It was a simpler time, back in the heady days of 2008. You’d be able to pick up four comics for £1 at the Local Comics Proprieter, meaning you could skruk out some hard-earned dole money on all sorts of treats so magical you’d never, ever want to spend Real Funds on them. Treats such as Age of Apocalypse comics, Delano-era Animal Man, that Colossus minseries where it turns out he’s related to Rasputin the Sexy Monk…
You know, this kind of stuff.
These days, though, you go to the area where the dogshit comics that don’t sell are and accidentally end up spending £7 as they’re not 25p anymore, and are unpriced, and you’re too meek to say to the man behind the till, “No, I do not want to pay £3 for an issue of Nighstalkers, thank you”.
Seriously, but, comics shops: start organising and pricing things, please. I realise your stock-in-trade is ‘making money from the socially awkward’, but I dinnae like it. A boo hoo.
Hmmm, digression leads to complaint? Let’s get back on track, drifitng sideways through the nanomagick skin of Consensus Reality 4, to
a place of rememberance: it’s 2008, I’m buying a 25p comic from 1992, about comics that aren’t out yet, but at the time of writing, were out a long time ago.
See, reading an old comic is like travelling in time, which doesn’t matter anyway as all time happens at once in the Me-No-We-Us Crystal Dimensia of Absolute Post-Ego Subliminús.
But what does that mean to us, dearest browser, my luscious Fox of Fire, the ‘average joe’, who isn’t 90s enough to have the correct magickal time perception?
It pretty much means I’m about to write some stuff about a sampler comic from the beginning of DC Comics’ Vertigo line.
So, put on your best oversized Tripping Daisy tour jersey, round-framed shades, and a sneering look of unearned superiority, because things are about to get peachy keen!!!
In her editorial, Karen Berger, Vertigo’s group editor, explains the name:
“We’ve been called horror, mature, sophisticated, dark fantasy, cutting-edge and just plain weird. Tired of tired misnomers, and not even having a collective name, we decided to define ourselves.
It couldn’t be anything that sounded safe, it had to be a word that evoked the sense of danger and edginess that you get from reading our titles. And it had to sound cool.”
So they went with ‘Vertigo’. When some of the alternative titles were The Screaming Room and Nightside, you can only assume they made the correct choice. Personally, though, I feel they should have called the line Gothyx, and used the tagline “It’s not for sheeple“, but then, I’m not a bigwig at a 90s comics imprint.
Anyway, I mock because I care! I have so much intense love for 90s Vertigo comics, and while at their worst they were adolescent faux-poetic smuggo dogshit, at their best they were genuinely empowering, enervating slices of Important Pop Culture that in many ways haven’t been bettered, that are funny, human, interesting, beautiful… aw that guid stuff, ken.
Judging by the descriptions of the stories in this sampler, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all just gloomy shit for people that have gone off Nirvana for being ‘too mainstream’.
So, hey! the format of this post will be THIS: The description of the title given in the contents, then some words about said title, written by me, tap-tap-tap on the keys as I wait for the black nail varnish to dry*. All times are one, in the nebulous trail left by The Slow Bullet. Well, the 90s and Now, anyway. Well, now. Now. Now.
One can only assume the blurb doesn’t mean that ‘a three issue miniseries’ is a better place to experience humanity than New York City, but this is Vertigo, where all bets are off.
OFF THE LEDGE
Anyway, yeah, New York’s a good place to learn about humanity, I guess, what with it being multicultural and bustling and all that (I know this because of every single piece of culture being about New York or London), but judging by this preview, Death is choosing to experience humanity by hanging out with a blonde white male and generally looking and acting the same way she always does.
Perhaps all the learning happens in the miniseries itself, which I have read, but cannot remember much about besides it being basically a stretched-out take on that actually-great Sandman issue where she walks aboot with her gloomy dickhead brother.
You’d think I’d hate Sandman judging by my smug tone and dismissive internet snarque, but you’d be wrong, as it is a well-written, mostly-well-drawn story about rounded characters, and it was a very important part of my formative development as a comics-reading piece of shit. It’s easy to laugh at the pomposity, the whimsy and the general adolescent fishnets-and-incense intensity of thing, but it bloody works, you know? It’s a right romp and it is ACE. Though it could do without the cod-Shakespearian stuff and the actual Shakespearian stuff.
This Death miniseries, though, it’s one of the many, many Sandman spin-offs, and though it’s Gaiman-written, it still suffers from what all Sandman spin-offs do, namely a cloying self-satisfaction, an airy Talbot-sleeved sense of maturity that turns a mediocre comic into an actively irritating one. Gaiman’s voice is strong in it, but not in the sense that in Sandman you can tell there’s definitely one author, writing consistently well about things they’re obviously passionate about. No, a strong voice in the sense you can actually imagine Gaiman reading it out to a flock of rapt Individuals, who are applauding his every utterance. His every “you’re in on the joke with me, you’re not part of the herd” slippery smugbomb that slides from between his curled, pleased lips, his Middle England Establishment Outsider tongue softly caressing his own palate, as he thinks about if he should anthropomorphise a cat or not.
Of course I should, the dream-worrier contemplates, cats are the secret kings and queens of this domain some call ‘Eárthe’, in their secret moments.
Bachalo art, though. Bachalo and Buckingham, never-bettered North American mainstream comics art team (though I ken Buckingham is British). So this looks excellent, but it’s no Ghost Rider 2099 #s 1-6, is it? Plus, worst Bachalo picture of all time, one panel is.
I mean, it’s a great drawing, and perfectly captures what it needs to, as well as encapsulating everything wrong with the Neil and the Gaimans, but what it captures is so horrific, I don’t want to see it. Maybe repeated exposure will reduce the Lovecraftian dread it evokes?
Ah, see, now this is more like it! Enigma is Peter Milligan at his poetic, purple, best. It is a moving and horrifying and wryly cynical (but with a heart ) slice of superhero deconstruction that is not as rotten as I just made it sound, given that it kind of has fuck-all to do with superheroes in the sense that a Watchmen or a Fucking Kingdom Come does.
It deals in memory, self, relationships, sexuality and well, humanity (and an actual well), and it feels honest and sincere, but never in an over-earnest, trite way.
Great comic! Duncan Fegredo’s art is a lot sketchier than it is these days, but it lends it an illustrative labour-of-love quality, and it’s a right treat.
The two-page preview sort of removes the context and leaves Enigma seeming a bad-pretentious comic with an air of insular gloom, which is a bit of a shame, but hey, I’m not a bigwig at a 90s comics imprint.
Or am I?
(That was as far as I got with the review, then I went away for three weeks, and never found the impetus to return to it! It is too long! So! Here, now, are short descriptions of what else is on offer in this Vertigo sampler)
Well-regarded, beautiful-looking pulp that sends me to sleep, as the hero intends.
This looks like every pre-95 Vertigo comic you’ve never bothered reading due to competent ‘serious’ borecore.
Not-great Morrison comic needlessly continued but with lovely Sean Phillips art, though that doesn’t make the awful 1991 grebo bassist lead character any less terrible.
Unreadable Gaiman/Mckean dirge needlessly continued with amiable Jill Thompson art, which doesn’t stop it from being the comics equivalent of a dreamcatcher above a picture of Reality Bites.
Diminishing returns character fantastically drawn by Steve Pugh, featuring trademark Pugh high-waisted trousers, cast adrift in the turgid, purple ocean of inappropriate Delano.
Astonishing Grant Morrison comic needlessly continued as worse pastiche, with not-really-trying Case artwork and over-reliance on tired ‘cut up’ dialogue for that ‘weird’ feeling.
Actually pretty great take on John Constantine, though sadly with clumsily shoehorned Ennisian Guinness-and-Pogues, like the Irish theme pub sort of thing he claims to hate.
Richey Edwards-approved comic that’s fantastic from beginning to end, despite what you might hear regarding the final year or so of issues.
An awful no-stakes, cutesy short story with appealingly blurghy, scratchy art, but which is irritatingly about a New York playwright who requires a trite dream-lesson from the trademarked alpha-goth in order to fully commit himself to his current production, adding to this sampler’s general feeling of “if I didn’t like The Sandman already, this comic’d make me actively avoid it”.
*I’m not a black nail varnish guy, I’m more of a glittery red.