New comic releases include two outstanding Vertigo debuts and a Templar heist caper 

New comic releases include two outstanding Vertigo debuts and a Templar heist caper 

Just a few months ago, the future of DC’s Vertigo imprint was uncertain, but this summer has seen a major revival for the line with the return of Astro City and 100 Bullets along with Scott Snyder’s new miniseries, The Wake. Vertigo hasn’t had an original ongoing series since Paul Cornell’s Saucer Country debuted last year (and was canceled after a year), so there’s some pressure on the creative team behind Collider, the first of six new ongoings launching in the second half of 2013. Collider #1 (Vertigo) marks the return of writer Simon Oliver to the unconventional workplace dramedy—his previous venture being Vertigo series The Exterminators—replacing bug killers with blue-collar workers who repair malfunctions of physics. 

Environmental collapse in this book means the dissolution of gravity at a local high school, where seniors take to the air while waiting for the Federal Bureau Of Physics to arrive. This first issue is the perfect blend of high-concept sci-fi and grounded everyday drama, doing remarkable work establishing the atmosphere of the FBP and the attitudes of its workers. Adam Hardy is the book’s lead, the son of a physicist with a talent for mending rips in the fabric of the universe. Those reparation scenes are gorgeous, with artist Robbi Rodriguez and colorist Rico Renzi psychedelically depicting how the gravitational vortex warps reality.

The bright pink of the vortex is a color not often seen in comics, especially in such concentrated blocks, and the shade immediately establishes the otherworldly nature of the cracks in the universe. There’s an outstanding sense of movement in Rodriguez’s artwork, which strikes the same balance of gritty realism and cartoonish expressions found in the work of Sean Murphy and Matteo Scalera. His characters are brimming with life, and his design work on the sci-fi elements is striking. Collider #1 sets the bar high for the rest of the year’s new releases from Vertigo, but the publisher’s lineup has only improved with each debut over the last few months. [OS]


Vertigo’s winning streak continues with Trillium #1 (Vertigo), a magnificent time-travel story by Jeff Lemire that makes ingenious use of the medium. The first issue of the eight-part miniseries is a flipbook with two different narratives that converge in the middle, but Lemire makes this more than just a gimmick. The panel layouts of the two stories are reflections of each other, establishing that the lives of the central pair of characters follow the exact same rhythm, a rhythm that ultimately pulls them to each other.

In the year 3797, scientist Nika is looking for a rare flower that could be the key to healing a plague-ridden human race, now numbering only 4,000. Her journey leads her to an alien race in possession of a unique species of Trillium flower, and things get very strange for her once she ingests the plant and finds herself at the base of an ancient Incan temple. 1,876 years earlier, shell-shocked World War I soldier William leads a team of explorers through the Amazon to find that same temple, and things get very strange for him when natives kill his crew and he discovers a spacewoman at his destination. 

Lemire’s strongest works are the books he writes and draws himself, and Trillium sees the creator pushing his limits for a captivating genre-bender bursting with atmosphere and emotion. The tones of the narratives are drastically different, but there is a shared tension in both plots that builds beautifully as the characters move toward the point of convergence. Most of Lemire’s previous output has been grounded in reality, but his art reaches new heights as he explores more fantastic subject matter. Whether he’s creating new futuristic designs or drawing the clothing and décor of the roaring ’20s, Lemire displays remarkable versatility in his craft. Trillium #1 is a confident, unique debut that exemplifies why Lemire has become one of DC’s top creators, but he remains at his best when he’s doing his own thing away from superheroes. [OS]


The lost treasure of the Knights Templar is one of the great legends surrounding the Christian brotherhood, a vast fortune that was supposedly hidden away when the Templars were betrayed and disgraced by those that initially gave them power.  Templar (First Second) is a riveting piece of historical fiction that looks at the downfall of these valiant warriors through the lens of a suspenseful heist caper, following a group of knights who have banded together to steal the treasure and avenge their fallen comrades. Written by Prince Of Persia creator Jordan Mechner with art by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland—his collaborators on 2008’s Prince Of Persia graphic novel—Templar does extraordinary work incorporating the greater facts of the order’s demise with a deeply personal story about one man’s moral struggle in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Having returned from a losing battle in the Crusades, the Templars are rounded up under charges of treason, sodomy, and devil worship by King Philip IV of France. In his script, Mechner provides multiple angles of the events for a well-rounded, highly entertaining depiction of history. The romance between the hero, Martin, and his former flame Isabelle provides a relatable entry point to the narrative after a spectacular opening fight sequence, and the balance of personal drama with political intrigue keeps the reader engaged at every point. The end of Book Two is one of the most powerful sequences published in comics this year, showing Martin and his group as they witness the horrific fate that has befallen their Templar brothers. 

Pham and Puvilland are a brilliant art team, creating an incredibly immersive world as they depict packed Parisian streets and the lush French countryside. Their character work has the clean, animated quality of classic Disney animators, creating a distinct cast of easily recognizable characters who are also impressive actors. The visuals hit each emotional beat of Mechner’s script, and the artists’ ability to imbue their characters with humor through body language and facial expressions is invaluable as the story becomes increasingly bleak. Templar arrives with praise from Game Of Thrones executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and it’s a riveting plot that would make a damn good (and damn expensive) HBO miniseries. Thankfully, Mechner and his team have brought this story to comic books, where they have unlimited freedom to realize their vision and make an exhilarating passion project. [OS]


And…

J. Michael Straczynski is wildly inconsistent when it comes to superhero stories, and his first creator-owned superhero title since Rising Stars misses far more than it hits. Sidekick #1 (Image) is the type of “mature” comic that was exceedingly popular after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, an overbearingly bleak and shallow character study of an unlikable jerk. Barry “Flyboy” Chase used to be the plucky sidekick of Bostonian superhero The Red Cowl, but his life took a major dive when his partner was assassinated JFK-style during a parade. Left with no money and a lousy reputation, Flyboy becomes unhinged in increasingly hilarious ways that are supposed to read as dark: In the first pages, Barry gets a back-alley blowjob from a prostitute, then strips naked and flies into the clouds so that he can feel clean for a little while. Sidekick is highly reminiscent of Straczynski’s Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, with its stilted dialogue and generic characters. Like Nite Owl, Sidekick also has an artist that is far too good for this project. Tom Mandrake’s visuals find the balance of camp and grit that is missing in the script. One gripe is that Red Cowl’s costume is horrible, particularly the insignia on his chest that is just his face. It speaks to the character’s self-absorption, but it’s an incredibly silly visual, considering he has his headshot taped to his chest. But perhaps that’s the point considering the lack of subtlety in the rest of the book… [OS]

Although not as marginalized as mini-comics, the good, old-fashioned floppy has definitely been trending toward extinction in this millennium. And that’s certainly true when it comes to indie comics, which makes Optic Nerve #13 (Drawn & Quarterly) all the more welcome. Comprising two longer stories, “Go Owls” and “Translated, From The Japanese,” plus a single-page, autobiographical vignette, the latest issue of Adrian Tomine’s long-running comic book is refreshingly old-school—or classic, as the case may be. Of the two, “Go Owls” is stronger, a Jaime Hernandez-esque fable of domestic codependence and prosaic tragedy and redemption. The conclusion is pat and heavy-handed, but Tomine’s sure, muted hand at character studies—not to mention his superb artwork, which is loosened here to allow for more texture and grit—carries the story. “Translated, From The Japanese” switches to full-color, and it’s a sumptuous showcase of Tomine’s precision draftsmanship, even as the sparse prose borders on meditative. The opening one-pager is lightweight compared to the main stories that follow, but its brisk look at the ironies of modern life, and at Tomine’s encroaching curmudgeonhood, helps drive home what makes this grab-bag format such a great vehicle for indie comics, neglected though it may be… [JH]

After reviving ’90s costumed vigilantes like Ghost, X, and the characters of Comics’ Greatest World, Dark Horse is beginning to explore even older heroes for its next round of superhero titles, beginning with Golden Age soldier Captain Midnight. A genius that was prevented from enlisting in World War II because he was too valuable as a national asset, Jim Albright took on the name Captain Midnight to help take down Nazi troops. Captain Midnight #1 (Dark Horse) takes place 70 years after World War II, and mostly follows the granddaughter of one of Albright’s former allies as she tries to track down a figure who may or may not be the captain displaced in time. Joshua Williamson’s story owes a lot to Captain America, particularly the man-out-of-his-time element, but this first issue would benefit from spending more time with the title character. Midnight only appears at the beginning and end of the issue, and while those are fun action sequences, they don’t offer much in the way of character insight. Fernando Dagnino provides the art with his finest work in comics to date, choreographing smooth action sequences and creating a diverse cast of characters. There’s still plenty of room to grow, but Captain Midnight #1 is a competent start to a series ideally suited for those who prefer a more retro superhero title…[OS]

There’s a ragged, scattershot quality to Outlaw Efforts (Swamp Road) that makes perfect sense, considering it’s a fictionalized chronicle of life in the rock underbelly of San Francisco as written by a veteran of the New York punk scene, Natalie Jacobson. Rather than rehash anecdotes about the good-bad old days, though, she and artist Joey Maltese craft a narrative that’s more gonzo, in the vein of Repo Man, than merely another sex-and-drugs rehash of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle—up to and including criminal subplots and curiously inhuman-looking law-enforcement officers. That said, Outlaw Efforts is one of the best subcultural chronicles in graphic-novel form in ages, one that wallows in all the requisite squalor while showing the complexity, sexual politics, and dreams of brighter things at the core of such hardcore desperation. Maltese’s cartooning is stiff and thin in spots, as is Jacobson’s on-the-nose storytelling, which relies too heavily on expository prose. But the book’s clarity, sharp dialogue, and dark charm more than make up for it. [JH]

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