Mr. Vertigo Reviews 72: The Old Guard Book One – Opening Fire; Gideon Falls Vol. 2 – Original Sins; Skyward Vol. 1- My Low-G Life

The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire
Greg Rucka, writer; Leandro Fernández, art & cover; Daniel Miwa, colors; Jodi Wynee, letters
Image Comics, 2017

Co-creators Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández present their take on immortality. It’s a lot like the Highlander universe, in that the gift of immortality is unpredictable, and fellow immortals feel the presence of others (in dreams in this case). But beyond that there are no rules. Immortals can die, but there is no certain method for killing them; so life is more uncertain, more mortal. And there is no competition to be the last, no “in the end there can be only one.”

The Old Guard is a group of immortals who have always made their was as soldiers. So in the modern world they have banded together as mercenaries. In the past they have always moved on before anyone could guess their secret, but that has become increasingly difficult in a connected world. A “small world” is not conducive to keeping secrets. Mortals lusting for immortality have always coveted their gift. Since it is a mystery to the immortals themselves, it is not something they can share.

But that will not stop a very rich man who has learned of their existence, and will do whatever it takes to gain their gift for himself. His quest drives this entire miniseries, but of course there is much more than that driving the story. It relates a great deal of history of the immortals, including the most recent addition to the team, a U.S. soldier thought killed in Afghanistan. The path to their betrayal includes a former CIA operative and betrayal by a trusted member of the team. The fight to extricate themselves is epic, and its success never feels guaranteed.

Rucka excels at writing this kind of action, which at times recalls both his Queen And Country espionage series and his Atticus Kodiak novels about a professional bodyguard. Fernández provides distinctive character designs–his characters are very identifiable, and not perfect beautiful physical specimens–as well as kinetic action sequences. His work recalls Eduardo Risso’s memorable artwork on Vertigo’s 100 Bullets. The final page promises “The Old Guard Will Return.” I hope so. Still plenty of stories to tell with these characters.

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Gideon Falls Vol. 2: Original Sins
Jeff Lemire, writer; Andrea Sorrentino, artist; Dave Stewart, colors
Image Comics, 2019

The spookiness continues in the second installment, as several disparate plot elements slowly come together. The opening scene shows a little boy escaping from the black barn, as someone (or something) says he should “Be what you were born to be. Become my doorway.” He suddenly appears in an empty field in town, and thinks his name is Norton Sinclair. That’s the name of the mental patient who has been trying to rebuild the barn, which is where the story picks up. Meanwhile, the sheriff finds her memories of the barn incident are fading. But she remembers a childhood ride to school on the bus: and their driver was Joe Reddy, the man who threatened her with a gun in the previous volume.

Things appear to be connected in mysterious ways. A doctor and orderlies from the hospital kidnap Norton and restrain and drug him–hard to see how that could possibly be legal–but the experience causes him to reconnect with a childhood memory in the basement of the orphanage. He sees a mysterious entity with glowing red eyes and a huge over-sized toothy smile, who is starting to look familiar. Father Fred finds himself transported to an earlier time in the middle of a sermon. Armed men burst into the church, announcing that the serial killer has been identified as Norton Sinclair.

The climax finds our Norton and Father Fred entering the black barn from different directions, using the original location of the Sinclair farm (now the town dump). There they both meet a man who tells them he is the real Norton Sinclair. After a mind-bending sequence showing multiple worlds–evidently the barn is even more of a gateway than anyone thought–both travelers are deposited back in Gideon Falls. The former Norton is met by his sister, and remembers that he is her brother Danny. Father Fred is met by Angie: she does not know him, and he has forgotten his identity.

Difficult to predict where this series is going, and the pace is a bit slow. But it’s still a great ride, especially Sorrentino’s atmospheric (sometimes trippy) art.

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Skyward Vol. 1: My Low-G Life
Joe Henderson, writer; Lee Garbett, art & cover; Antonio Fabela, colorist; Simon Bowland, letterer
Image Comics, 2018

Skyward has a simple, but powerful premise: what if gravity were suddenly reduced to a fraction of normal? Gravity is such a fundamental force that it is natural to take it for granted, as it affects almost every aspect of life. The series opens with G-Day, the sudden reduction in gravity, then immediately shifts to twenty years later.

Willa, who was an infant in the opening scene, is now a young adult working as a low-g messenger. When she learns that her father Nathan Fowler was a former colleague of the rich entrepreneur Roger Barrow she hatches a plan to contact him: unknowingly putting her father and herself into extreme danger. Barrow has built a business empire upon devices that simulate life under normal gravity, and Willa’s dad says he has a method to restore gravity. Willa quickly learns that Barrow takes her father’s theories very seriously indeed.

She tries to escape with her dad, but ultimately–after a great deal of exciting low-g action–it is her father that provides her with the means to escape. And his journal will tell her how to save the world. It feels like the effects of low gravity have only been explored on the surface. There’s lots more to discover, as Willa’s travels in the wider world will no doubt explore.

Henderson’s script is full of sharp, funny writing. And Garbett’s art is very strong in characterization: his facial expressions are gold. Sometimes his backgrounds are minimal, but the detail is there when necessary. There’s a marvelous double-page splash showing the details of the new ring around the planet, made up of people, vehicles and animals that have escaped the bonds of Earth (the cows are a nice touch).

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