Prez: Smells Like Teen President by Ed Brubaker & Eric Shanower was the 4th one-shot in the “Vertigo Visions” series, which gave obscure DC characters the Vertigo treatment. It follows from Prez’s appearance in The Sandman #54. The twist is that it doesn’t actually feature Prez at all, but a young man who believes he is Prez’s son. He’s a troubled teen who thinks that finding the elusive Prez (who was last sighted in a diner in Kansas) will allow him to find himself. He sets off on a road trip with two friends, and eventually gets his answers and finds peace. A story like this could be a recipe for disaster, but it’s pretty good. Purely by accident, it covers similar territory to Grant Morrison’s Kill Your Boyfriend, which I read yesterday. Brubaker’s story is more realistic–there’s lots of angst, but only some mild property destruction, no murder–and he manages a positive ending without being excessively mawkish. Shanower’s art is a pleasure: his realistic drawing style suits the subject matter.
Back in 1995, Vertigo was publishing their first long miniseries, long enough to qualify as a “maxiseries.” Moonshadow was 12 issues long, but it was a reprint, having first come out under Marvel’s Epic imprint. As the monthly Moonshadow issues were about to come to an end, Vertigo started the ten-issue series Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci by Dave Rawson, Pat McGreal, and Chas Truog (with inks by Rafael Kayanan, who is not credited as a co-creator). It’s historical fiction, a new genre for Vertigo. The story looks at Leonardo’s life through the eyes of Salai, a street urchin Leonardo adopted, who stayed with him most of his life. I wasn’t a big fan of Truog’s art on Animal Man, but he does a great job here. By halfway through, we’ve learned a lot about Leonardo’s early career through flashbacks. In the main storyline Milan has fallen to the French, taking away Leonardo’s patron and his greatest work (a massive equestrian statue). He seeks sanctuary in Mantua. Leonardo and Salai work for Cesare Borgia, and they meet Niccolò Machiavelli. We also discover who Salai has been modeling for as he as been narrating the story. In the final issues Leonardo becomes overshadowed by the achievements of Michelangelo, and we get some resolution to his relationship with Salai. The creators take some historical license by using the device of having Leonardo’s last apprentice Francesco Melzi destroy all evidence of Salai in Leonardo’s notebooks. This bit of invention explains the notebooks thought missing, as well as the paucity of the historic record about Salai, despite his obvious importance to Leonardo. An excellent miniseries all in all, even better than I remembered from my first reading. I highly recommend it: there are still copies of the TPB collection around, although you miss the full effect of the beautiful photographic covers, and the letters and creator’s notes included in the individual issues. I know that the story appeals to readers outside of the usual Vertigo demographic, because it was always checked out within days of being placed in my old library graphic novel display.
Peter Milligan & Glyn Dillon collaborated on the 7-issue Vertigo miniseries Egypt. It’s a reincarnation story that begins in the present, then shifts back to ancient Egypt (complete with actual ancient Egyptian gods), then back to the present…a wild ride, with plenty of trademark witty Milligan dialog. Dillon’s artwork is great, although his presence in the series declines quickly, despite being listed as co-creator. He does all the art in the first issue, pencils only in the second, and is present only as cover artist by the third. Inker Phil Gascoine makes a valiant effort to get Roberto Corona’s pencils to look like Dillon, but there’s a definite falloff in quality. The miniseries becomes a bit more Sandman-like towards the end, as the Egyptian gods are shown to be both fallible and potentially mortal. Vincent the time traveler’s significance is finally explained, and the “why” of how he finds himself reappearing in different time periods (the “how” is a bit foggier, but that’s expected). The Corona/Gascoine art team redeems themselves from the fourth issue on. My guess is that the third issue was done under considerable deadline pressure after Glyn Dillon withdrew from interior art duties. It’s certainly good enough to be collected, but hasn’t been so far. I would recommend it for bargain-bin hunting.
Vertigo 1995 continues with The Eaters by Peter Milligan and Dean Ormston, the last of the “Vertigo Voices” series of creator-owned one-shots. The “On The Ledge” blurb described it as a “black comedy,” and it’s probably the strangest title in the series. It’s about a family of cannibals who take a road trip across the country, killing and eating people as they go, pursued by an apple pie salesman with a serious pie fetish. It may be hard to see humor in any of that, and it is indeed pretty dark. The longest running joke is the father, who is constantly talking about the American Way and family values while committing heinous acts and complimenting his wife on her cooking skills. The story comes to an explosive climax, leaving one family member to pursue a normal life. Milligan was really a crazy ideas factory during this period!