Vertigo in the New Year

This week in Vertigo features two strong series about the inhumanity of people to each other, though these stories offer much different takes on the theme.

Unfollow sets 140 people in direct competition for billions of dollars, while The Sheriff of Babylon is a look at the mess left in Iraq after the successful American invasion. They’re both for mature readers, of course, and both worth reading, though they might not be to everyone’s taste.

For reviews of this week’s DC Comics, see GeekMom.

Warning: spoilers below.

unfollow, Rob Williams
Two of the 140 “chosen” ones. Image via Vertigo Comics

Unfollow #3 – writer, Rob Williams, artists, Mike Dowling

Ray: 9.5/10

Corrina: Not Hooked.

Ray: After two issues setting up our unique and diverse cast of characters, the 140 is ready to arrive on the isolated island where they will play the strange game of dying billionaire Larry Ferrell. The opening focuses on two of the 140 as they have a mid-air tryst, but the story takes a turn for the dark and mysterious as soon as they land. The cast of characters keeps growing, and there’s a lot of people in the series that don’t resemble any other characters in fiction.

The disfigured Nigerian oil worker, for instance, is a character that could easily be a caricature, but his characterization here is a lot more nuanced. There’s just one problem that everyone notices as soon as they arrive–the app, formerly known as the 140, is now known as the 139. As Ferrell explains, one of the 140 has died, and the remaining members of the app are informed that their share of the fortune has increased proportionally. As Ferrell then explains, the more of them die, the more the remaining individuals will receive. As many suspected, it seems Ferrell is attempting to create a Battle Royale-type frenzy on the island–only one driven by basic human greed rather than coercion. The plot is really heating up here, and now that we have our cast of characters I’m looking forward to seeing all the disturbing events that will unfold as they turn on each other.

Corrina: The characterization is the strength of this story. I wonder if the concept was sold as “Hunger Games for Billionaires” or maybe it’s more “Lord of the Flies for Billionaires.” Unfortunately, I enjoy some of these characters more than the others. The disabled Japanese artist is too much of an enigma to draw my interest. Plus, I hate to get attached to anyone who might die next issue. Do I sound cynical? I feel cynical reading this book because I’m worried it will devolve into a “this is how this one dies” series. I hope not; I want it to be more unpredictable than that and I want it to be more about how people can tear each other apart or, perhaps, listen to the better angels of their nature. But then, I don’t enjoy the journey of the characters in the Walking Dead either, so interpret that that how you will.

One element keeps me interested: I love Williams’ Martian Manhunter series which proves he can play out complicated plotlines.

Tom King
The art inside is similarly layered and complicated. Image via Vertigo Comics

The Sheriff of Babylon #2 -Tom King, writer, Mitch Gerads, art and colors.  9/10

Ray: 9/10

Corrina: Layered, complicated, intriguing.

Ray: The diverse plot elements of the Iraq-set mystery start coming together as one of Vertigo’s best new books continues to unfold. The first issue was more a series of vignettes setting up the three main players in the story–a soldier unraveling a mystery, a scarred woman working as a “fixer” and building a power base, and a grieving father avenging his daughters’ deaths with blood. This issue has a slightly more standard structure, as we start to see how the characters fit into each others’ lives.

The art is excellent as always, but where the issue really excels is in the depiction of day-to-day life in occupation-era Iraq. I don’t think many Americans actually know much about the culture, and Tom King is bringing some excellent first-hand knowledge to the story. There’s a few great action sequences that manage to be thrilling while still very grounded in reality, but, honestly, it’s the tense conversations and occasional stark scenes of violence that stay with me much more. By the end of the issue, the mystery has deepened and we still don’t know all that much about our killer, but I am no less intrigued by the book. I have a feeling this is going to be a bit of a slow burn, but it’s definitely going to be worth going along for the ride.

Corrina: The title of this issue’s story is “The Things They Left Behind,” and the opening scene takes place in some sort of abandoned marketplace/restaurant, as the characters are surrounded by leftover elements of Saddam’s regime as “Bye, Bye, Saddam,” t-shirts. I suspect, however, that the title is meant more figuratively, about the actions the war left behind.

This series is going to be unpredictable and complicated, which I expect at this point from King. I think what’s being set up is the American who wants to solve the murder has now gone to the “fixer” who actually committed the murder for help in solving the crime, and she in turn sends him to an Iraqi policeman who killed American soldiers in retribution for an unpunished rape. Each person seems to want what’s best for their people but they’re already working at cross-purposes. At least, that’s what I believe is happening, though I had to re-read both issues to be certain. It is a series that forces readers to pay close attention to every artistic detail.

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.