SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint has been releasing one-shot anthologies on a fairly regular basis, using them to dust off old titles like Strange Adventures, The Witching Hour and Mystery in Space, which gives contributors a general theme, and likely helps the publisher maintain trademarks.
Despite once being as common as mutant superheroes are today, anthologies of any kind haven’t been readily embraced in the modern marketplace, and one imagines the ever-increasing costs of comics doesn’t help. These Vertigo titles, featuring short, generally forgettable, riff-like stories from a multitude of creators — which the law of averages suggests will include some stories a reader won’t like — will run you $7.99, just two bucks shy of an ad-free, spine-having trade paperback collection of Image Comics’ Pretty Deadly … or Vertigo’s own FPB: Federal Physics Bureau.
This year the imprint is trying something slightly different: It’s still publishing $8 anthologies, with a variety of creative teams riffing on a theme, but rather than raiding long-faded DC titles (sorry if you were waiting for a revival of More Fun Comics or Adventures of Bob Hope),Vertigo is going with a sort of printing theme. Four anthologies, published on a quarterly basis, each using one of the four basic colors of traditional printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK. If nothing else, this will make repackaging and reselling these stories in a trade format a little easier, as the theme will be consistent between a series of anthologies.
The cyan issue debuted this week; it’s a very strikingly designed comic. The cover by designer Jared K. Fletcher is simple and understated, and it pops off the comics rack and begs for special attention. Even the two-page table of contents, in which each story is given a paint swathe-like panel of cyan/different shades of blue, is lovely (I feel tempted to make a joke about combining the thrill of reading a table of contents with the thrill of picking out a paint color, but I can’t; I genuinely dug those pages on an aesthetic level).
So the idea is rather inspired, as is the design — but how are the stories? Par for the course, I suppose. Some good, some bad, some mediocre; some clever uses of the theme, some that seem to ignore it all together. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The first of several stories that seem as if they could just have easily appeared in Vertigo’s short-lived horror anthology series Flinch (1999-2001). Written by Shaun Simon and drawn by Tony Akins (Wonder Woman, Fables, Jack of Fables), it actually looks just like a DC superhero comic, and given that its protagonist is an artist-cum-serial killer whose medium is dead bodies, it actually reads a little like one — all it’s missing is Batman showing up to punch out the bad guy at the end.
Blue is used throughout the coloring of the comic, including a purposefully grotesque usage near the climax. The dialogue and narration is blue-on-white … except for a few instances where it isn’t, which seem like mistakes rather than a purposeful switch to gray-on-white. Similarly, one of the main characters is shown to be heavily tattooed in one panel, and, when next we seem him, all of his tattoos are gone.
Writer Joe Keatinge (Glory, Hell Yeah) and artist Ken Garing (Planetoid) present a short sci-fi story that is mostly “sci-fi” in that it could rather easily be an Earth-bound story featuring real people in the real world, only it replaces certain characters with aliens and robots … well, except for the twist at the end, I guess.
There wasapparently some rewriting by editor Mark Doyle (the individual stories have individual editor credits, and no overall editor was listed), which seems more like a New 52 or DC Universe thing than a Vertigo thing, but it gives the story an interesting second life: After you’ve read it, try to figure out what Keatinge meant to have happen (as far as I can tell from his short, remarkably polite-for-these-sorts-of-things post, the art is unchanged, but some of the writing was rewritten).
I’m not sure exactly what it could have been, as the ending is telegraphed early on — at least, there’s a telegraphing of what would go wrong to lead to the bad ending — and it works out OK to the extent that it reads just fine.
This is another fairly straightforward horror story, albeit one that lost me a bit at the beginning and the end — something about British ice cream men maybe being fighters of the supernatural? Or at least some of them, as the one ice cream man seems annoyed/perplexed by the other ice cream man’s previous attempts to catch monsters. At any rate, there’s a monster trapped in the back of an ice cream truck: That’s the conflict.
This one’s by writer Lee Garbett (Loki: Agent of Asgard, Batgirl), with Jock (aw, you all know Jock) co-writing and drawing. Jock draws a cool monster, and I like the use of “rancor,” as in the monster from Return of the Jedi rather than the feeling, as a verb.
There’s a lot of blue in the coloring, by Lee Loughridge, and the script name-checks “the cyan moon” in a prophecy right in the first panel.
Writer Amy Chu (Girls Night Out) makes her “professional” comics debut with this story, which is drawn by Alitha Martinez (Batgirl, New Crusaders) and features a couple of pop singers who are feuding … except only one of them actually knows there’s any real conflict between them.
Chu’s script has a surprising enough stinger ending, and Martinez offers some of the all-around best art in the book. As for it’s blue-ness or cyan-ocity, colorist Tom Chu fills the pages with blues, and there may be some not-all-the-way-formed reflection of the musical genre.
“Much Ado About Nothing”
Writer Monty Nero (Death Sentence) and artist Al Davison (Vermillion, a bunch of Vertigo) collaborate on the best story in the book, featuring a very smart, very scary and rather inspired (if a little wordy) script and striking, design-heavy art. Each of Davison’s pages features a big, blocky numeral, counting down from seven to zero, with the panels laid out within.
The art is all black and white and gray, with the blue appearing only in the narration boxes, and outlining some of the numeral-shaped panel grids. Cyan/blue is really only a design element here.
What really earns this story the blue ribbon above the other contributions, however, is that it’s the only story here that could only be told in comics form (Well, that or maybe animation). This is a comic that utilizes its medium, rather than looking at it simply as one of several avenues by which a story can be told.
I don’t know enough about steampunk as a genre to know whether this really counts, but this collaboration between writer/colorist Cris Peter and writer/artists Ana Koehler looks like steampunk to me; it’s not a period piece so much as an alternative-history period piece, featuring Victorian-looking robots and a conflict between advocates of charcoal versus advocates of electricity.
Blue is the color of pro-electricity rebels; it’s the color they wear, which stands out sharply from the duller, browner world Peter creates around them, and it’s the color of the few bolts of electricity that appear on the page.
It’s a fine sketch of a story, but seems like a lot of world-building wasted on such a short trifle of a story.
Just like the title says, this is the Bluebeard fairy tale, only with a lady in the Bluebeard role … and a modern setting. There’s little suspense, given the title, and the most pressing mystery was which of the several narrators was supposed to be narrating which panels, as there’s no real indication when one speaker takes over from another, but they’re all fairly interchangeable anyway.
The last panel, in which we see how this Bluebeard stores her grooms, is rather striking, and colorist Jose Villarrubia puts his blues in interesting places, including the smoke of the femme fatale’s cigarette, and in her black hair, like DC superheroes Superman and Wonder Woman used to have.
This one’s by writer Robert Rodi (Codename: Knockout, a bunch of Marvel comics) and artist Javi Fernandez (Flashpoint: The Outsider).
“Once Upon the End of Time …”
Writer James Tynion IV (Nightwing, Talon) and artist Martin Morazzo (Great Pacific) tell a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about love, finding beauty and finding beauty through love. Tynion’s narration is a little overwrought, and mostly unnecessary given how well Morazzo communicates emotion, and how effectively Tynion’s dialogue tells the story; letterer Travis Lanham’s decision to render that narration in a highly calligraphic style doesn’t really help matters.
Here, blue is the color of the eyes of the characters.
“Breaking News of the Wonders the Future Holds”
Fabio Moon (De:Tales, Daytripper) tells a story about two artists who find out their gallery is being closed. I think? I didn’t get this one at all, if it was meant to be anything other than a vignette. I sure like looking at the lines Moon makes though, and this story is all him, including the letters and colors.