Vertigo Resurrected (December 2010)


You’re all looking for something to blame when you should be looking out the window.


This comic is an collection of short stories from various Vertigo titles including Strange Adventures, Weird War Tales and Flinch. However, the reason I picked it up is that it features a previously unpublished Hellblazer story from the Warren Ellis run on the character.

The story, Shoot was written round about the time of the Columbine High School tragedy and was felt, probably rightly that it was too sensitive a story to print at that time. However, it is an excellent story featuring Constantine at the fringes of a series of pupil-pupil shootings across America. The story has John railing against the congressional advisor as the demons the children face are ones created by society rather than the Hellish forces that he is comfortable with.

This is story is the kind of horror that really scares me. Never mind scientists shooting corpses for some perverse pleasure or people sodomising the decayed carcasses of dogs (both of which were featured in the last comic I read), what scares me is the horror that could be all too real. So while I love the supernatural horror genre the ones that truly get to me are films like slasher movies where there is no supernatural element only the cruelty of fellow humans. [EDIT: I found a blog entry from Warren Ellis on the release of this story today (23/4/12). He certainly succeeded in his intention with me.]

The other stories feature a heavyweight roster of writers and artists from Vertigo past and present. They include Brian Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Eduardo Risso and Bill Willingham. These stories are of variable interest as they are playing second fiddle to the Constantine one but are mostly entertaining. One of the best features art by Bernie Wrightson in a classic horror tale. It has been a while since I have read any stories featuring Wrightson art and has made me move Roots of the Swamp Thing up in my to-read pile. Bill Willingham’s story, which he wrote and drew, is a good one featuring a nice flip on the trope of the enraged villagers of classic horror movies.

Scars (2008)

This book is the collection of the six issue comic series by Warren Ellis and Jacen Burrows. I presume that Ellis needs little introduction as his work appears almost everywhere – from Transmetropolitan and Hellblazer on Vertigo to Stormwatch and Planetary on Wildstorm to various Ultimate universe books for Marvel to many series on Avatar Press (including this book). He also publishes a free to web comic called Freakangels that is currently up to episode 125. The work of artist Jacen Burrows has been mostly published by Avatar Press and includes several collaborations with Ellis, Alan Moore and Garth Ennis including delightfully sick and twisted Chronicles of Wormwood.

In Scars, homicide detective John Cain’s fragile mental state is shattered when he takes on the case of an eleven year old girl who has been missing for three months but turns up dismembered in three boxes left outside a children’s charity. The case resonates with Cain who has just returned to active duty after having to deal with tragedy in his own life.He becomes increasingly frustrated with his colleagues and the justice system as he makes it his personal crusade to find the killer.

Each chapter is followed by two page comment/observation from Ellis (the first four chapters) and Steven Grant (the final two). In these Ellis repeatedly states that he wanted in this series to move from the normal sanitized depiction of crime in police procedural dramas and introduce more of the horror of real life. I am not sure that he has succeeded. The case while it is horrific, and the effect that it has on the central character is profound, it is still behind the comforting barrier of the printed page and so disconnected from reality. Ellis tries to make that reconnect in his comments by referring to real life cases that mirror some of the story but it is just distracting – we are all aware of some of the dreadful things that go on or are covered up in everyday life – and in one case slightly spoilery as something was mentioned in the comments before it came up in the story. The sense of unreality is heightened by the fact that the main character is seemingly allowed to unravel without any consequences – he attacks an assistant in the morgue and a fellow police officer from another precinct and is allowed to seriously harass his main suspect. Also the suspect once tipped off as to Cain’s suspicions continues to act in a way that is both suspicious and causes Cain to act precipitously.

Having said that I liked the story but was not affected by it in the way that Ellis was hoping – I don’t know that there is anything that anyone can say or do in a work that I know to be fiction that will genuinely sicken and horrify me anymore. The fatal flaw in this story is probably that we are not given a chance to build up any empathy with any of the characters – indeed the main character comes across to me as an unpleasant man for whom I have no sympathy at all despite the tragedy in his life.

Red (2003/4)

OK, so I was going to move straight onto the second book of the Losers (I even read the first chapter) but this afternoon I went with my family to see the movie version of Red and I thought I would read the comic and see how they compare. Wow, are they different!

The only thing retained for the movie is the retired CIA agent Paul (Frank in the movie) Moses who just wants to lead a peaceful life but has a kill team sent after him. And that’s it! Everything else in the movie is added on – the old team, the love interest, the ultimate reason that Moses ends up on the kill list – everything.

In the comic, an incoming director of the CIA is taken to a special room and shown material pertaining to Paul Moses. He comes out shaken and immediately orders that Moses be killed. An initial team go to his home but fail to kill him and Moses unleashes his vengeance upon the CIA.

In the UK, this movie is rated 12A (meaning that children under 12 can only enter when accompanied by an adult) the same rating as the Iron Man and Transformer movies. This means that the level of violence, while high, is toned down from the graphic violence in the original comic. We all enjoyed it and as an action/buddy movie it worked really well – with great performances from the four RED agents. But for me the star of the movie was Karl Urban as the CIA agent tasked with tracking down and arresting Moses. Urban was great in this and as a very much under utilised Bones in the recent Star Trek movie – I was going to say that I could watch him in anything but realised that he was in the Chronicles of Riddick which I hated.

So go and see the movie and go and read the comic they are very different but both entertaining in their own ways.

Ministry of Space (2009)

One of the sub-genres of science fiction that I enjoy is alternative history. This book is a prime example. Its premise is what if Britain had removed the rocket scientists from Germany at the end of World War II and dominated the space race?

The book postulates an impressive time line of achievements:

        1948 – First satellite in orbit round the Earth


            1950 – First man in space


                1953 – First manned multi-stage rocket launch


                    1956 – First space station established in orbit round the Earth by now. First Moon landing.


                        1960 – Moon base established by this point


                            1969 – Mission to and colonization of Mars


                              By 2001 – Missions beyond inner solar system and multiple space stations in existence.

                          The story describes the single-mindedness and determination of one man to ensure that Britain remains great and that the Empire survives in the post war era. The story is told in flashbacks as he is called to account for the price paid for his success.

                          The book was written by comics legend, and long time advocate of space travel, Warren Ellis who is clearly of the generation who were promised jet packs and space colonization. The art by Chris Weston is fabulous – I love the way the rockets are inspired by the engineering that went into the Spitfires, Hurricanes, etc. The book is short, as it compiles a three issue series, and I would have loved it to be longer as the main story is quite slight – the main interest is in the timeline of achievements and those gorgeous ships – and maybe more could be made of the attitude of the rest of the world – America, for example, is only launching its first space mission in 2001. A great sci-fi story that is well worth a look and crying out for a sequel as there are many unanswered questions worth investigating.