The anthology miniseries Weird War Tales is a mixed bag, as is true of most anthologies. The Morrison/Quitely story “New Toys” was the only one reprinted in the recent Vertigo Resurrected collection, and it is a standout. But it’s not the only one. The ones I especially liked on rereading: “The Survivor” by Simon Revelstroke & Richard Corben (a W.W. II story); “Tunnel Rats” by Gordon Rennie & Randy DuBurks (a truly creepy Vietnam story); David Lloyd’s “Looking Good, Feeling Great” (depicting the psychological collapse of a would-be soldier); “Sniper’s Alley” by Joel Rose & Eric Cherry (excellent Sarajevo story); and “War + Peas” by Peter Milligan & Duncan Fegredo (about a W.W. II vet – especially nice twist ending). You’ll notice that not all of these are marquee creators. There were several other stories that were striking, but didn’t completely work for me. Brian Azzarello & James Romberger turned in a story that tries too hard to be “street;” Eric Shanower did some beautiful drawings of ancient Chinese warriors; Joe R. Lansdale & Sam Glanzman contributed a gritty Civil War story; and there was striking artwork from Phil Winslade (Mongol warrior), Peter Kuper (wordless story), and Danijel Zezelj. Good enough overall that I look forward to the other anthologies that Vertigo published around this time, I believe all edited by Axel Alonso.
Pride & Joy was a four issue miniseries by Garth Ennis & John Higgins that Vertigo published in 1997 (so Ennis was doing Preacher and Hitman monthly at the time). It’s an unusual entry in the Ennis catalog, a fairly realistic thriller about an ex-criminal whose past catches up with him. It is pretty violent, but not in the over the top fashion of Preacher. It must have sold reasonably well, because it did get a TPB collection (currently out of print). It’s really a story about fathers and sons, a focus that becomes clearer as the story progresses. The first issue opens with a dramatic foreshadowing splash page, then immediately shifts to a family scene with ex-criminal Jimmy Kavanagh (but we don’t know about his criminal past yet). By the end of the issue we’ve seen Jimmy’s relationship with his daughter (close) and teenaged son (difficult), as well as the illness that took his wife. Two old criminal associates show up, and the threat to Jimmy’s life and family is dramatically demonstrated by the brutal murder of a friend. As the entire group goes on the run, back stories are filled in. Jimmy’s criminal past explains why he is being hunted by the psychopath Stein. His relationship to his father has become so idealized in his mind that it seems to distance him from his own son, Patrick. But as the climax approaches we find that Jimmy and his father both harbored dark secrets. Patrick comes into his own at the end, and father and son finally come to terms. Ennis crams a lot into four issues, and the various story shifts are deftly done. My only criticism would be the quantity of dialog: it can get quite talky, something I would never normally accuse Ennis of. But I would certainly recommend this miniseries to Ennis fans, especially if you like Preacher and the war stories.
Junk Culture is a two-issue miniseries by Ted McKeever, about a pair of teenage twin girls. The fact that they’re both bald is the first clue that something about them is unusual, but they go off to school like any teenagers. As they confront some bullies after school, things quickly go strange. Can’t be normal when one of the girls recovers from accidental electrocution and promptly rips a man’s arm off. Things then get even stranger, as the girls arm themselves and begin slaughtering the authorities. The final standoff features a woman in an egg costume and a kidnapped crooner named Tony Roma. Turns out the girls were an experiment in artificial intelligence and were based on battle robots (which explains the deadly accuracy with weapons). The story benefits from being so brief, I think: you get a concentrated dose of Ted McKeever craziness that way.
U.S.: Uncle Sam by Steve Darnall & Alex Ross was a 1997 two part Prestige format miniseries. Darnall is credited as writer: his other main comics credit has been a series titled Empty Love Stories for Slave Labor Graphics. Ross is credited as co-plotter and illustrator. This is an unusual entry in his bibliography. It comes after his big splash on Marvels and Kingdom Come, and he had also started doing Astro City covers. So he had become well established for hyper-realistic super hero paintings. Uncle Sam is a dark voyage through U.S. history through the eyes of a homeless man in an Uncle Sam costume. As he goes through a series of incidents in the contemporary world–a hospital visit, an arrest for disrupting a political event–he finds himself going back in time to important historical events, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Sam is confused about what is happening, and it is unclear whether we are witnessing actual events, dreams, or hallucinations. Whatever they are, they all involve conflicts between the nation’s high ideals and actual behavior. Slavery and governmental treatment of Native Americans are two examples. In the end Sam confronts the contemporary version of himself, a smug champion of consumerism and “don’t bother me with facts” thinking. It’s amazing how current this critique seems: I could easily believe that it was written this year. The story can be rather shrill and preachy, but the visuals never fail to impress. It’s an unusual and effective use of Ross’s trademark style.
Menz Insana was a whacky Prestige one-shot by Christopher Fowler & John Bolton. It’s about the realm of insanity, so of course it’s full of wild visuals and word salad dialog. Bolton uses a somewhat photo-realistic style, but chose to portray Menz (the male protagonist) in cartoon form, while Jaz (the female protagonist) is done realistically. Their story winds up having a point after all, as we finally learn what drove them insane and why they are together. The path there was so meandering that the shocking revelations didn’t have the impact they should have.