Mr. Vertigo Reviews 81: The Green Woman; Right State

More final Vertigo comics cleanup. I kept up with Vertigo OGNs pretty faithfully, but here are a couple I have not written about in this blog.

The Green Woman
Written by Peter Straub & Michael Easton; art by John Bolton
Vertigo Comics, 2010

Renowned horror novelist Peter Straub revisits the world of his “Blue Rose Trilogy” and the character serial killer Fielding “Fee” Bandolier (last seen in his novel The Throat) in his graphic novel debut. I don’t know if Straub was assuming readers would know those stories, but having not read them I found this story confusing, especially at first. After awhile it carried me along as things became clearer from context.

Fee is haunted by the memories of his many victims, as well as his bloody military service. Bob Steele is a New York detective (named after a Hollywood cowboy hero) who is on a crusade to catch Fielding Bandolier. The scene keeps shifting between them–along with a younger serial killer who wants Bandolier to mentor him. Steele leaves police work, but continues to obsess.

The story takes a supernatural turn when Steele tracks the young killer back to Ireland, to a pub called the Black Galleon, which is named after a ghost ship. There he attempts to take the suspect back to New York, and is confronted by the murderous spirit of the place. He burns it down, setting up the final confrontation.

The titular Green Woman is the name of an abandoned Midwestern pub: but it is also the location of the Black Galleon’s figurehead, and the final home of the curse since that pub was burned down. The scene is set for the meeting of Steele and Bandolier, which does not come out as expected. But the book ends with the young Irish serial killer at the Green Woman, ready to continue the lineage.

Artist John Bolton’s painted pages are a wonder, as always. He consistently delivers tense, spooky atmosphere, regardless of the twists taken by the script. It is largely due to his contribution that the book reads like a short, arty horror film.

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Right State
Mat Johnson, writer; Andrea Mutti, artist
Vertigo Comics, 2012

I was embarrassed to discover that I actually had read this earlier (blame my memory, not the story telling). But for some reason I only wrote a short review on Goodreads. I gave it two stars in May, 2015, and the review was pretty dismissive:

Shrill exploration of extreme right wing politics centering around a militia movement and its charismatic leader. The conservatives all come off as crazy, and the liberal administration is portrayed as a scheming political machine–we don’t see enough of the President to judge his sincerity. The story works well enough as a thriller, like an episode of “24.”

The story is set in late October, 2020 and begins a week before a major Presidential address prior to the November election. So the timing of my re-reading immediately got my attention: eerily close to the then-future date of the story. It’s not that the plot is terribly prescient, though: there is no pandemic, and the the President up for re-election is President Obama’s successor, the nation’s second African-American President. Recall that at the time of the original publication, President Obama was running for re-election–so Johnson imagined a second black candidate being nominated and elected after Obama’s second term, and standing for re-election at the time of this story. Another bizarre foreshadowing appears in the form of a “we will make America great again” quote in the author’s signature on a right-wing manifesto.

A very different dynamic on the face of it: not a liberal President on the defensive from the alt-right (especially militant white supremacists), but the reverse.  Yet the basic political dynamic is scarily familiar, although the liberal side lacks clear definition (which is also familiar). Since the original publication there have been other comics exploring these themes, notably Briggs Land  by Brian Wood, Mack Chater, and Lee Loughridge (Dark Horse Books, 2017-2018) and American Carnage by Bryan Hill, Leandro Fernández, and Dean White (DC Vertigo, 2019).

If I were choosing the most contemporary of these, I would probably go with American Carnage.  But Right State has maintained a surprising amount of relevance to current politics. The climax includes a head-spinning array of unexpected strategies and betrayals, but it all works. Mutti’s black and white art is dynamic and effective, with a wide variety of character designs. Upon reconsideration, I would upgrade my Goodreads rating to 3.5 stars, possibly 4.

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