Vertigo Comics This Week: Lord Byron as a Tech Zombie

new-romancerEach week, myself and Ray Goldfied review the latest offerings from DC Comics’ adult imprint, Vertigo. (We review all the DC issues–yes, every one—over at GeekMom.) This week sees a promising concept on cyber-romance, a continuation of a title from two comics legends, and a series where a pyromaniac is the (anti)heroine.

New Romancer #1 -Peter Milligan, writer, Brett Parson, artist–Suggested for Mature Readers

Ray: 8.5/10

Corrina: Love the Vibe in This One.

Ray: There’s been a pretty good balance in the new Vertigo lineups of compelling genre fiction with more oddball books that defy classification. This modern sci-fi/romance/thriller is definitely one of the latter. It’s not often you see a book open with the bloody, painful death of Lord Byron in the 1800s, and then segue to a modern girl working for a tech start-up.

On the surface, this concept could have been some sort of Julie and Julia-esque look at how the past can inspire the present – but that’s definitely not this book. Our lead character, Lexy, is a recently-fired and blacklisted employee for a powerful tech company now working at a failing start-up called New Romancer, where she attempts to create computer programs out of the brain patterns of famous long-dead romantics like Byron and Casanova. She’s also the survivor of weird science experiments by her now-imprisoned father. The company she used to work for is considering assassinating her because of what she knows – which doesn’t include some bizarre experiments of theirs involving dead bodies. These plots converge when Lexy’s computer program goes live – and winds up animating the bodies in the corporation’s basement. This leads to Lexy meeting the reincarnation of Lord Byron, who she’s been obsessed with since she was a child – and it does not go like she was hoping at all. Meanwhile, Casanova is back as well, and seems to be a lot less friendly than Byron. There’s some interesting themes here about the dark side of romance, and while the first issue is a bit odd, there’s some really promising stuff here and I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues.

Corrina: I had no idea what this book would be about when I opened it. With such an out-there concept, it meant it would either fail spectacularly or succeed the same way. Like the first season of Sleepy Hollow, which has a similar vibe, this was a definite success.

For me, it was a big success. As much as I can see the quality in many of the new horror books from Vertigo, it’s refreshing to have one that’s more light-hearted, if you can call raising dead poets from the dead with unpredictable results light-hearted. Lexi obviously has her own weird powers with computers, as seen in the flashbacks, and having her call Lord Byron out on some of his b.s. like saying he cared about his daughter when he abandoned her, makes for a fun read.

This has a chance to be one of the most original books of the year.

Image via Vertigo
Image via Vertigo

The Twilight Children #3 – Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke, co-creators. Hernandez, writer, Cooke, artist

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Buy It.

Ray: There are some books where everything seems to be set up for a runaway hit, and then…it just doesn’t quite work. The idea of Gilbert Hernandez’s unique storytelling style combining with Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant art seems to be a guarantee for an instant classic, but 75% in, I’m not quite getting into the story yet. The big problem is that it feels like two stories in one, and the one that’s less compelling is getting less page time. The core mystery of the story, involving a strange alien orb that’s teleporting people away and mysteriously blinded three local children, is fascinating.

There’s a slow-burn X-files vibe to everything going on, especially with the presence of Ela, the mysterious girl who showed up with the orb. However, the second part of the story involves the soap-opera-esque dynamics of the small town where all this is taking place, particularly focusing on Tito, the woman in an unhappy marriage and with a strong connection to one of the special agents investigating the appearance of the orb. I don’t feel like four issues is quite enough to fully explore the interesting mysteries at play here, and the subplots aren’t holding my interest enough to compensate. Still, at the very least, this is going to go down as one of the best-looking comics in Vertigo’s new stable.

Corrina: Slow burn is a good word for the tale but as I re-read each issue, I realize how well constructed this story is. Each issue peels back a different layer of the community, of the mystery surrounding Ela, and of the reasons for this happening in this place.

When people talk about literary SF, this is exactly the type of book they mean. For readers who missed the first two issues, they’re going to have to wait for the trade because this isn’t a series to jump into with any issue. On the other hand, my patience is being rewarded bit by bit, and it’s clearly leading to something fascinating. I’m not sure what that is yet but I have faith in the creators and the world they’ve built. So, yes, I like this more than Ray.

Slash & Burn #2 – Si Spencer, writer, Max Dunbar, penciller, Ande Paris, inker

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: On The Fence.

Ray: This isn’t the flashiest of the new Vertigo titles, but it’s one that’s really growing on me. In many ways, it’s the equivalent of a gritty cable anti-hero drama – its concept of a firefighter struggling to keep her pyromaniac tendencies under wraps reminds me a lot of Dexter the serial-killing ME in its irony.

Flashback panel from Slash & Burn #2, image via Vertigo Comics
Flashback panel from Slash & Burn #2, image via Vertigo Comics

The cool twist here, of course, is that the antihero is a woman, which is rarely seen in these genres. The strongest part of this issue is the framing segments, focusing on Rosheen’s time as a child in the orphanage where she grew up after the fire that claimed her parents. At first, she seems like a victim of the fire-obsessed bullies at the place, but by the end of the issue she’s turned the tables on them and displayed some dangerous personality traits. The present-day segments continue to focus on her inspecting the mysterious fire that injured her partner last issue, as she searches for the second culprit who may have been behind the death of his drug-trade partner. The tone reminds me a lot of a police procedural on TV with a unique hook, and I could easily see this book becoming a cable show eventually. It’s a bit of a slow burn (pun intended), but with a compelling lead and a growing supporting cast, and a great sense of tension throughout.

Corrina: The trick with any anti-hero, female or not, is that you have to understand them and, on some level, believe that they’re doing their best. It’s a hard trick to pull off. Even with reluctant heroes like Jessica Jones, for the story to work, the angst and confusion and anger has to be balanced by allowing vulnerability to slip in.

Rosheen’s fear of starting fires is not enough vulnerability. I understand it’s a problem and she’s trying to overcome it but the narrative hasn’t given me a compelling reason to care about her struggle. It could be the flashbacks to her childhood, which are in place of present-day narratives. I know, flashbacks are all the rage, and I know, Jessica Jones used them too but the difference it that on Jessica Jones, the flashbacks felt more like flashes of memory, a visual internal monologue. Here, the flashbacks are being used in the usual way, to tease out a hidden memory/childhood mystery. But I don’t care about those teases and the flashbacks are only confusing me. Sometimes, I long for straightforward storytelling. This is one of those times.

So far, the creative ambition on this book exceeds the story that’s on the page.

Ray Goldfield is a writer/editor for Grayhaven Comics, as well as the author of two novels currently in editing. He’s a comic fan for over 20 years, particularly of DC and Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans in particular. Now that Cassandra Cain is coming back, he will not rest until DC greenlights a Young Justice: Season Three comic.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received these comics for review purposes. 

 

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.