Sunday, April 13, 2008

Vertigo round-up

With two of my favorite series ending, and nothing new really living up to expectations, it looks like I'll be cutting back to just Fables-related books from Vertigo for now, although I have no doubt that they'll come up with something worthwhile soon enough (both House of Mystery and Madame Xanadu on the horizon look promising).

Crossing Midnight (Mike Carey/Jim Fern & various)
This is one that took me a little while to get into, but by around the third issue I was hooked, and I was disappointed to learn that it'll be ending in a couple of months with issue 19. Carey managed to mix all sorts of weird elements of Japanese mythology into what is basically a horror series, which quickly went from a story about two average twins beset by supernatural forces to an epic struggle between various mythic factions. Sometimes the main characters end up getting a little lost, but Carey always manages to return to heartbreaking and chilling scenarios - like the man who loses one year of his life with every word he speaks, or one twin being assigned to kill the other in order to recover her memories, which will tell her that the person she killed is her brother. Fern's art was stronger early on when it was traditionally inked; Jose Villarubia's digital inks have given it a softer, less defined quality that looks a little too unfinished. But there were many moments of beauty, both in the art and the storytelling, in this series, and it's a shame for it to end so soon.

The Exterminators (Simon Oliver/Tony Moore & various)
Like Crossing Midnight, this book didn't grab me right away, and to be honest I'm still not quite sure what it's about even as it nears its end with issue 30. But something kept me coming back month after month to this off-kilter combo of dark comedy, gross-out horror and ramshackle mysticism, and after being baffled by it all this time I've come to think it's kind of great. The overarching mythology has been a little shaky, but many of the standalone stories were really creepy and/or affecting. This sort of entirely undefinable series is the kind of risk that Vertigo really ought to be taking, but at the same time is easily a failure without a clear hook (American Virgin and Testament, both tough to pin down, never worked for me). I'm sure Oliver had more stories planned, but 30 issues seems like a good run for a book like this, and the climax is gearing up to be totally weird and a lot of fun to read.

Fables (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham & various)
Vertigo's workhorse and default flagship title just keeps on chugging along with no end in sight, although the current storyline about the war between Fabletown and the Adversary certainly feels like it could have been the series' climax. Willingham is getting close to where most long-running Vertigo books end their runs, but he's indicated no desire to stop, and the quality is still very high. The just-concluded "The Good Prince" arc was a little long, but highlighted Willingham's ability to shift perspective and make almost any character in his large ensemble the focus of an engrossing story. I'm glad to see characters like Snow and Bigby, who were so central to early storylines, not entirely shuffled off to the side, and I have faith that Willingham will find new avenues and new characters to explore for many years to come. I can only hope that Buckingham, whose wonderfully detailed work gets better with time, sticks around as well.

Jack of Fables (Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges/Tony Akins & various)
This Fables spin-off never quite feels like anything other than a supporting player to the main title, but it's very entertaining nonetheless, and Willingham and Sturges have managed to get far more mileage out of the Jack character than I would have thought possible. It helps that they've built up an appealing supporting cast, and aren't trying for the epic feel of the main book. I imagine this will run out of steam before its forebear does, and I still think that the best of these stories could have been condensed into Fables itself, but Jack remains breezy and enjoyable, if ultimately sort of forgettable.

Young Liars (David Lapham)
This was my recent hope for a new Vertigo series to get excited about, but after two issues I'm giving up. I've never read Lapham's acclaimed indie series Stray Bullets, but I did read his Vertigo graphic novel Silverfish, which was a brisk and efficient crime story, if a little rushed and awkward at times. This, however, is sort of a mess, with a weird high concept (a girl with a bullet in her skull that frees her from all inhibitions) and a cast of overly quirky characters. The first issue worked well enough establishing the characters, although Lapham engages in one of my least favorite practices in comics, trying to represent music accurately. The quoted song lyrics only read like bad poetry, and no pictures of musical notes can recall the sound that the artist is hoping to convey. The second issue is a complete tonal shift, with a gruesome, dark flashback, more pained lyrics and some references to modern musicians that come off as hopelessly forced (and misspelled!). The art is nice and the atmosphere is intriguing, but the characters annoy me and the storytelling is sloppy, and I'm not willing to spend any more time to see if it evens out.

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