Art Ops

Art Ops Vol. 1: How To Start A Riot
Shaun Simon, writer; Michael Allred & Matt Brundage, artists; Laura Allred, colorist
Vertigo Comics, 2016

Here is a late Vertigo series with a truly surreal premise: it posits that works of art are actually living beings, and it is the job of an organization called The Art Operatives to protect them, while also keeping their true nature a secret from the world at large. Reggie Riot wants nothing to do with it, resenting his neglectful mother (who headed up the organization, leaving him a latchkey kid). He meets one of the rogue artworks and loses an arm–which the Ops replace with a bizarre, colorful modern art prosthetic (which apparently only he can see as anything other than a normal arm). But when the entire Art Ops organization suddenly and inexplicably disappears, their superhero protector The Body springs into action.

His first move is to retrieve La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa), who the Ops had recently pulled out of the painting and into the real world to protect her from a spate of art thefts. His next stop is to inform Reggie that he must take over the Art Ops. Reggie is reluctant, to say the least, but goes to a safe house with Mona, a 70’s music video icon (who The Body rescues from an op from that era), and a suburban mall clerk who gets caught up in it all. Reggie’s decision to take the group to New York City for a road trip ends in all sorts of disaster, starting with the kidnapping of the Mona Lisa. And it climaxes with a grand battle with another living piece of art who is determined to reveal the truth about art to the rest of the world. Just when everything looks settled, Reggie’s estranged father Danny Doll shows up, telling Reggie that he made his mother disappear (as a birthday present).

There are two artists on the book, but Michael Allred is credited as co-creator, and his character designs in “The Ops Files” at the end make it clear why the visuals bear his distinctive fingerprint. It’s especially fun to see the ways the Mona Lisa is presented in the real world, in a variety of contemporary styles (both her hairdo and her clothing).

Art Ops Vol. 2: Popism
Shaun Simon, writer; Michael Allred, Matt Brundage, Eduardo Risso & Rob Davis, artists; Laura Allred, colorist
Vertigo Comics, 2016

The second (and final) collection of the series begins with a two-part flashback. Eduardo Risso illustrates “Modern Love,” showing what Danny Doll was up to in the late ’70s. After a failed Art Ops mission in New York City Danny runs away to Tangier. Regina and the rest of the team seek him out to fix a failed experiment: he had replaced a model’s lungs with paint, which has begun taking over her whole body. His rebellious approach to art–which includes saving the art inside the model and allowing her to die–completely alienates Regina. Telling Danny he has no child, she returns to the U.S. to give birth to Reggie. A fun episode (but one that gives significant background on the family dynamic), and Risso’s art works perfectly, despite the contrast with Allred and Brundage.

The title arc (in four parts) begins with Reggie trying to get by doing Art Ops solo, and we catch up with The Body and Juliet (aka J. Gorgeous) (the clerk with the velvet powers) in Hollywood, trying to find success as a writer. Reggie rejoins his father (Danny Doll). Danny is back to his habit of letting art run free–in this case offering a safe haven at the Chelsea Hotel. The arc also introduces a force for normality (the Neighborhood of Dads) opposed to the Art Ops and everything the rogue art represents. There is a striking Interlude (illustrated by Rob Davis) that features Reggie, The Body and J. Gorgeous (before she got her powers) capturing a child’s picture of Death before it could do any more damage.

The finale finds the Mona Lisa giving birth to Reggie’s child; Juliet discovers that her dad is part of the Neighborhood of Dads, and returns home with him; and the whole crisis is averted. It’s a touch abrupt, but involves Regina and Danny, and ends with Mona and Reggie’s child displaying the sort of art powers that might be expected. The collection concludes with “The Ops Files,” a collection of Matt Brundage’s sketches and preliminary art.

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