Vertigo Comics This Week: The U.S. in Iraq

Comic Books Entertainment
The splash page to the Sherrif of Babylon. Look carefully. image via Vertigo Comics
The splash page to the Sherrif of Babylon. Look carefully. image via Vertigo Comics

Last week, I talked about the resurgence of Vertigo Comics. Each week, my partner in reviewing, Ray Goldfield, and I will look at their current books, especially debut issues, to see if we can recommend jumping aboard.

Ray loves all three titles, but I’ve already opted out of Survivor’s Club–not because of quality concerns but because it’s just not my thing.

The Sheriff of Babylon #1 – writer, Tom King, artist, Mitch Gerards

Ray: 9.5/10

Corrina: Buy It 

Ray: At points a gritty war comic, a geopolitical thriller, and a hard-boiled crime story, the new title is another salvo in Vertigo’s sudden comeback in the creator-owned comic wars. Delivering a first issue that is neck and neck with my favorite of the lot so far, Art Ops, it wastes no time in plunging us into the dark and uncertain world of occupied Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, and introduces us to the setting via a trio of stories that will converge before the issue is done.

In the first, a training Sergeant on the military base finds himself in a tense situation with a teenage suicide bomber–with a tragic ending, despite his best efforts. In the second and best of the stories, a brutal female “Fixer” in the Iraqi underworld follows the trail of a problem from a U.S. military official down to a petty criminal who stole a truck, and deals out brutal vigilante justice. This character, Sofia, is easily the most intriguing character in the book, a figure who could have come out of a classic Mafia thriller, except told through the focus of a completely different culture in a world where her gender means she has to work far harder to be taken seriously. And in the third segment, a grieving father takes out brutal vengeance on the men he holds responsible for the loss of his daughters.

In lesser hands, a story like this could feel jumbled, and it did take me two reads to follow perfectly for when the story converges in a mystery by the end, but King’s gritty writing pairs perfectly with Gerads’ ultra-realistic art, and makes this a new series to watch. The year of King continues apace.

Corrina: This story deserves careful study. Like most great comics, the art reveals as much about what’s going on as the dialogue. Pay close attention with the cutting between the stories. Small visuals clues are the only thing that leads the reader to the connections between the characters, the narrative doesn’t spell them out.

This makes for immersive storytelling, though it did require me to read the book several times to absorb it all. That also is the sign of a great book, one that can be reread to discover more each time. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite of the reboot. I’m perhaps a little overloaded with gritty noir stories lately, but it is a story filled with three compelling characters so far, apparently on a collision course, and that’s great.

cover via Vertigo Comics
cover via Vertigo Comics

Unfollow #2 – Rob Williams, writer, Michael Dowling, art

Ray: 9/10

Corrina: Buy It, though it’s moving slowly.

Ray: This is one of the Vertigo launches that slipped under the radar a bit, and that’s a shame because it’s one of the most fascinating concepts in the entire line. Essentially, imagine a twisted version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for adults, told through the view of social media.

A mysterious dying billionaire has divided his fortune among 140 random people who signed up for his app, as part of a grand social experiment. If I had one complaint about this series, it’s that it’s bizarre. Really bizarre at points. However, if you just embrace the crazy, it’s a compelling read.

Some of the characters receiving the figurative golden ticket are extremely intriguing. A legless Japanese novelist who may have predicted these events decades ago (and gives us a surprising full-frontal scene in his introduction). A bearded traveling man who always carries a duffel bag of guns and claims to talk to God. The emotional heart of the issue, though, belongs to the more down-to-earth characters, one a young man from the projects who wants to provide a better life for him and his sister–but fears leaving her for this adventure due to the gang presence. The other is an Iranian journalist whose journey almost never gets started because of sinister security officials from her nation–until a masked and brutal representative from her benefactor makes his appearance. Besides Willy Wonka, there are shades of Lost in the way the mystery of the project slowly unfolds, and the diverse group of cast members that find themselves brought together. I’m still not entirely sure where this is going, but Rob Williams and Michael Dowling have me hooked.

Corrina: I cannot do better in describing this concept than Ray’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for adults.” I suspect that the series will also show just how each member’s inner faults will come back to bite them. However, this issue is mostly occupied with introducing the three members of the 140, so the overall story is moving at a slow speed.

And, yes, it is odd, from the weirdness of the Japanese novelist basically engaging in philosophy when approached to join the 140, to the poor teenager being pulled away from his family, to the woman being beaten, the tone is all over the place. Given that the billionaire is determined to show how humanity reacts badly to the promise of fame, I suspect there’s going to be far more tragedy than people helped by money.

If the concept intrigues, give it a try.

Cover via Vertigo Comics
Cover via Vertigo Comics

Survivor’s Club #3 – creators: Lauren Beukes, Dale Halvorsen, Ryan Kelly

Ray: 8.5/10

I’m a sucker for a good horror movie, so the concept of Survivor’s Club is right up my alley–the “last survivors” of various horror movie scenarios banding together to pursue the monsters still haunting them.

The opening segment in this issue is my favorite, where Kiri, our Japanese survivor, allows her “ghost” to come out and play with an abusive racist she’s trying to serve with a restraining order. In general, the issue is a solid mix of great creepy jump scares with surprisingly strong character work. I think my favorite subplot overall has to be the survivor of the exorcism as a child, who is trying to get the rights back to his own story.

This issue casts some interesting doubt on that entire story, though, raising the specter that he may not even truly belong in this club. The story of the haunted video game is a slow burn, but the concept is just so out-there that I can’t help but be intrigued. If I had to pick a weak link, it’s Alice and her artificial doppelgänger, who seem more weird than creepy. And hovering over it all is the terrifying Mr. Empty, who we get a close look at for the first time this issue. The series does a great job of grounding its monsters in real fears for the most part, which is the key to all great horror. I don’t think this book balances its many stories quite as well as Unfollow, but it’s still a fascinating meta take on classic horror and well worth a read.

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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