Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hidden Horrors: Getting Dizzy With Vertigo Comics

By Brian M. Sammons

I’ve always liked comic books, but I don’t like super heroes too much. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the SPIDER-MAN, BATMAN, and IRON MAN movies as much as the next thirty-something-kid-at-heart, and I did read some superhero comics back in the day. I liked some of the X-Men titles (I think there were what, 50 different comic lines devoted to those mutants) and Batman was always badass. I always liked Moon Knight just because no one else did; I’m that kind of guy. But a good indicator to the kind of comic reader I’ve always been is this; my favorite “super hero” was The Punisher, a dark, violent, thoroughly adult-oriented (especially when Garth Ennis was writing them), a dude with no superpowers whatsoever. Those are the type of comics I’ve always gravitated toward. Keep the kiddie stuff and the guys in tights, give me the dark, the nasty, the real.

So with that in mind, thank God for DC’s adult oriented imprint: Vertigo.

Vertigo has, hands down, put out some of my favorite comics ever. Hell, I’ll even go as far to say some of the best comics EVER! A bold claim, I know, but I’m here to prove it to you. So hold on tight and don’t look down, we’re off to get some Vertigo, baby.

My all-time favorite comic series is PREACHER. A comic so weird, intense and in-your-face offensive that fans in Hollywood have been trying to bring out a PREACHER movie, or an HBO-like miniseries, for years. So far, no studio will touch it. With the mindless, teeny-bopper, safe crap Hollywood is shoving down our thoughts these days, I am not surprised.

Preacher was written up by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon, and is about a small town preacher who suddenly get the Word Of God and all the trouble that goes along with it. I won’t go into the plot of this story that stretched over 75 issues. Sorry, I like it too much to deprive you of experiencing it first hand for yourself. Oh, but I will heavily hint at it. You’ve got angels, demons, God, the Devil, the church’s greatest secret, hillbillies so inbred that they become Cyclops, serial killers, a guy with an arse for a face, the Saint of Killers, gay porn stars, nuclear bombs, vampires, Goths, John Wayne, sex, violence, a man who loves meat way too much, evil old ladies, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and one pissed off preacher looking to find God so he can kick his ass.

To say that this book has it all would be an understatement. To say that it is funny as all hell would be a HUGE understatement. But be warned, there’s a good chance that this comic book will offend you. So if you dare risk bruising your thin skin, then give PREACHER a read. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it.

Oh, and if you're already a PREACHER fan, then congrats, you’ve got incredibly great taste, but also rejoice because Vertigo is planning to bring out deluxe editions of the entire series in the very near future.

What’s a “deluxe edition” you ask? Well you’re timing of that question is perfect, I was just about to get into that with the next series, which is also my second most favorite comic book series of all time (imagine that).

You might know the name, Brian K. Vaughan from his work on the TV show, LOST. What you should know him for is his comic book work, especially the amazing Y: THE LAST MAN. A series that Stephen King called, “the best graphic novel I’ve ever read” and I agree, it is the best…right after PREACHER.

The story of Y sounds like a Skinemax late night movie plot; a virus wipes out all the men on Earth except for one man and his monkey. Now what could have easily became a one joke story, instead becomes a truly deep and great epic journey as our hero, Yorick (the “Y” in the title) goes cross country with the help of some good friends to find out what killed all the males off, and to see if his continued existence just might save the human race from extinction. Along the way there’s plenty of laughs, lots of horrors, friendships are made, as are romantic relations, and so too is death and sadness. Y is one of the most thoroughly complete, well written, emotional, and wonderful books I’ve ever read (comic book or other). Unlike the previous series, I can easily and highly recommend Y: THE LAST MAN to anyone and everyone that likes a good story.

Vertigo has just release the first three volumes of the tale in big, beautiful, hardcover editions. These three books collect the first 36 issues of the series 60 issue run. In addition to the great looking reprints, each book contains extras like sketchbooks and original scripts. If you are a Y fan then these are the books to get. If you’re looking to start your Y journey for the first time then these are the books to get. Whatever you case may be, THESE ARE THE BOOKS TO GET.

Another series that Vertigo has just released as high quality, deluxe editions also comes from the seemingly boundless imagination of Brian K. Vaughan. Surprisingly, it’s about superheroes, but before you start “a-ha-ing” me to death after my starting paragraph to this article, let me say that it is a superhero comic unlike any other. It’s really about politics, with being a superhero only as a minor plot point to a much larger, deeper mystery. This thoroughly non-superhero-ish superhero comic is EX MACHINA and it’s about a man who can talk to, and control, machines. How he gets this ability is a mystery to him, but with great power he naturally becomes a tights and mask wearing superhero.

Then comes 9-11 and that changes everything.

Surprisingly our hero doesn’t stop that tragedy, at least not completely, but his efforts do propel him into the job of Mayor of New York City. Now with his secret identity known, and forbid to use his special powers, Mayor Mitchell Hundred most hold together a city still reeling from the terrorists’ attack and plagued with many new and unusual problems. Problems somehow connected to our hero and the origins of his amazing powers. While not having as many horrifying elements as the previous two comics it does have its fare share of murder, monsters, and mystery that any fan of speculative fiction will enjoy.

Just like the Y: THE LAST MAN, Vertigo has also started to reissue this award winning series as beautiful deluxe editions. There are three of these books out so far with more due out in the fall. I recommend them wholeheartedly.

But if you think that Vertigo is just sitting back, resting on its considerable laurels by only bringing out critically acclaimed darlings from yesteryear, then you would be very wrong. Vertigo is very much still in the business of publishing new comics for mature readers. In fact two of their newest titles should be of special interest to horrorheads.

HIGH MOON is an online comic series done by yet another DC imprint, Zuda. Well with the help of Vertigo a beautiful graphic novel just came out by created by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. The story is about a werewolf ex-Pinkerton agent turned bounty hunter tracking and taking down vampires and assorted other beasties of the night. The story is good, but nothing revolutionary; at least nothing like the other books in this article, but the art is really strong. If you are a fan of the weird Wild West then you’ll like this book a lot. Vampires, werewolves, six-shooters, black magic, what’s not to love? Also, you’re choices of old west horror is extremely limited, so give HIGH MOON a shot.

Another new Vertigo title playing in the monster mash sandbox that I liked a lot more than the previous comic is iZOMBIE. Set in the modern day, the story is about the life and adventures of Gwen, who’s a very odd girl indeed. Pretty but pale, funny yet aloof, she has the unenviable job of gravedigger in Eugene, Oregon. That rather strange job does have some fringe benefits for Gwen. It has allowed her to make a few friends. Ok, her pals are a cute ghost girl from the 60s and a were-terrier, but they are good friends. For Gwen any friend is welcome, for you see she has a bit of a “condition”. That’s right, she’s the titular zombie, but she’s of the non-rotting, able to think and speak variety of zombie. However she still has those traditional undead cravings for warm, yummy brains, and having access to fresh corpses is the other benefit of being a gravedigger. The drawback to brain consumption is that Gwen is assaulted by the memories and personality of the corpse, and if that person happened to die with unfinished business, like say not knowing who murdered them, then it’s up to Gwen and her spooky pals to solve the mystery, or else ghoul girl Gwen won’t get a moment’s peace from the screaming brain-voice in her head.

While I only read the first issue of iZOMBIE, it shows a lot of promise. The character of Gwen seemed fun and relatable, and the never ending plot delivery device of transposed memories as a result of brain munching means that a ton of cool stories could easily be introduced in this ongoing series. This funny little comic by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred so far looks to be a winner. If you’re a zombie fan looking for something a little different then give this book a try.

These are just some of Vertigo’s amazing titles that are out now and readily available. I didn’t even mention Alan Moore’s V FOR VENDETA, the amazing, and still ongoing HELLBLAZER series about sorcerer/occultist/detective John Constantine (which are thankfully nothing like the dreadful Keanu Reeves film from 2005). Not to mention the groundbreaking, multi-award winning THE SANDMAN series (and the DEATH spinoff) that introduced the world to the creative genius of Neil Gaiman. Then there are the lesser known titles that are also golden. 100 BULLETS, THE LOSERS (which has little to do with the so-so movie that just came out), TRANSMETROPOLITAN, by comic book master Warren Ellis, and WE3 which was a three issue miniseries about three household pets given almost human intelligence and placed into robo-battle-suits to become the ultimate weapons, Yeah, it’s weird as hell, but also very cool.

At the end of all this, let me say that if you are a comic book fan looking for comics written by, for, and about adults, then you’ll love Vertigo. If you are not a comic book fan and want to read amazing, well written, mature stores and don’t mind having cool art accompanying the text, then you’ll love Vertigo. Pretty much no matter who are you and what your reading habits happen to be, I’ll bet that you’ll love Vertigo. So what are you waiting for? Get some comics from Vertigo today and prepare to have your head start spinning.

--Brian M. Sammons