What did I learn this week? I learned that Vertigo-style comics are still alive and well, they’re just not being made by Vertigo anymore —
Case in point : The Highest House #1 re-unites the team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross from The Unwritten at IDW, and their new publisher is clearly pulling out all the stops, publishing this in an oversized magazine-style format with heavy, glossy covers and slick, high-quality paper. The art is certainly worthy of the presentation — Gross’ detailed, intricate illustrations positively sing from the pages, aided and abetted in no small part by the lush, gorgeous color palette of Fabien Alquier, and the story, centered around a slave boy named Moth who works in a Gormenghast-style eccentric magical castle is old-school Vertigo “high fantasy” all the way. The set-up is fairly simple : Moth makes a deal with a potential devil named Obsidian who promises freedom and advancement, but what price he’ll have to pay remains to be seen — and until we figure that out, Carey’s gonna go heavy on the world-building and character development in equal measure.
I dunno, I should probably be more cynical about this sort of Gaiman-derivative (and his stuff was pretty derivative itself) storytelling at this point, but Carey’s undoubtedly a skilled, if decidedly unsubtle, technician, and what this comic lacks in terms of inspiration it more than makes up for in terms of execution. Certainly $4.99 is a more than fair price for a book this lavishly-formatted, and if you’re looking for a series that can still get some mileage out of a vaguely Sandman-esque lineage, odds are this one will end up doing a better job of it than the recently-announced Sandman Universe slew of titles will. Obviously, if you’re looking for something new under the sun you should be looking elsewhere, but if “formulaic” isn’t a dirty word in your vocabulary, then I think you’ll find a lot to like here. For the time being, I’m more than happy to see where Carey and Gross go with this.
The entire premise behind DC’s Young Animal imprint seems to be a sort of updating of “classic” Vertigo properties for the 21st century, but I’m thinking that Gerard Way’s four-color baby must be showing signs of being a problem child sales-wise because, apart from Doom Patrol, the various titles are all re-launching with new first issues coming out of the recent (and frankly pretty lame) Milk Wars cross-over event. Shade, The Changing Woman #1 is first out of the chute, and sees Steve Ditko’s character (or, more accurately, an extrapolation thereof) in a slightly older body than last time out, but with the same creative team of writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone chronicling her exploits. I like Zarcone’s art quite a bit — she cleaves to the off-kilter temperament of Ditko while giving everyone/thing a look and personality all her own — but there’s not a tremendous amount happening here story-wise, with the same basic identity questions (how does an alien from Meta adjust to being a human on Earth?) that were reasonably intriguing at first now seeming, well, kinda old hat — and apparently there are no answers to these metaphysical queries forthcoming. The pages where Castellucci plays to her artist’s strengths and side-steps linear narrative altogether are the best things on offer here and maybe in future they should just say “fuck it” and go for the psychedelic trip-out vibe on a full-time basis with no real concern for a “story arc” that’s barely advancing in any appreciable way anyhow? I dunno, but at $3.99 a pop it’s probably not worth hanging around a whole lot longer to see whether or not they figure out what the hell they’re doing with this comic. Of all the DCYA titles, this seems to be the one that’s having the hardest time distinguishing between being nominally “experimental” and just plain “floundering.”
The last “might-have-been-a-Vertigo-comic-five-years-ago” book of the week is Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls #1, the opening salvo in what looks to be something of a slow-burn horror series. Certainly this creative team has cranked out some fan-favorite stuff in the past with their runs on Green Arrow at DC and Old Man Logan at Marvel, and given free reign to cut loose and do their own thing at Image, who knows? Maybe they’ll really pull out all the stops and craft a series for the ages — but it’s too soon to say whether or not this will be it. Lemire seems to be bobbing and weaving between two separate storylines — one focused on a Catholic priest whose career trajectory is headed straight down, the other on a disturbed young-ish recluse looking for clues to a city-wide conspiracy in its garbage — that will no doubt intersect sooner rather than later, but there aren’t enough “hooks” (either character- or situation-based) to really stir the interest at this early juncture. What’s perhaps most surprising, though, is that he doesn’t give you a very strong sense of place yet with this comic, and that’s been a Lemire staple going all the way back to Essex County, and continuing through subsequent works like Royal City, Roughneck, and Sweet Tooth, to name just a few. Certainly in a comic named after a fictitious locale you would expect said locale to play a major role — and no doubt it will in fairly short order — but it doesn’t in this debut. Kinda puzzling, that is.
On the plus side, though, we’ve got Sorrentino’s darkly evocative and cinematic illustrations, which look like a million bucks when paired with the pitch-perfect hues of superstar colorist Dave Stewart. Visually, these guys knock it out of the park here and this extra-length issue is worth its $3.99 cover price for the art alone. At some point, though, the story’s gonna have to earn its keep, as well, so while I hesitate to have a quick trigger finger, I do find myself putting this series on a much shorter leash than, in all honesty, I was expecting to.
One more Image debut this week worthy of note, probably because it’s being optioned for TV as we speak, is Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici’s Oblivion Song #1, released under Kirkman’s own Skybound studio imprint. Not being a fan of Kirkman’s work in the least I wasn’t figuring to be impressed by this, but what the hell — to bizarrely paraphrase ESPN’s Chris Berman, that’s why we read the books, and I’m actually pretty glad I read this one. The quick plot hook — an extraterrestrial/interdimensional incursion of some sort resulted in a big chunk of Philadelphia being violently transported to a deadly, monster-filled realm known as Oblivion, the US government devised a barely-explained kind of sci-fi means of going there to rescue its people, but hey, that was ten years ago and no one gives a shit anymore apart from one lone scientist/adventurer who’s trying to find his disappeared brother — grabs you more or less instantly, the broad-stroke characterization gives you as much info as you need to know about these people and what’s happening with them, and De Felici’s art is an absolutely gorgeous blend of high-concept imagination and free-flowing, “cartoony,” batshit craziness. Think 2000AD with an underlying Euro-comics sensibility and you’ll be right in the ballpark in terms of trying to classify it. This first issue goes out with extra pages under a heavy cardstock cover and is well worth four of your dollars. I never thought I’d say this in my life — and who knows, I can certainly see myself eating these words if it all goes to hell in a handbasket — but as of this writing I’m all in on a fucking Robert Kirkman comic. Surely that has got to be a sign that the apocalypse is fast approaching.
And that’s enough, I should think, for this time out —looking through next week’s advance solicits there’s nothing that’s absolutely grabbing me by the throat and screaming “buy me!,” but who knows? I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked a couple of comics this week, and there’s no reason it can’t happen again — join me back here in seven days and I’ll let you know whether or not it did!