Punk Rock + Astro City = Excellent Vertigo Week

Last Gang in Town #1, image via Vertigo Comics
Last Gang in Town #1, image via Vertigo Comics

This week in Vertigo Comics, Ray Goldfied and myself review the debut of a punk rock comic, more Astro City, Art Ops continues its charming weirdness, and an Eric Kripke series proves somewhat disappointing.

Last Gang in Town #1 – writer, Simon Oliver, artist Rufus Dayglo

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Definitely Punk/Indie Style Storytelling.

Ray: Oliver and Dayglo deliver the last and one of the oddest of the new wave of Vertigo titles, in this period piece celebration of the British punk culture of the ’70s. The most eye-catching thing about this first issue is definitely Dayglo’s art. This is the first I’ve heard of the artist, but the art is like nothing else you see on a mainstream comic. It’s equal parts cartoonish and gritty, perfectly capturing an exaggerated version of the urban blight that hit Britain in the 70s, and the over-the-top, often violent characters that populate it. If the art is definitely the strength, I unfortunately don’t think the writing quite lives up to it.

This first issue feels like an offbeat collection of vignettes leading towards some big sea change in society, as we’re told in a flash-forward segment featuring the characters as old women in 2018. The past segments mainly serve to introduce us to our leads, who are seen as the dregs of society. One takes that banner with pride in the opening segment, stealing a famous artist’s guitar and leading a group of goons on a merry chase through London. The other, a young black girl, finds herself ostracized at a local restaurant and gains the attention of the mysterious woman looking to assemble them into the titular gang. There’s some promise here, and the art is definitely worth coming back for, but it didn’t gel quite into a cohesive story for me yet.

Corrina: The issue is definitely a collection of vignettes plus it jumps around in time. Numerous character introductions plus the flash forwards and flashbacks threw me out of the story more than I would like.

There’s a quote from Michael Allred on the front cover which says “I’ve always loved comics that pulsate with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and here’s one that makes you feel like crowd-surfing. That’s accurate except I’d say this book skews far more punk than rock ‘n’ roll–rebellion and anarchy because there’s no sense using the system.

I can’t say I liked the book because it doesn’t suit my taste and the art style is unappealing to me. This is a taste issue, as the art of R. Crumb fails to appeal to me either and Dayglo’s style reminded me of it. But it is a high-quality book.

Astro City #30 cover, image via DC Comics
Astro City #30 cover, image via DC Comics

Astro City #30, writer, Kurt Busiek, art by Jesus Marino. 

Corrina: If you haven’t read Astro City yet, you need to do that.

Ray: 9/10

Ray: One of the things I’ve always loved about Astro City is the way it not only gives us a more human eye on the superheroes who protect this world – showing how they deal with family, aging, unexpected power changes, etc. – but also how their presence affects the world around them. This arc is a great example of this, as we see one of the “Evil mindless alien races” that heroes fight, and get an insight into just how they operate and how the battles with the heroes – in this case, an extended family of superheroes clearly based on the FF – affect them. We see this story through the eyes of a young alien who is about to be inducted into his planet’s defense forces, until he finds a young member of the First Family that causes him to question everything his family is fighting for. The story does a great job of balancing our sympathies for the main character with showing us just how messed up this alien society is. It even gives us an explanation for the rampaging giant alien monster that seems to show up in every sci-fi comic!

Every issue of Astro City feels more like a snapshot of an incredibly complex world. At the same time, I’m left wanting more and ready to move on to whatever fascinating corner we’re going to explore next.

Corrina: Last issue was part one of a two-part tale of a planet of intelligent beings based on the bee/wasp family. We saw the First Family through the eyes of their enemies and it was clear in the setup that the hive world is led by a corrupt and evil government.

This issue again follows Zozat as he makes mental contact with one of the youngest members of the Family. “I could not think of him as a monster anymore,” thinks Zozat and he can’t bear to turn his new friend in. His people attempt to fight back with a secret weapon of many fused Zirrans. Turning into a giant being is similar to turning into a giant snake in that never helps. The First Family win and the government lies to its people again. Except, Zozat knows the truth and within him is the seeds of a possible rebellion and a quest for a better world.

Love this comic. This two-part story would be a terrific place to start, if you’re at all interested in this unique superhero world.

Our lead's "art" arm. Image via Vertigo Comics.
Our lead’s “art” arm. Image via Vertigo Comics.

Art Ops #3 – Shaun Simon, writer, Michael Allred and Matt Brundage, artists

Ray: 9/10

Corrina: Try It.

Ray: One of my favorites of the new Vertigo wave, this psychedelic heist thriller  is pretty much a textbook case of how to make “Weird” work for your story. On one hand, this story actually fits very neatly into a lot of classic tropes involving crime and secret agencies. You’ve got the high-profile target, the evil mastermind, and the cocky young rebel agent trying to live up to a powerful parent.

But this is all turned on its head when the high-profile target is the living Mona Lisa, and the mastermind is a mysterious woman with a cracked face attempting to mutate classic works of art into horribly disfigured Kaiju. The battle sequence with a mutated Statue of Liberty may be my favorite action segment in any comic this week. And then you’ve got Mona Lisa’s fantastic character arc this issue, as the adored figure of universally-recognized beauty attempts to carve out her own identity and vision of herself for the first time – only to find herself under attack by our villain and her twisted version of Michaelangelo’s David. If I have one complaint, it’s that our lead often feels a bit too conventional, art-arm or not. But overall, this is one of the strangest concepts to come out of a comic in a while – and I am so glad someone thought to give it the green light.

Corrina: Allred’s art style is one I like. It’s sort of a modern version of Steve Ditko, so all the art weirdness is perfect for him. I love this concept of this book but I haven’t, as yet, been emotionally sucked into the story. That’s part of Ray’s niggle: our main character is the least interesting thing in this story.

His “art” arm looks killer, by the way. The sequence with him as a child playing with the “Scream” from the famous painting is terrific. I like the kid much better than his grown-up self.

Jacked #2 – written by Eric Kripke, art by John Higgins

Ray: 5/10

Corrina: Not my taste.

Ray: The idea of Eric Kripke of Supernatural fame doing an original Vertigo series definitely had me excited, but this comic is, unfortunately, the weak link of the New Vertigo lineup. It feels like an odd hodgepodge of Kick-Ass crossed with Limitless, filtered through the vision of a midlife crisis. An unemployed schlub who is seen as a loser by his neighbor, prospective bosses, and even his wife finds himself taking a mysterious pill from his brother that gives him moments of mental clarity, incredible stamina, and even super-strength. I will say there are some moments in this issue that actually do hit, such as the scenes where we see him through his son’s eyes and we see how his son’s approval is essentially the ultimate high he’s chasing.

That doesn’t last as our hero gets caught up in a plot involving his abusive neighbor, a giant pile of cocaine, and a powerful drug lord. It seems like it’s all building towards a giant, violent explosion of a confrontation, and I can’t say I’m really excited for that. Jacked feels like a comic we’ve seen a lot of times before, both better and worse than this. It does deserve some kudos for showing a more nuanced version of the person before the drugs, but unfortunately it seems overall far more interested in the explosions he causes.

Corrina: I’m bowing out of issue #2 because I read issue #1 and decided that it was definitely not for me. At first, I thought it would be exploring the main character’s life ironically or as an unreliable narrator but the first issue definitely asked me to sympathize with his mid-life crisis and I couldn’t. He’s like a lesser version of the main character from American Beauty.

Definitely not for me. On the other hand, if you like the premise, go for it.

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.

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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.