen superhero thing that was all the rage, with young people possessing superpowers. But unlike the X-Men for example, all these stories took place in the real world. There were no costumes or experienced people with powers to teach, it was just a young person with another problem or gift that made them different. As much as I enjoyed the original series, I feel like this second series (although half the length, at only six issues) blew the original one out of the water.
Both Brian and Becky have developed over the years in the comic industry and I feel like it shows, the stories in these issues are nothing short of beautiful. Not a one of them doesn’t deserve some sort of recognition on a list of the best single issues of the year. There’ll be a trade collecting them coming out soon if you want to wait, but either way, just read it. “Indie” comics at their best.
Hellblazer: City of DemonsCity of Demons was Vertigo’s first comic released two times a month and being only five issues, it flew by pretty fast…it is also the most recent release in this portion of the article, having just ended earlier this month. A spin-off of Hellblazer, City of Demons is a John Constantine story written by Si Spencer (Vinyl Underground, Books of Magick) and drawn by Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian).
The book is still fresh so I haven’t had time to let it sit and look back on it and give it another read-through but I do already look back on it with fondness. Right off the bat, Sean Murphy’s art is stunning, I love his style and it works perfectly with this story, which is a great story. Continuity-wise I’m not sure where it fits, but I’m not too concerned about that, this is definitely John and the story holds true to some details about him fans would know while introducing a whole new story that -as G-Man would say-, has no consequences, but as I would say, certainly still retains its value.
I don’t think you need to be a Hellblazer fan to read this mini, it certainly has no ties to the current story going on in Hellblazer but then again Hellblazer is mapping the life of a man over decades, it’s quite acceptable to pick and choose chapters of his life to enjoy if you so desire. But it is a horror story, just like the main series, and not all the monsters are demons.
Vertigo Resurrected: ShootNow, if you’re reading DC comics, you may have noticed they are releasing a bunch of 100-Page Spectaculars and the like that serve as collections without having to make a trade paperback. That idea has been passed on to DC’s imprint as well only they have a fancy name for it: Vertigo Resurrected. Because, there, you know…resurrecting old stories from Vertigo’s rich back-catalog.
To be honest, the books don’t mean too much to me personally because I read tons of uncollected books from Vertigo’s back-catalog all the time. However, with the launch of these books came something that did interest me, quite a bit actually. Shoot.
For those of you who don’t know, Warren Ellis used to write Hellblazer back in the late 90’s…he was intended to be the ongoing writer for the run that never was. Looking back you’ll find a six-issue arc that only has four issues out and while you may just naturally assume it’s another Desolation Jones, the fact is the run ended prematurely due to censorship. “Shoot” was that censored story…due to its nature and the recent events of Columbine, a certain DC executive stated that the story would not see print while he was in power.
As it happens, due to the power shift in DC, the story was brought to print (to the surprise of Ellis) and unlike the leaked version that could be read online for years, the one printed is in color. Now, I admit a lot of the excitement for the issue is that it’s a defeat of censorship but the story itself is definitely one of Ellis’ best and even though I feel it’s a “too little, too late” situation, I think people should definitely give it a read…if you’re a fan of Ellis, a fan of Hellblazer or an advocate against censorship, maybe? Although I could see how it would rub some people the wrong way, there’s nothing wrong with the issue, no more then any other comic that sees print. Plus, it comes with a bunch of random short stories from Vertigo anthologies by some of the industry greats…so it’s definitely worth the price if Vertigo is your thing.
This year, there were only two new ongoings launched (ironically both are “monster” books technically speaking) and although I found it difficult to choose one over the other as my favorite of the year, I have to give it to American Vampire. I, Zombie is fun and right now the two are neck in neck in what great things could be in store for them but I feel American Vampire established itself more this year then I, Zombie.
American VampireTo be honest, I feel like this book has been marketed far too much as an obvious side-effect of the vampire crazy…but that is only because I hate it being lumped in with said craze, I legitimately think it’s a great book that stands all its own. But it does get special treatment, the first five issues were extra-length with two stories each (one from creator Scott Snyder and one from guest writer Stephen King). Each had a variant cover by some notable artist in the industry from Jim Lee to Bernie Wrightson or Andy Kubert. Plus, even though I personally find them the lesser quality I know the world deems them superior, it gets the hardcover collection treatment rather then the trade paperback. So with all that, it becomes a pricey purchase in comparison to the other Vertigo books, it’s main flaw.
Content-wise, it is far from a bad story so don’t worry about that. Like all vampire stories, it is a new take on the mythology that has been changed so often few probably know what a vampire originally was meant to be…thankfully it still retains the horror element that is so essential to vampire fiction, whilst intertwining the lives of the vampires within to American history. Granted, the series is still new so I’m not sure how far Snyder plans to take the idea of his vampires growing through the decades but so far we’ve seen the Old West of the late 1800’s, the Hollywood of the 1920’s and currently the Las Vegas of the 1930’s.
Due to the immortality of vampires, time skips of a decade at a time are perfectly acceptable and double as a writing device when say, some child swears revenge and then, next arc they’re a full-grown woman enacting that revenge. Admittedly, I could see this being overused with new characters being introduced, growing up, etc. while our main characters remain ageless but so far I am liking it. Although as a Canadian, I lack American pride, but I do enjoy seeing the concept of America’s new breed of vampire crushing the various breeds of vampires that have held sway for centuries…a parallel to historical events in a way.
I’m a little disappointed the weakness of this vampire has been discovered so early as I never was a fan of say, Kryptonite being used whenever someone needs to best Superman. Yet I still have high hopes for this series, vampire fiction is hard to do without pulling a few things we’ve seen before (considering the vast abundance of it) but as long as it’s done well and can stand on its own, I’m there.
Blast from the Past
Every year Vertigo prints a lot of collections, mostly collecting current titles, but of course they also collect old stuff from years ago before the trade paperback was popular. Sadly, they are far from properly utilizing the potential in bringing forgotten classics to new generations as they spend way too much of their efforts in reprinting the same comics over and over in new formats rather then putting original stuff out but hey, they’re trying and the stuff they push is definitely top-notch but once you’ve read it once, you want to see something new on the shelves…however, the least we can do is check out what they’re pushing so hard (I’ve read all the highly acclaimed stuff already myself…) and maybe even get a new title or two out of the deal (…which is why I’m at this stage).
Human TargetAlthough the push is obviously due to that television series (rolls eyes) that misses the entire premise of the comic, this is one push I’m thankful for. Before I continue, to explain my comment about the TV show, this is not the same complaint you hear about comic book movies. It’s not a situation of just not capturing the feel of the comic, I mean the Hulk movie still had a green guy in shorts wreaking havoc, Daredevil still had a blind lawyer, but Human Target…it has a bodyguard…that has NOTHING to do with the comic! The Human Target doesn’t stand in front of people to take bullets for them, he becomes said person so they can be truly safe while he’s in harm’s way and dispatches his enemies while wearing their target’s face.
More importantly, Peter Milligan took it took the next level by making the book about losing your own identity because you become so invested in taking on the identities of others you forget who you really are. Peter Milligan is top notch here and it’s a shame the series was only ever half collected as it’s a brilliant read-through from beginning to end. So in that regard, I appreciate this push, although so far only the first trade has appeared (collecting the first two) and a second has been solicited (collecting the third and fourth trades)…this leads hope that a third trade will collect the last eleven issues that were never put in trade form before…which is good for me to defend my love of the series as two of my favorite arcs occur in those last issues.
But for now in the very least, I’d recommend you check out Chance Meetings (the first trade)…it collects the miniseries and OGN that led up to the ongoing and gives you a good feel for what Milligan’s Human Target was all about. A lot of action, identity swaps you never saw coming and most importantly…the human struggle for identity that Christopher Chance must face each and every day…assuming Christopher Chance exists at all.
The SandmanI’ll keep this blurb short. Most people have read Sandman, I mean my copy of the first of the ten trades says “17 Printing” which is only a few less then my copy of Watchmen which is from around the same time period and has the distinct advantage of being a superhero comic and only twelve issues. The Sandman is an established classic, one of the big game-changers and in fact it is the reason the Vertigo imprint exists at all…Sandman related releases have come out essentially every single year of the imprint’s existence. What’s a big deal about this year (and what I admit has me a little bitter) is that a year after I purchased all ten trades of The Sandman they have decided to re-release them all as new editions with…you guessed, the improved coloring of the four Absolute editions they released in the past few years.
This is bad news for all of us who aren’t made of money and already own The Sandman but for those of you who are late to the party, take advantage of it and rub it in my face! If it gets more people reading Sandman I’m all for it…only the first three trades have the re-coloring so far but the fourth is solicited and considering the fact that it’s THE SANDMAN! I’m pretty sure the last six trades will come out soon enough.
Shade, the Changing ManYes, I did bring it up last year when the second trade came out but I bring it up again for a reason. This is one of my personal favorites amongst the thousands of comics I’ve read, it doesn’t have the most acclaim, it has its dips in the seventy-issue run but it was something different and has a feel to it I’ve never found in another comic, it appeals to a side of me that most comics briefly -if ever- touch on. Written by one of the most underappreciated men in the business, Peter Milligan, this comic was never collected. Of all the Vertigo launch titles, this one has gotten the least appreciation…I’m going to try and make up for that.
This year a third trade came out in the summer, which combined with the first two means the first nineteen issues have been collected (The American Scream saga). Although there is some absolutely bloody amazing stuff in there, the beauty of The Changing Man is the title wasn’t just a name, it actually worked its way through the series. If you only read a part of the series, you’ll never experience the full character as he has gone through several distinct eras of his life, my personal favorite being the one from #33-50.
I tell you this because not only am I recommending the series but I am distinctly asking that you buy the trades, Vertigo doesn’t always have the best track record when it comes to fully collecting a comic and I don’t want people to only have a portion of such a masterpiece available to them. So if the story of an alien falling in love with a woman, while inhabiting the body of the serial killer who murdered her parents and broke her sanity…meanwhile, drawing his energies from the Area of Madness that effects the world around it like a plague of craziness…interests you then please check out the trades. Think of it to Milligan what Invisibles was to his friend Morrison, one bizarre comic that just overwhelms you with excitement.
Swamp ThingNow there have been a lot of Swamp Thing writers through the years, some better then others…my personal favorite happens to be Brian K. Vaughan but technically speaking his series was about Tefé rather than her father. Regardless of my personal tastes, the most acclaimed writer of the character is without a doubt none other then Mr. Alan Moore himself. So it should come as no surprise that his run which was previously collected in trade paperback format is getting the hardcover treatment with the third volume coming out this year, and the fourth slated for the next.
Admittedly Moore’s Swamp Thing was the last of the “essential” Vertigo reads I crossed off my list but it was definitely a great read. Again, not my favorite, but when Moore had his high points in the series, they were definitely high. What I appreciate most about Moore’s work here is he paved the way for the comics I adore that would follow, getting rid of the censorship that is the Comics Code of Authority. Swamp Thing is a great horror book, it has some sci-fi too which was admittedly a little weird, but despite some low points (for example, the event that was “The End” felt more like it was trying to one-up the Crisis of Infinite Earths rather then being a great story), the run is worth a read if you’re a Moore enthusiast or want to see where “darker” comics got their start.
#20-39 is my favorite portion of his work, after that there is some good moments every so often but not until #51 does he start to regain the momentum I initially enjoyed and then it takes that weird sci-fi tangent which spun out issues on both sides of the quality spectrum. But if you want to know the biggest reason why it should be read, it’s where John Constantine first appeared!
TransmetropolitanTransmetropolitan is in my opinion, Warren Ellis’ best work…the fact that it’s one of the few things he’s worked on that he ever completed, and at its intended publishing rate too is merely a plus. Originally published through DC’s science-fiction imprint Helix, after that imprint died, the series continued on as its legacy with Vertigo publishing #13-60 at its new home. Penciled by Darick Robertson, the futuristic world that Transmetropolitan inhabits is always so enjoyable to explore…the details that Darick put into every panel of The City is mind-blowing, especially considering he drew every issue.
The comic has already been collected successfully in ten trades (eleven if you count Tales of Human Waste) but last year, what with the After Watchmen event and all, Vertigo decided to publish new editions of all the trades. Although I did say I would like to see Vertigo dedicate more of its resources to collecting the uncollected, at this stage I’d just like to them to finish what they started since in 2009 they released five trades, while in 2010 they only released three…and only one of the last two has even been solicited at this point and they’ve already released the Summer 2011 list.
Unfortunately every Transmetropolitan read is a short one, or at least they were for me, and the series gains momentum as it chugs along so to slow down the publishing rate seems the backwards route to go. Regardless, old editions or new editions, Transmetropolitan is a brilliant concept that Ellis writes to perfection. Although it’s sci-fi, it’s not the space travel kind, just the future kind. It’s not a pretty future, the book is really all about the parallels we see to the present and where this world is headed but to keep us from just getting depressed about this stark realization, we have been given Spider Jerusalem: one of the best comic characters ever conceived.
You’ll have plenty of laughs reading through Transmetropolitan, just as you’ll find yourself experiencing many profound moments. From the hilarity of Monstering! to the grimness of Business, Transmet has it all.
This is the part where I type less and let pictures do the talking as I bring up some of my favorite covers of the year. Also, two of my categories from last year changed names because the name is really only there to find a way to highlight a cover I liked, it doesn’t have to be a funny or sexy cover that catches my eye every year.
Best First Issue Cover
This year, I gave the award to Sean Murphy’s cover for the first issue of Hellblazer: City of Demons…most first issue covers feature the protagonist in a pose of some sort so it’s sort of hard to critique that, but I do love Murphy’s art so much and think it was great to see his Constantine…plus Dave Stewart’s colors really bring the image to life.
Best Final Issue Cover
The cover to the last issue of a series is the signal of a goodbye, that the journey you and that book shared has come to an end…what better way to send that book off then with a bullet to the head! I love Dave Johnson’s covers, his one hundred 100 Bullets covers are great, I’ve seen some of his masterpieces on Marvel comics recently and then of course his Unknown Soldier. The only time I was ever disappointed with a cover of his was the one solicited for #23, and as it turns out that wasn’t the cover on the actual comic so Dave never failed me. His special signature on the cover was a pleasant surprise as I was admiring it the first time.
Best Fourth-Wall Breaking Cover
I love Esao Andrews’ artwork, which is why he was my Cover Artist of the Year in 2009 but in picking one of his covers from this year I went with #25 because it’s both horrific and humorous at the same time. Although people who just see the cover might not realize it, the cover has nothing to do with the actual contents of the issue, rather it is a play on words and represents what the creators did with the issue. The Exquisite Corpse (pictured in the cover) is actually a term related to writers working on the same story and trying to write the one following them into a jam they can’t get out of. The five arms tugging at the corpse represent the five writers who participated in the game for this issue (which was definitely fun and actually had stuff that related to the rest of the series!). Great cover.
Best Unsettling Cover
Jock has been doing some great covers for Scalped…but if I had to just pick one…
Best Cover Artist
There was no competition, the Biz takes this one with ease…his career is full of great covers but the Hellblazer ones he has been decorating Milligan’s run with are his best yet. The greatness really extends all the way back to #256 from last year but included in my absolute favorite covers of all time (it’s a big list) are a few from this year such as #268-271...but again, all of them are good…and the fact that he has managed to do not just the covers but some occasional interiors for the book is worth a mention. I wish he had more artwork out there!
This is my very brief two cents on everything else that came out.
- 3 Stars or Lower: Best to Probably Pass it Up
- 3.5-4 Stars: Good Read but Not My First Choice
- 4.5-5 Stars: Worth Checking Out
100%: A new edition of the trade was released, one of my favorite love stories in comic form, but Paul Pope is not for everyone, his artistic style is perhaps a little too original. Between this and his other series at Vertigo (Heavy Liquid) I'd pick this one up if given the choice. 5 Stars
Air: Cancelled this year due to low sales, Air was never one of my favorite titles, but not because it was bad, because it lacked the momentum that would lead me to anticipate the next issue every month. It was a trade read for me. Unfortunately, it's proof that REAL (not gimmicky) comics by women, about women, for everyone don't survive in this industry. 4 StarsArea 10: Part of the Vertigo Crime line, one of the most interesting concepts, never thought I'd get so interested in trepanation. 4.5 Stars
The Chill: Loved this book, another of the Vertigo Crime line, the ending was one of the craziest things I never saw coming, great blend of the supernatural and mystery. 5 Stars
Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love: Miniseries not by the Fables creative team spotlighting Cinderella? I wasn't as averse to the idea as some and the story wasn't bad but it didn't really capture what I love about Fables. 3.5 Stars
Codename: Knockout: They collected some of the first issues in trade, as fun as this book was I don't feel it stands up next to many other Vertigo books, it was never really more than a fun time but if you like boobs, you'll love this. 3.5 Stars
Dark Entries: Released in trade format, awesome John Constantine story, part of the Vertigo Crime line. I loved it. 5 Stars
DMZ: Although there are some amazing points, this series doesn't build momentum and just stays at a constant level. Another trade read. 4.5 Stars
The Executor: Vertigo Crime novel, not as good as some of the others but still enjoyable. 3.5 Stars
Fables: Had a slow year, but #100 did come out, all in all this is one of my favorite titles but it reads much better in trade then as an ongoing. 4.5 Stars
Filthy Rich: Also released in trade format, another Vertigo Crime book, I think it got overshadowed by Dark Entries for me but still a good book in its own right. 4 Stars
Fogtown: Vertigo Crime novel. 4 Stars
Greek Street: The ending was week but the series was also cancelled without the writer getting time to wrap things up, victim of the industry. 3.5 Stars
Haunted Tank: Collected the miniseries, deals with current issues and doesn't leave me rolling my eyes. 4 Stars
Hellblazer: Pandemonium: OGN to celebrate JC existing for 25 years...written by the original Hellblazer writer, I liked it more then most of his run, good stuff. 4.5 Stars
House of Mystery: This series continues to excite me with every issue, still has the best cliffhangers. Plus the Halloween Annuals are the bomb! 4.5 Stars
I, Zombie: Fun new series with great art from Mike Allred, still new but the most recent issue has gotten me excited, definitely a lot of potential here. 5 Stars
Jack of Fables: This series took a downward spiral this year, worst build-up to an epic finale in quite some time. I still love me some classic Jack of Fables but this year I couldn't recommend without feeling bad about what my rep. 3 Stars
Joe the Barbarian: Very interesting limited series from Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy, still have a lot of questions but the final issue isn't even SOLICITED and it's been months! I'm pissed but the story is good, just wait to check it out until they put out the final issue. 4 Stars
The Losers: Pushed because of the movie, this was a very enjoyable series, not my usual thing but it had some great action and Max was an awesome villain. Not very much like the movie though. 4.5 Stars
Luna Park: Re-released in trade, the art in this thing is AMAZING! It just pulls me in and I find myself lost in a great story too. 4.5 Stars
Neil Young's Greendale: Believe it's based off a story from an album I've never listened to...it was an interesting concept nonetheless even to a non-hippie like myself. 3.5 Stars
The Nobody: Re-released as a trade paperback, this was Lemire before Sweet Tooth, loved every page of it. 5 Stars
Northlanders: Metal has probably been my favorite arc of this series yet and The Sea Road was an amazing one-shot, this series just keeps getting stronger and the best part is every arc is entirely accessible to a new reader. 5 Stars
Other Lives: Weird, but comical. The world of Second Life (something I've never heard of) seemed very...odd. 4 Stars
Preacher: Released some new hardcovers, this is still a must-read, very funny but also deals with some very serious stuff. 5 Stars
Sandman Mystery Theatre: This was a great series from the early days of Vertigo, unfortunately it's not as easy to hype up to your reads friends as some other classics. Great detective stories, it's a very set pattern book with the whole "Villain of the Week" format, only it doesn't get old. 4.5 Stars
Stuck Rubber Baby: The 15th Anniversary printing of this widely-acclaimed graphic novel...at times it felt lengthy but I never lost interest. Worth a read just because of the book's place in comic history. 4.5 Stars
Sweet Tooth: Really came into its own this year, the most recent arc has really been getting me excited, can't wait to see more from this series. 5 Stars
Y: The Last Man: More deluxe editions, this too is an established must-read...BRILLIANT! I love you BKV! 5 Stars
Young Liars: Final trade of the series cancelled last year, a good trade but only if you're into very mind-bending comics...I personally preferred the first two trades myself. 4 Stars
UNREADCuba: My Revolution: Biographical OGN
Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story: Based in the Aftermath of Katrina OGN
The Green Woman: Loved the Preview OGN
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less: Biographical OGN
Revolver: G-Man did a Video Review OGN
A Sickness in the Family: I actually had this on order...Vertigo Crime OGN