Vertigo Resurrected #1

Written by Warren Ellis, Brian J. Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Steven T. Seagle, Peter Millgan, Bill Willingham and Bruce Jones

Art by Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, James Sinclair, Brian J. Bolland, Matt Hollingsworth, Essad Ribic, Frank Quitely, Jim Lee, Wildstorm FX, Tim Sale, Lee Loughridge, Eduardo Risso, Grant Goleash, Bill Willingham, Digital Chameleon, Bernie Wrightson, Tim Bradstreet and Kevin Somers

Lettering by Clem Robins, Ellie de Ville, Comicraft and Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo

Review by David Pepose

They say never judge a book by its cover — and in the case of Vertigo Resurrected, the first mistake comes from the "100-Page Spectacular" label on the cover. Several page counts put this book as actually 92 pages, which only compounds the staggering $7.99 price tag on the book. In an age where you can get bite-sized, self-contained entertainment for free via YouTube, Vertigo has made a curious decision with this collection of anthologies — there's certainly some high-quality short stories in this book, but it works uphill against its high price point.

Reading this book, the first thing that stood out to me was how prolific former Vertigo editor Axel Alonso was during his time with the company. Now one of Marvel's highest-ranking editors, Alonso cut his teeth with Vertigo books like Hellblazer, Heartthrobs, Flinch and Weird War Tales — many of which have been reprinted for this new Vertigo collection. Alonso's name is on all but one of these anthology stories, so it's very interesting to see the sheer breadth of the work that's been commissioned here.

Obviously, what people are going to be clamoring for, of course, is Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez's polemic against school violence called "Shoot." Written prior to the Columbine school shootings, Ellis and DC clashed over how it would be released — which led to it not being released at all. Amazing what 10 years can do to an industry's sensibilities: After we've been saturated with books like The Boys, Transmetropolitan or even The Authority, Ellis railing against a "crumbling state with no education and no hope and no future" seems hardly offensive — it's an angry, passionate response to what was then a growing epidemic (and in many places, still is). It's very much a writer's vehicle — Phil Jimenez is more facilitator with his familiar, straightforward lines than forcing his own personal flair to the proceedings — but at the same time, I think that ultra-mainstream quality plays up reader uncertainty, and lets them focus on the message of the piece.

But where I think Vertigo Resurrected is most effective is, perhaps surprisingly, in its reprinted material. There's no reprint editor listed in this book — perhaps Shelly Bond was involved? — but whoever was in charge, I will say that have great taste in picking short features from Vertigo's enormous catalog. The standout of the book is clearly Steven T. Seagle and Tim Sale's collaboration from Heartthrobs called "Diagnosis" — there's a weird, eerie vibe that Seagle gives his surgeon narrator, as he gives a clinical, almost alien look at the world of a breast cancer specialist. Does this guy have his mind on his work too much, or is it something more sinister? Either way, seeing the sheer mood that Tim Sale and Lee Loughridge put into the style, the placement, the composition, even the lighting give this story a smart twist on the old '50s romance genre.

Meanwhile, Peter Milligan gives Eduardo Risso a surprisingly lush story to work with in "Death of a Romantic" — having seen Risso primarily in 100 Bullets (as well as his work on Batman), it was really stunning to see Risso work on characters that aren't seedy and corrupt. Needless to say, Risso has been type-cast, and type-cast hard, because he can draw some seriously gorgeous women, as almost a dark version of Bruce Timm. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely also get some good shots in with a truly Weird War Tale that combines Toy Story and Full Metal Jacket with Morrison's trademark brand of the self-aware creation. Quitely manages to make his not-so-human protagonists look particularly eerie, as their fully-articulated joints display some sickeningly realistic body language.

That said, there are a few short stories that drag the enterprise down, when its price point has made the margin for error all too small already. Brian Bolland's story about foreign torture from Strange Adventures feels like it can't quite decide what it wants to be — is it a story about man's inhumanity to man? Is it a gross-out shocker? What's the message? What's the point? The story just kind of goes, but it doesn't really hook you — there's no resonance. And perhaps the biggest artistic shocker comes from a Weird War Tales story from Garth Ennis and DC co-publisher Jim Lee — Lee's art style works magnificently with action and iconic shots, but his style doesn't quite suit the ultra-naturalism of Ennis's dialogue. Once Ennis's big reveal happens, you'd be hard-pressed to figure it out at first glance — Lee is meant to be a breezy read, but Ennis demands your attention.

The big question that Vertigo Resurrected unwittingly asks us is whether or not the idea of a standalone comics anthology is viable in an age of easy-to-access, cheap-to-buy alternative entertainment — and a clear financial erosion in what was previously thought to be a "recession-proof" comics industry. On the one hand, there's a lot of artistic stretching in this book, and the contributions from Seagle, Sale, Morrison, Quitely, Risso and plenty of others should demand your time, if not your wallet. But at the same time, $8 is an awfully big commitment for self-contained stories — particularly with 70 pages of reprinted material — when there are plenty of self-contained, single-narrative trade paperbacks you could get in the clearance section for similar cost. There's a lot of potential with books like Vertigo Resurrected — but will fickle fandom kill it all over again?

The Sixth Gun #5

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art and Lettering by Brian Hurtt

Published by Oni Press

Review by Kyle DuVall

The Jonah Hex movie came out on DVD last week, and I know, despite all the warnings, all the angered exclamations of Worst. Comic Book. Movie. Ever! Some of you, in a daze of car-crash curiosity, probably rented it and watched it anyway. Well, if that slapdash, bungled loogie of a supernatural western has burned your eye sockets, let me present a balm for your scorched corneas, a piece of horror-western adventure done right: The Sixth Gun. Issue #5 of the series hits the shops this week, and with #5 writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt tighten the screws on their narrative of demonic cowboys and magic six-shooters, and set the reader up for a climax that looks to combine The Wild Bunch, The Two Towers, and Night of the Living Dead in a hellish hoedown of ghouls and gunfire.

Bunn has switched up the rhythm of his plotting for this issue, whereas in each previous installment the story has exploded in a roaring action set piece in the last few pages, here Bunn is just jabbing the reader with a few moments of coolness, then backing away. There’s a quick ambush on a posse of mud-zombies, a final splash page that foreshadows what will probably be Pickett’s charge as imagined by George Romero in the next issue…but nothing that full-on explodes in this installment like the Thunderbird battle from last issue, or the flaming saloon brawl from #2. Instead, this is an issue that is cleverly building up to next issue’s climax, but building it with just enough action peppered in to guarantee the reader won’t feel like this story was simply filler. It also signals loud and clear that the next chapter will crescendo in a full issue’s worth of the sort guns-blazing, cyclonic action that has been relegated to just the third act set-pieces of each previous issue.  

This is a perfectly-built penultimaste chapter: Our heroes have swiped three of the six cursed shooting irons from the necrotic General Hume, they’ve dug themselves into a creepy fortress for a fight, and the General and his minions end the issue outside the gates with a supernatural surprise that ups the ante on the final battle. Bunn may not be a strong hand with characterization or texture in his tales, but, when it comes to plotting, this guy is like a formula one mechanic building a perfectly-tuned high-horsepower engine. Each piece of the machine is calibrated to the millimeter and slotted into place, ready to roll.

Brian Hurtt’s art carries the issue well, but Bunn doesn’t give him any really meaty action sequences in this issue, so Hurtt’s greatest assets aren’t necessarily present on the page. Hurtt’s strength in composing and laying out rambunctious set pieces has always outpaced his draftsmanship in this series, nevertheless, there’s still a couple of juicy full-page spreads where Hurtt can flex his muscles, with the last page being especially impressive. Hurtt’s work is a little more atmospheric in places as well, with a couple of moody scenic panels breaking things up, and some nicely expressed flashback scenes.  

The Sixth Gun #5 is not the ideal jumping-on point for a new reader, but it’s solid enough to likely inspire many who pick it up to grab the back issues. Fans who have been riding shotgun with Hurtt and Bunn all along will be positively slavering for the next chapter. At the very least, The Sixth Gun #5 is a much better $3 investment than a schadenfreude rental of Jonah Hex.

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Hack/Slash Annual 2010: Murder Messiah

Written by Tim Seeley

Art by Jethro Morales

Published by Image Comics

Review by Zack Kotzer

As the Hack/Slash series makes a very easy transition from Devil’s Due to Image Comics, one thing is clear about Tim Seeley’s series. It’s a ‘universe’. Or at least that’s the goal, and the execution so far keeps steady. It has gone through a now extensive roster of artists, it’s surpassed many of the mini-series from its label and it has even outlasted the popularity of Suicide Girls from which it copied stylistically (by style I mean breasts and skull panties). It may not be your universe, but that does not exhaust the ambition.

This is the first annual for Hack/Slash in its new home. Characters introduced over the short history of the series accumulate over threatening matters. While they may have been shoe-horned in their inception, this is a series that has wasted no time in introducing new characters by the issue, the matters at hand, an obsessive stalker/killer combo and a grim tale of the desolate future, uses them competently in a method far less offensive. In fact, I’m impressed. This has all the sophistication and shamelessness of big brother universes’ DC or Marvel’s annual omens. It’s a story that lays down the archetype of its existing cast for anyone who’s just decided to tune in now, while also laying down the brickwork for you to stick around later. Even the art, fairly plain for most of the affair, shows a little bit of pizzazz during a nicely cross-hatched flash back.

Hack/Slash now presents its own world, a blood thirsty fan’s answer to DC and Marvel, inhabited entirely by serial killers and vicious strippers. It’s far from everyone’s cup of tea, in fact I’m not even certain it’s mine but there’s undeniably the horror audience and they love the blood, tits and every method of decapitation. Hate on the material all you want, the Hack/Slash annual is structuring itself like the pros, and while it will probably continue to present half baked monster concepts from now till the end of its existence, it at least knows how to do it from the top of the heap.

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