GIVE THAT MAN HIS COFFEE!
Vertigo Crime is an imprint of an imprint of DC Comics that has its origins in Paradox Press, another imprint of DC Comics that most notably published the original graphic novels of Road To Perdition and A History of Violence in the late 1990s. Vertigo Crime lured contemporary pulp crime authors like Ian Rankin (The Naming of the Dead) and Jason Starr (Panic Attack) as well as indie heavyweights Brain Azzarello (100 Bullets) and Peter Milligan (The Human Target) into their fold and for the last three years they’ve been publishing some of the best original graphic novel content in the genre. With the relaunch of DC’s New 52 and the declining sales of regular Vertigo titles, rumors are swarming that their original graphic novel Crime line is already doomed. That would be a real shame. Still, several titles have recently found their way into the affordable softcover format and Four Color Grind fans would be wise to snatch them up asap.
With some dubious dabbling in Sci-Fi woo, Area 10 by Christos N. Gage and Chris Samnee might stray a little too far into fantasy for those looking for a straight-up Noir, but if you’re willing to let some of the hippie science slide than you’ll find plenty of enjoyable Law & Order violence to digest. Actually, Gage aside from writing for numerous comic book publishers has written for NBC’s Special Victims Unit spinoff and the book has plenty of those Dick Wolf beats we’ve come to expect from that particular procedural franchise. Some mad bugger in New York City is lopping the heads off seemingly unrelated men and women; dubbed “Henry VIII” by the typically oh-so-clever press, Detective Adam Kamen uses the pursuit of the mad killer as a way of distracting himself from the various headaches that make up his personal life.
11 pages into the book, Kamen finds himself at the wrong end of a screwdriver. An apparently random schizophrenic plunging the hardware into the center of his forehead, right into the brain’s “Area 10” or pineal gland. And anyone who knows anything about the pineal gland knows that it’s the go-to gland for fictitious third eye shenanigans. Kamen starts to suffer from hallucinations/visions of potential futures, using this ability to foil stick-ups and pursuing the notorious lobber with devastating results. Along the way you have Kamen’s pretty neuroscientist to provide the exposition, the romance, and the distressed damsel.
I might be sounding a little snooty, nose-in-the-air as far as the From Beyond pineal gland business goes but the woo of this noir actually provides for some of the most interesting and frightening panels. Half way through the book there is a subway confrontation of momentous beauty and terror. The manner in which artist Chris Samnee depicts the spectral assault is genuinely creepy, and there are a set of piercing eyes that I cannot force from my mind. The comic bends into this super hero world, elevating the reality and forcing the reader to question the rules set forth by the Vertigo Crime line. Maybe a touch disappointing for those initially looking for a simple crime story, but as the madness increases the question of the story’s climax keeps you turning the pages. And that “I Can See You Now” splash page will knock you back a bit. A fun, mishmash of genre.
Peter Milligan and James Romberger’s The Bronx Kill is a more typical narrative that you come looking for at Vertigo Crime. Martin Keane has cop in his blood. His father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather were all New York City patrolmen. But young Martin had no intention of falling into the family trap; hearing stories of his great grandfather’s execution on the notorious stretch of land known optimistically as “The Bronx Kill” pretty much sealed the deal. Despite his father’s mockery, Martin’s college boy would rather make his world as a fanciful writer.
And he’s pretty darn successful at it. Having already published a critically acclaimed first novel and dropping a bomb for the second, Martin decides to travel to Ireland for a few months to gather inspiration and research for his third book, leaving his new bride to wallow in her own artsy passions. Upon his return they celebrate, she reads his manuscript, he falls asleep. The next morning the wife is missing. Poof.
The Bronx Kill is well executed. The pacing is edge of your seat, the dialog is crisp and biting in all the right places. And James Romberger’s art has this unfinished feel at first, but as the story ratchets and the mystery begins to tighten around the Wrong Man that is our hero, it takes on this surreal pencil scratch nature. Martin looks like he could loosen at any moment, break apart and fall off the page. The mystery of both the missing Wife and his family’s tragic past is ultimately unsatisfying; the collision of fact and Martin’s fiction kinda annoying, but it’s not boring. The Bronx Kill is one of those books you’re glad you read, but will probably forget after a few weeks.
In August, Vertigo Crime decided to republish John Wagner and Vince Locke’s A History of Violence with a sharp new Dave Johnson cover. The back of the book spends half it’s time describing its connection to the Palme d’Or award-winning film directed by David Cronenberg (Crash, The Fly) and a lot less time blathering on about the plot, but you can hardly blame them since that film is so bloody brilliant and marks one of the few occasions I prefer the adaptation over the source material.
The movie and the book share the same narrative jumping off point. Two murderous men enter a diner in Small Town, USA looking for coffee and bloodshed. What they find is an early grave as bespectacled diner owner Tom McKenna instinctively strikes back, killing both men with vicious speed and accuracy. Another media sensation is born and Tom finds his face plastered on all manner of television sets and front page headlines. A few days later a couple more men enter the diner. One man claims that Tom took his eye back in New York, that he’s some badass gangster who once showed no qualms about severing limbs and gouging out eye sockets. Is Tom McKenna who he says he is? Or does he owe his family some serious explanation?
Wagner and Locke’s book takes a very different narrative path than the movie. Without dishing out too many spoilers, the past is explored in a much more in-depth manner and upon rereading the material it’s hard not to look upon the backstory as superfluous. And the book takes a much darker and disturbed turn at the climax; I’m sorta shocked that Cronenberg didn’t latch on to a few of those grisly, pulpy panels that just screamed Dead Ringers or The Brood. But maybe it was too obvious for him, who can speculate?
Of the recent publications, A History of Violence still remains my favorite of the Vertigo Crime imprint. It’s a bit of a cheat since it originally spawned from Paradox Press, but this is my feature and I make up the rules. Ranging in price from $12.99 to $14.99, these latest softcovers are definitely worth the scratch and even if they range in quality, I hope they sell. Three years of original graphic novel crime is just not enough. I want at least another five years of content. Come on DC, reach out there. Grab Ed Brubaker (Criminal) and Brian Michael Bendis (Torso) from Marvel, throw cash in their face cuz Vertigo Crime could sure use a few bigger names to spread the word.
IT’S BIG BOOTAY!
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