Recent Number Ones: Vertigo, Dark Horse and More

Some three months temporarily out of the comic book racket means lots of new series and mini-series came out for me to sample and review. We looked at the more mainstream fare last week. This week, we look at DC's once-great mature readers label Vertigo, and Dark Horse, the company everyone is looking at post-Star Wars license to see what will happen to it. There's a kind of theme there. A couple of series from other companies, why not? Some of these are already on their third or even fourth issues - I'm so late! So... spend a buck or save a buck? Let's see what's what.
The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle for Vertigo. What happens to organized crime wives when they're husbands go to jail? Well, in 1970s Hell's Kitchen, one woman tries to keep her man's criminal empire (such as it is) from slipping away. It's a story worth telling and very cinematic thanks to Ming Doyle's impeccable art, but it's perhaps TOO cinematic. Some moments are decompressed across an entire page, for example, resulting in a rather short read. It's an 8-issue mini-series, which seems to be Vertigo's preferred method of delivery these days (most of their projects seem to range between 7 and 9 issues), and perhaps that length was imposed on the creative team based on their pitch? The Kitchen will probably make a fine trade paperback where the longer length can sustain the decompression. As shorter installments, the average consumer may feel less than satisfied.
Keep reading? I'd like to read the story cover to cover, but as a monthly, it may not move quickly enough.
The Names by Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez for Vertigo. I used to eat up Milligan's stuff with great hunger when Vertigo started, but more recent projects have lacked, for me, the quirky originality of things like Shade the Changing Man, Enigma, Human Target, or even X-Statix. The Names didn't quite reach me the way those earlier works did (and I fully concede that I'M a different reader too), but after the first issue of this thriller, I kept reading through to the third, so it appears to be a success. Not that I know exactly what's going on yet, but surely, that's the effect a conspiracy mystery should have on the reader. The protagonists are interesting and original - the young wife of a murdered businessman, and his son, a mathematical genius, brought together to solve the man's death - though as we can't possibly share their unique backgrounds, the way they put the pieces together is a bit of a cheat. We're kept from ever following the clues ourselves, or even from understanding how conclusions are drawn. The plot involves the eponymous secret society, market manipulation, and for that science fiction twist Vertigo seems to love so well lately, an artificial intelligence that may have run away from the Names. These ingredients will have 9 issues to come together (the first issue said 8, but it looks like they added one since), and the scope is already big enough to sustain that long a story. Fernandez's art reminds me of Dave Johnson's on 100 Bullets, which seems appropriate, though he does slip into exploitation mode (an upskirt here, an ass shot there) about once per issue. Enough that I notice, not enough to lodge a formal complaint.
Keep reading? Looks like I'm intrigued enough to keep going.
Wolf Moon by Cullen Bunn and Jeremy Haun for Vertigo. The first of two entries by Bunn on this list, Wolf Moon is, quite obviously, about werewolves. The protagonist is obsessed with destroying one, and perhaps it's the only one because the twist is that the curse jumps, apparently randomly, between people every full moon. So you never know where, or in who, it's going to be next month. Otherwise, this is a very traditional werewolf story, almost to the point of disinterest. It's gory, but not imaginatively so. Repetitious is the word I'd use. You know, I'm reminded of another Vertigo series, from the olden days, called Vamps, which was also pretty trad for the label, and somehow got two mini-series. I read them, but they never felt quite on the same level as the rest of Vertigo. Same here.
Keep reading? The violence reminds me of the new Lobo and Deathstroke series. Endless and pointless. So no.
The Ghost Fleet by Donny Cates and Daniel Warren Johnson for Dark Horse. I was a big fan of Cates' Buzzkill, and The Ghost Fleet, while completely different, tickles the same spot in my brain where I keep my appreciation for high concepts. Violent and kinetic, Ghost Fleet is about covert transport of... what exactly is at the heart of the book's mystery. During the Revolutionary War, it was done with ships. Today, it's trucks. FINALLY! A book that's meant to outdo Marvel's U.S.1 with crazy 18-wheeler action! With a title like that, you'd expect some supernatural shenanigans, and they're definitely there. They might even bring about the apocalypse! The concept has enough juice and originality to last a long time, if it's supported, and takes place in several time frames. A whole universe and history of potential, if the creators would care to tap it.
Keep reading? I'm definitely on board.
Sundowners by Tim Seeley and Jim Terry for Dark Horse. An interesting take on superheroes, "Sundowner" is a psychological diagnostic, and an unscrupulous shrink has brought a support group of delusional costumed "heroes" together for his own purposes. But what if they AREN'T delusional? Or at least, not COMPLETELY delusional? While we can't dismiss the possibility everything we see is their hallucinations, and their interpretation of what's happening is definitely suspect, this de facto team has too much of a shared experience for it NOT to be real in some sense. Seeley throws lots of interesting concepts into the book, from a woman who must sin to accumulate holy power from God, to a henchman who sounds like a Mattel's Farmer See'n'Say. Whatever's really happening, the world view seems to include a battle between heaven and hell, and a dark satanist conspiracy for the control of reality. It's not all high concept either; there's a good variety of damaged characters struggling with mental illness, less than perfect living conditions, and/or forces man was not meant to know. Perhaps it's a metaphor.
Keep reading? Yes. The deconstructionist approach doesn't feel like the umpteenth retread of Watchmen - a feat unto itself -and I want to read more about this world and its characters.
Butterfly by Arash Mel, Marguerite Bennett and Antonio Fuso for Archaia. I'm a big fan of spycraft, and the first half of the first issue of Butterfly delivers on that. "Butterfly" is an agent for the Project who gets burned in the course of a mission gone wrong and following a trail that seems specific to her, finds her long-dead father, himself an agent on the lam. It's pretty interesting until we reach that point, and then the POV starts to shift to the father and his past missions, and I just lost interest completely. The father's sections feel disjointed, and I don't care about him or his life, not when Butterfly is right there, living in the present, and has an interesting voice. Looking ahead, this 4-issue mini-series doesn't even keep its artist for the whole run, which means even a trade paperback will feel incoherent.
Keep reading? No, sorry. It started off quite well, but lost me mid-stream.
Terrible Lizard by Cullen Bunn and Drew Moss for Oni. Strangely, this is the second book on this list with a caption on the opening scene that reads "This is not how our story begins" (the other is The Ghost Fleet). EYES ON YOUR OWN SHEETS, KIDS! If that's a coincidence, I can't quite sweep Terrible Lizard's similarities to Super Dinosaur under the rug the same way. It's almost a blatant rip-off of Kirkman's all-ages series. It's got a skater kid (this time, a girl called Jess) who bonds with a T-Rex brought into existence in some way (this time, time travel) by said kid's mad scientist father, working out of a high-tech facility. There are other monsters out there (this time, mash-ups of kaiju types from other media), and "Wrex" will get to fight them. Sure, the lead monster is closer to Devil Dinosaur than SD (it can't talk), but that's not a big difference. It's got humor, but it's not as charming or inventive as Super Dinosaur. And the monster is pretty ugly, especially from the front. As a lover of dinosaur-related comics, I was disappointed.
Keep reading? No. Super Dinosaur may be on hiatus, but Terrible Lizard isn't a solid replacement, even temporarily.

You know who came out with tons of new titles in the past 3 months? Image Comics. Man, I may have to write 2 articles next week just to cover the ones that interest me.

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