Mr. Vertigo Reviews 64: Royal City Vol. 1 – Next Of Kin; The Black Monday Murders, Vol. 1- All Hail, God Mammon; Winnebago Graveyard

Royal City Vol. 1: Next Of Kin
Created, written & illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Image Comics, 2017

A new series that centers around a family–like Lemire’s previous books Essex County and Roughneck.  Royal City is a factory town which is dealing with a decline in manufacturing. The Pike family has a complicated history with the place. Fading literary star Patrick Pike comes back because of his father Peter’s stroke; his sister Tara is trying to redevelop the factory into something with a future; her husband Steve is working in the factory, and trying to unionize to oppose the development; her brother Richard is struggling with debt, while trying to keep his job at the factory; and her mother Patti is trying to care for her father, while coping with her long-term affair.

They are all haunted by the death of Tommy, the youngest son who died by drowning decades ago. Tommy was seen as the Golden Boy at the time–the most promising of the children–and his premature death has left a hole in the lives of everyone in the family. He manifests as a version of his future self, which is more confusing than the ghostly depiction Lemire shows in his sketches at the end of the collection; it took me quite a while to realize what was happening. But is is truer to the impact the event had on everyone else in the family: it’s as if Tommy had never died, and everyone imagines how life might have been if he survived.

There is almost constant family conflict: very melodramatic. The characters were interesting enough to hold my interest, but I can see how it might not appeal to everyone. Things certainly do change. Tara leaves her husband, Patrick begins to reconcile with his famous actress wife Greta, and Patti goes back to her lover.  For the climax Peter comes out of his coma (having learned many interesting things during it–he travels around in the company of Tommy like a ghost, a supernatural element that stands out in the midst of an otherwise realistic story) and Patrick discovers that he is an uncle.

A “Behind the Scenes” section shows Chris Ross’ development of the series logo, as well as promotional art and early conceptual pieces. One of these has Tommy in a more traditional spectral form, like a ghost haunting the family. As always Lemire’s artwork includes both the realistic and the surreal. There is an especially vivid setting of giant radios that Peter and Tommy walk through (collecting and restoring old radios is Peter’s hobby), and Tommy’s death by drowning inspires a number of watery images.

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The Black Monday Murders, Vol. 1: All Hail, God Mammon
Words by Jonathan Hickman; art by Tomm Coker; colors by Michael Garland; letters by Rus Wooton
Image Comics, 2017

A dark story that takes the famous stock market crash of 1929 as its starting point. But the story behind the accepted historical facts is older, an ancient tale of blood sacrifice to demonic forces. Hickman goes a bit overboard with the world-building. His Western and Eastern Schools of Economics are actual member organizations, and his focal Wall Street business (Caina Investment Bank) is presented with a whole history, and a Board with supernatural responsibilities. There are also faux historical documents, like police transcripts, newspaper stories and diary entries–not to mention an invented ancient language that resembles cuneiform (which some of the characters actually speak). Fortunately it is not necessary to dive deeply into his occult diagrams and organization charts to follow the story.

The story opens on Black Thursday (Oct. 24, 1929), the beginning of the stock market crash that caused the Great Depression. The occult underpinnings of the market are graphically demonstrated by the sacrifice of a member of the Caina Board. From there the scene shifts to the present (2016), where another ritual sacrifice has been found in an office building. It’s Daniel Rothschild (of the famous financier family), managing partner at Caina. Another important piece of history takes place at the Berlin Wall in 1985, where the Western and Eastern schools meet at a portal into the underworld, celebrating an upcoming stock market crash.

The story ends with what appears to be a major Rothschild power grab, an unsurprising event in a group where family members literally eat each other to gain power. I have a business background (even hold an MBA!) so I may find the investment banking setting much more interesting than most. But it’s a story that could be set in any place of power–government, or a mass media outlet, for instance. As a kind of alternate history, it is similar to Hickman’s earlier creator-owned series The Manhattan Projects (which I absolutely loved). Tomm Coker’s artwork is some of the best Hickaman has had from a collaborator, precisely the realistic, dark and spooky look the subject requires. A bonus section presents sketches of cover designs and character studies.

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Winnebago Graveyard
Steve Niles, script; Alison Sampson, art & design; Stephane Paitreau, color art; Aditya Bidikar, letters
Image Comics, 2017

Horror master Steve Niles created this four-issue miniseries with artist Alison Sampson. It’s a classic road trip story: family pulls into a small town with a mysterious, horrible secret and has to battle their way out. The story opens at night by firelight. A large group of Satanists are performing a ritual human sacrifice to resurrect their leader. The guy literally erupts from the sacrifice’s chest, so these worshipers aren’t delusional: their necromancy actually works.

Scene shift to our family road trip. Things are tense, but they decide to attend a roadside carnival together. At nightfall they discover their Winnebago has been stolen, and they must walk into town to get help. The town looks deserted–including the police station. A deputy walks up and says he’ll file a report, and directs them to the motel. They’ve barely settled in when they notice black robed figures with torches gathering outside (they look like the same bunch seen in the first issue). And the dash for escape begins.

Things are a bit predictable from here. But there is one interesting complication: the cult members summon a demon to find the family in the dark. The family meets a young ally named Deacon who offers to help them escape. The first place he takes them on the way out of town is the titular graveyard. It’s a massive collection of RVs: apparently the town has been sacrificing tourists to bring evil things up from Hell for as long as anyone can remember.

The family’s escape plan involves blowing up the whole collection of Winnebagos and wearing the demon’s skin to infiltrate the Satanists. In the end the town burns, and two of the family escape: the usual bittersweet ending. At least it’s not so dark that everyone dies. The story is ultimately too cliched to recommend, although it is very effective visually. The coloring is downright lurid, in a way that completely suits the story.

The end matter is especially extensive. There are character designs, sketches, pinups, and a number of essays about the horror genre, including four exploring Satanism in the real world (presumably one in each of the original monthly issues)

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