Mr. Vertigo Reviews 88: Reckless; Sentient; Genius Animals?; Once & Future Vol. 1 – The King is Undead

Reckless
by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips; colors by Jacob Phillips
Image Comics, 2020

The first of an ambitious trio of graphic novels–all scheduled for publication within a year–featuring Ethan Reckless, and the on-the-nose character name is the only weak thing about it. Ethan is a complex character: when we meet him in 1981 he has been making his living as a kind of private detective for about six years. It’s far more than just tracking people down: he describes it as “solving problems for people,” because he does whatever it takes to reach a resolution. So he’s not averse to doing illegal things like theft or violent things like beating people up to get results.

After getting his first cases from personal referrals he established a toll-free telephone number where potential clients could tell their stories. He generally took the ones that interested him, but the potential for income is also a factor (especially if the money was running low). The current client in this story turns out to be an old lover named Rainy Livingston, and flashbacks to their past connection reveal almost everything about how Ethan came to leave the FBI and adopt his current profession.

The reason it’s “almost everything” is due to the fact that Ethan was almost killed when  a bomb being built by the underground cell he was infiltrating blew up unexpectedly. He survived the explosion, but at the expense of a long hospital stay, some missing memories, and a general emotional disconnection from his old self. These incomplete memories factor in to how he approaches the case: he has incomplete information, so he jumps to conclusions. It’s a classic noir set up: the private eye believes his client, and follows the trail of evidence. Except the evidence is not what it appears.

A great start to what promises to be a great series of graphic novels. The creative team is once again in perfect harmony: unquestionably among the most consistent in all of comics.

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Sentient
Jeff Lemire, writer; Gabriel Walta, art
TKO Studios, 2019

Another science-fiction tale from Lemire, telling the story of a group of families travelling from Earth to a distant colony. They leave behind a planet that is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, and are halfway to a colony planet that is roiled in political controversy. The Separatists want the colony to be completely independent of Earth; the Earth government wants to  maintain control. No one on board the ship expected the political situation to affect them prior to arriving at the colony. But that dramatically changes when one of the adults declares her Separatist allegiance and kills all of the other adults before being killed herself.

Which leaves the children and the ship’s AI Valerie to complete the voyage. Eliminating the adults early on was a bold creative choice. It forces the children to grow up quickly to assume duties running the ship, and Valerie does its best at being parental. When a stop at a refinery station to refuel goes sideways the kids and the AI work together as a team. The narration had insisted all along that this was the story of their mother, Valarie. The final panel promises the children’s story in their new home (although Lemire has no immediate plans for that).

Walta (The Vision) has a past career in children’s books illustration, which suits this story very well. Although not given a cover credit, letterer Steve Wands played a significant role in giving the AIs a personality in the narrative, even when physically absent. But despite the surprises, there is something predictable about the story. Not bad, but not one of Lemire’s best.

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Genius Animals?
Vali Chandrasekaran, writer; Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, art
Self-published, 2020

A graphic novel that covers a lot of ground. The first chapter is a romantic comedy about Alexandra and Todd. After meeting at a Brooklyn bar their courtship is almost entirely wordless: a visual tour-de-force that is rare in comics. When Todd mysteriously disappears Alexandra searches for him, a quest that becomes the real focus of the story.  She finds herself involved with conspiracy theorists, who think Todd is gone because of his work on interspecies communication. Talking to animals, in other words.

It turns out that a cartoon rabbit–clearly a Bugs Bunny analogue, along with an ersatz Elmer Fudd–was actually based on a real rabbit that was developed by the U.S. military. She and her girlfriend follow the clues to the Woods Hole Marine Laboratory, There they encounter a genius level octopus. Alexandra finally meets a talking dog who confirms that he has united the genius animals to end the era of human domination.

As the dog predicted, no one believes her. She encounters Todd in the mental institution she was taken to. So he’s alive, but appears to have forgotten everything she has learned while hunting for him. The big climax is everything they feared. The unlikely ending manages to unite both the romance and the thriller, a climax to all of the crazy ideas in the narrative. Shiozawa’s art is a good match for the story being told, especially the cartoon elements of it.

The creators kindly sent me a PDF of the graphic novel so I could read it on my tablet like many other things reviewed in this blog. But it is freely available online at https://geniusanimals.net/

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Once & Future Vol. 1: The King is Undead
Kieron Gillen, writer; Dan Mora, illustrator; Tamra Bonvillain, colorist
Boom! Studios, 2020

A group of Nationalists intent on bringing back the Britain of Arthurian myth steals an ancient artifact and attempts to use it to resurrect an Arthurian villain. Working to stop them, retired monster hunter Bridgette McGuire pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan (a museum curator) into a world of magic that he is clueless about. Bridgette (who Duncan thought was a harmless old lady) is a complete badass, and Duncan’s utter amazement at her language and feisty attitude is one of the most enjoyable things about the story.

But there is also plenty of violence and action that moves between our world and magical realms. Best of all, as the story goes on it becomes apparent that both sides in the conflict have been literally re-enacting Arthurian legends. Duncan learns that he was brought up to play a role, and by the end of this first installment he begins to embrace it. Lots of potential going forward (and as I write this the second volume is already out). The whole creative team seems to be having fun with this: Gillen has crafted a diverse group of characters while still nodding to the underlying fantasy; Mora makes the most of both realistic and fantastical settings; and Bonvillain utilizes a wild color palette, sometimes going absolutely lurid.

 

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