Robot 6

Robot reviews: Two from Vertigo

Unwritten Vol. 1

Unwritten Vol. 1

Air Vol. 2: Flying Machine
by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker
Vertigo, $12.99

The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Vertigo, 144 pages, $9.99

I hate to say it, but I remain thoroughly disappointed in Vertigo. What was once an interesting, thriving imprint has become a rote factory, printing out dull comics that follow a strict formula. To wit: A young, thoroughly average, completely naive white (usually) male (usually) is indoctrinated (or thrown) into a magical world of mystery (or catastrophe) and conspiracy that alters their entire preconceived notions about themselves and the world they know. Seemingly every title in the past decade or so has taken this story path — from American Virgin to Y: The Last Man. If you take away the supernatural elements, even DMZ‘s initial arc fits the pattern. As a result, even the more interesting or idiosyncratic titles have a stale familiarity about them.

This is a ridiculously broad statement, of course. There have been a number of new series from the line in the past few years that seem to be trying to break with that tried-and-true formula — Fables and Scalped being two of the more obvious examples (though one could argue that some of these merely put aside one set of cliches for another). Despite this, however, Vertigo seems determined to cling to its tried-and-true formula, with only superficial changes in the material.

Case in point: Air, the relatively new ongoing monthly from G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker. I wasn’t terribly impressed with this comic upon reading the first issue many moons ago, and I honestly can’t say that my opinion has changed all that much upon reading the second collection.

I suppose part of that may be due to the fact that there’s a gap in my reading, since I missed issues 2-4 and now have to play plot catch-up. I don’t think so, though. Like I hinted at earlier, part of the problem with Air is, despite all its considerable attempts to offer metaphysical wonders and odd plot twists (Amelia Earhart flew magic planes! And she’s still alive!) the basic structure feels very formulaic and familiar, in the manner of a mid-level CBS drama. Writer Wilson’s attempts at profundity ring false as well. And while Perker seems to have taken a bit more care and detail in his panels (hey look, backgrounds!) I still find his lanky-limbed characters with their odd cross-hatched shading off-putting.

No, Air to me seems too emblematic of what’s wrong with the imprint these days. If I wanted to drum up some hope for Vertigo, I initially looked to The Unwritten, Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ new series about the son of a famous children’s author who slowly discovers he may have more in common with the fictional characters his father created than he’d like.

I enjoyed the first issue and was looking forward to reading more. But after finishing the first trade collection, Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, I feel frustrated and disappointed. So far all the series seems good at is running in place. Five chapters in and everything still seems to be stuck in first gear.

Mind you, it’s not that I want all the major plot points to be revealed right away. But I do want to feel like there’s some sort of progression. By the end of the book, Tommy is just as petulant and in the dark as he was in the beginning, and all his dithering around, asking questions felt just like that — dithering. Oh, menace is hinted at and mysteries are suggested, but I really need more than the old “stories are important” saw to hold up my flagging interest. Carey and Gross try to liven things up with the old “serial killer in the house picking off folks one by one” bit, but they’re completely unable to generate any tension or horror out of the scenario.

All the material is in place for The Unwritten to be a solid, entertaining series, possibly even one of Vertigo’s flagship titles. And my hope is that once the Carey and Gross get to their eventual premise and central plot that will happen. But my initial enthusiasm has dampened somewhat by the creators seeming inability to build upon their promising start and attempts to draw the story out until the book becomes … well, like a lot of other lackluster Vertigo books, quite frankly.




January 15, 2010 at 3:30 pm



I’ve actually considered the very same thought about how formulaic Vertigo books tend to be, though I’d also include a girlfriend who is often not white and usually is wiser or more worldly than the naive male lead character. That said, I love Vertigo and buy most of their monthly titles. It’s still quality writing, whether or not the archetypes tend to repeat. (I did drop Air though, I found myself always forgetting the plot from month to month and took that as a true measure of my interest.)

Hmmm. I picked up the first Air trade. It was ten bucks and it’s praises were sung from high by writers I respected. Nope. Didn’t like it a bit. The pacing felt off. There was a glimpse of hope towards the end, and I picked up the next floppy, but is still didn’t do it for me. Why the hell was Blythe always wearing her uniform? She isn’t a superhero; she’s a waitress in the sky. People seemed to pop up all the time too. I enjoyed the first issue of Unwritten, and I intended to get the next issue, but I missed it and decided to wait for the trade. Now I’m second guessing that one.
Scalped, on the other hand. Damn. That and Ex Machina are my favorites to pick up in trade format.

I’ve thought the exact same thing for years. Although I disagree that American Virgin was another rote lockstep rehash of Vertigo tropes. That thing was dynamite, and I was super sad (and super unsurprised) to see it didn’t last terribly long.

“A young, thoroughly average, completely naive white (usually) male (usually) is indoctrinated (or thrown) into a magical world of mystery (or catastrophe) and conspiracy that alters their entire preconceived notions about themselves and the world they know”

Take away “magical” and maybe “conspiracy” and you’ve just described life.
Dumbass statement.
Between Vertigo, Image and Icon there are plenty of good creator-owned properties out there to explore.

Are you reading Sweet Tooth? I realise it sorta-kinda — ok it ddoes — follow that formula but its not the story but how you tell it and Sweet Tooth is amazing.

Maybe if you read Northlanders and Madame Xanadu you would’ve a different impression of the imprint.

Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Madame Xanadu? Maybe the series got better after the first trade, but the first trade was just Matt Wagner’s Sandman, which is its own set of cliches. Wagner spent ten issues restaging stories other creators have done better – Camelot (done better by Kirby with the Demon), Kublai Khan (Gaiman in Soft Places), revolutionary France (Gaiman in Thermidor), Jack the Ripper’s England (Moore’s From Hell), and the early days of the mystery men (Wagner’s own Sandman Mystery Theatre). With the whole sweep of history to choose from, he could have been a little more original with his settings or his treatment of them.

Maybe Vertigo’s next hit book will feature an old, powerful, wise woman (maybe even a minority) who indoctrinates people into everyday knowledge that confirms their preconceptions. Maybe they’ll it Grandma.

I agree with you about the state of affairs at Vertigo Chris, it’s why I didn’t bother with Unwritten until I recently reread the free copy I got at MoCCA and while it is formulaic I was very impressed with what the team had to say about the role of stories in history and geopolitics. It felt far more sophisticated than the usual Vertigo fare trying to ride Sandman’s coattails into the ground –Fables comes to mind– and that issue where they followed Rudyard Kipling made my jaw drop. Sweet Tooth is also formulaic but Lemire tells the story so well as a comic that I don’t care. Finally, while I still need to read the next issue, I was simply amazed by the first issue of Daytripper.


I was mentioning the fact that Madame Xanadu is a book quite far from the specific Vertigo “formula” specified above.

I would contest your surface reading of the series, but frankly, if you can’t see a difference between the way it did, say, the Camelot setting and the way Jack Kirby’s Demon did it, it wouldn’t be worth my time to even try.

Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

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