Daily Archives: June 9, 2009
I’m beginning to swoon again.
No, it’s not my relatively minor fear of heights brought on by recently clambering up on some rickety scaffolding to shoo nesting birds away from the roof of the house nor is it my suspected slight inner ear infection, the exasperating remnants of last week’s flu. No, I have not been drinking much red wine lately and no, I have not recently fallen in love.
What’s caused my buoyant leap over our orbiting moon has everything to do with literate and fantastical storytelling and that notion’s relationship with Vertigo, the mature and sophisticated imprint of DC Comics.
Vertigo is the house that Karen Berger, editor extraordinaire, built in the late eighties and early nineties with titles like Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Sandman, and Preacher. She’s the individual responsible for giving writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Peter Milligan the vehicle to tell the types of stories that had never been published in comic book format before. The comic book niche that Vertigo fits within and its inherent literary success led to further groundbreaking runs by writers such as Grant Morrison, Brian Azzarello and Bill Willingham on The Invisibles, 100 Bullets, and Fables respectively.
Something happened in the last few years, however. Something that was disappointing for all of those early readers of Vertigo comics.
For the most part, Vertigo, in the last decade, lost its magic and its sense of wonder. Sales slipped, titles were cancelled and the creators, those engineers of word and image that helped build Vertigo into the opulent castle that it was, left for other projects and other companies. The imprint, for many readers, lost its raison d’etre, subsequently losing its audience, withering away from the zeitgeist which is had created. The business climate, of course, did not help matters, and although there were still a few strong monthly titles being published, a new direction was required.
In the last year or so, Vertigo has released several creator-owned projects by names more often recognized in the independent scene but no less capable than the imprints founding fathers. The publisher has brought aboard these writers and artists and moved to compete more in the realm of the small, literary publisher. Under the Vertigo banner, readers have seen new works by auteurs such as Harvey Pekar, Paul Pope and David Lapham, while still providing a vehicle for rising stars such as Jason Aaron and Brian Wood among others.
Interestingly, Vertigo has also created a new sub-imprint dedicated to crime fiction that will showcase one-off graphic novels featuring both creator-owned stories as well as proprietary characters. In a bid to open up their market to bookstores everywhere, the first hardcover book in this line will feature Vertigo mainstay and Hellblazer star John Constantine, as written by famed Scottish novelist, Ian Rankin. Dark Entries, billed as a sinister detective story, finds everyone’s favourite occultist acting as a mole inside television’s hottest reality show.
Stalwart Vertigo crime writer Brian Azzarello returns with a story of his own too. Filthy Rich is the expectedly hard-hitting tale of a bodyguard for the rich and troublesome daughter of his boss. It promises to be gritty, sexy and action packed. Both books are scheduled to be released in August with more titles in the line on the way.
Part of the reason Vertigo fell from grace with readers was that when flagship monthly titles faulted or, indeed, ended, the replacements were not successful in tapping into the publisher’s “sophisticated” audience.
For every Fables, there was an Exterminators. For every Y: The Last Man, there was a House of Secrets. Although not poorly written or drawn, these titles never seemed to garner an audience. Readers did not rush out to their local comic shop to purchase each monthly issue as they did with Sandman and indeed, mainstream media no longer had interest in reviewing the titles or following the company.
The advent of the collected version of series in either soft or hardcover format took away from the interest of monthly instalments. This is an interesting paradox in itself. Generally, only successful sales of a monthly book will see that book collected, yet if readers wait on the collection, who would be purchasing the monthly title?
As mentioned earlier, there has been a bit of a renaissance for Vertigo of late and the monthly comic has not been excluded in that ascent.
Last summer saw the release of Matt Wagner’s magic-tinged Madame Xanadu, with spectacular art by Amy Reeder-Hedley, a newcomer to mainstream comics, known more for her manga-styled pencils in the independent arena. The series has sold reasonably well and has turned the heads of critics, being nominated for various awards including an Eisner. G. Willow Wilson’s Air has garnered the same attention as has Jason Aaron’s Scalped, a cop story set on an Indian reservation. Brian Wood’s viking saga Northlanders recently dedicated an entire issue to the scientific, second-by-second breakdown of Norse combat, illustrated sublimely by Vasilis Lolos.
These are the chances Vertigo is taking – once again triumphantly taking up a leadership mantle in comics, exploring areas of storytelling that have not been covered by the medium before.
A new crop of monthly titles aim to build on this momentum. Last week saw the release of The Unwritten, Mike Carey’s return to the publisher. The comic tells the story of Tom Taylor, the real life man who inspired a Harry Potter-type character of the same name, conceived and written by his long disappeared but still famous father. In a startlingly fresh first issue, the series looks to be a dialogue on the importance of story on humanity while a plot unfurls that speaks to historical locations and incidents and the fiction that represents these elements in story.
On the horizon are two titles I’m personally looking forward to. Peter Milligan’s Greek Street, a modern day re-imagining of the Greek tragedies is due out in July while award-winning Canadian writer/artist Jeff Lemire’s first on-going series for the publisher, Sweet Tooth, is released in September. It tells the fairy tale/science fiction-like story of Gus, a boy born with antlers and raised within the confines of a forest, who leaves his idyllic sanctuary, forced to travel through an incomprehensible outside world.
Vertigo has always been at their best when they’ve lived up to the name of the imprint – keeping audiences on edge, pushing them away from convention and into the realm of new ideas. With the return to a directive of groundbreaking story and art, Vertigo could very well see their old audience revisit them while building an entirely new one at the same time.
I’m sure many of us will be along this summer and fall for the coming swoon.
One of the best films of the year comes out on DVD today, so I’ll get right down to it.
Gran Torino – How this film did not get nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor [among other awards] is absolutely shocking. It actually was completely shut out in nominations at the Oscars. This was in my Top 5 of films last year, and if it is true that this is Clint Eastwood’s farewell film in acting, I could not imagine a better picture to end his acting career on. Eastwood gives a great performance as a bitter Korean War veteran who is not happy with the way his neighbourhood has changed over the years. It opens with Eastwood’s character mourning the loss of his wife, and dealing with a Hmong family who live next door. The kid next door tries to steal his prized car [the Gran Torino of the title], and he punishes him by making him work around the neighbourhood. I won’t spoil any more of the film, as you really have to see it. It’s much more than the marketing lets on. Don’t let the “Get Off My Lawn” fool you. This is really a great film!
The Shield: Season 7 [The Final Season] – I have never watched an episode of this show. There was a lot of hype when it first came out, with Michael Chiklis getting rave reviews. Although I do not hear it hyped as much now,as it was when it first came out, by all accounts, the show is still one of the grittiest and most violent on TV. Chiklis’ Vic Mackey continues to hand out his brand of justice, while trying to avoid the politics within the police department. Vic’s no saint, just read the Wikipedia entry on The Shield. People were pleased with how the series ended, but that doesn’t mean that it was a happy ending. Check it out!
The International – To me, this film had a lot going for it. A great cast led by Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, a good director in Tom Tykwer, who directed Run Lola Run, and an interesting premise. Unfortunately, the film flopped at the box office. I’m still interested in it, as it looks like a pretty good thriller, so I’ll be checking it out today!
Nobel Son – This film has been universally panned, but it stars Alan Rickman, and he’s always worth watching on screen. The basic premise is that Rickman is going to get the Nobel Prize, but his son is taken for ransom. The kidnappers, figuring they can get more money from the son of a Nobel Prize nominee, are shocked to discover that daddy does not want to pay up. It sounds like the opposite of Mel Gibson’s Ransom. It’s played for laughs, and also stars Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku and Danny DeVito. For hardcore fans of Alan Rickman only, everything indicates that you should pass on this.
Fired Up – This film died a quick death at the box office, as movie-going audiences gave it a resounding F.U. The film is apparently better than one might be led to believe. The plot focuses on a couple of guys who go to cheerleading camp to be surrounded by hot girls. Shenanigans happen. I think the film is signaling the end of the sex comedy genre. Don’t worry, it will go away for a bit, nostalgia will kick in, and it will come back with a vengeance. That’s how these things work.
Until Next Week!
Today there was a report over at Superhero Hype with the news that Kirsten Dunst will be on board for Spider-Man 4, which is due out in 2011. I have to admit, I made a little dissapointed sigh with that information.
I have no problems with Tobey Maguire coming back as Peter Parker in the film, he’s done a solid job in every film. It wasn’t his fault that Spider-Man 3 was as dissapointing as it was; lay that fault in the laps of the producers, who pressured Sam Raimi to incorporate Venom into the the third flick. But I think Dunst as Mary-Jane Watson has grown tired. The damsel in distress thing is old, and by Spider-Man 3 it sure felt as if the actress was phoning in her part.
Personally, what I think Spider-Man 4 could use is more Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacey. The actress was totally underused in 3, but even with so little to work with Howard left a memorable impression as Peter Parker’s lab partner and comic book first love (what is it with Howard being underused; she barely registered in Terminator: Salvation too). Though there some hints of them in Spider-Man 3, it would be great to see some real sparks fly between Howard and Maguire/Peter and Gwen onscreen.
The report, which originated with an interview in the New York Daily Post with Sony producer Todd Black ruled out Morbius The Living Vampire as the fourth films villain, instead stating, “We’re just coming up with who the villain’s going to be now. We’ll be shooting in New York again. Trust me, people will appreciate who we pick, because it’ll be a big part of New York.”
But enough of my yakking. Take a look at the poll on the right hand side of Biff Bam Pop! and cast a vote for which villain you want to see onscreen in Spider-Man 4. We’ll find out the results at the end of the week.