As the V2K event was wrapping up the one-shot Weird War Tales Special came out, billed as a sequel to the earlier anthology miniseries. A cynic might think that these stories were leftovers, but the quality seems too high for that. It features a group of A-list creators like Garth Ennis, Jim Lee, Greg Rucka, Chuck Dixon, and Paul Pope. It’s also noteworthy for including the last story illustrated by Edvin Biuković. The stories employ a wide range of settings, from the Trojan War to a Zulu battle to the Vietnam War to Iraq. The Ennis story gives Jim Lee a bunch of talking heads to draw, which he does with style, keeping the pages varied by using a lot of variation in the panel arrangement. Biuković collaborated with Darko Macan for his contribution, a meditation on all women through the ages waiting for their men to return from war. It’s a fitting ending to the collection.
Battleaxes #1-4, written by Terry LaBan & illustrated by Alex Horley, is a sword and sorcery story set in the 9th century, featuring a group of female Norse mercenaries. In some ways a similar setting to LaBan’s Muktuk Wolfsbreath stories, but he was consciously exploring classic Robert E. Howard pulp novel conventions here. The big twist, of course, is that these are warrior women, so they constantly have to prove themselves to skeptical men. LaBan writes them as real women, but they’re portrayed in a pretty contemporary fashion, which makes the whole story seem somewhat anachronistic. Supernatural elements play a significant role as well, mainly in the form of a god who has a major role in the climactic battle. It’s a stark contrast to the current Vertigo series Northlanders, where Brian Wood attempts to always maintain historical accuracy. But the women all have distinct personalities, and have looks to match (courtesy of Horley), so there’s never any difficulty telling them apart. It’s a fun romp if you’re not expecting anything more.
Accelerate #1 – 4 was written by Richard Kadrey and illustrated by The Pander Bros. Vertigo published the miniseries in the summer of 2000; the creators recently published a collected black & white edition through Image. It’s a cyberpunk story set in a dystopian future Los Angeles (2015, which thankfully does not look likely to come to pass). Society has split into rich and poor, with a huge gulf in between: and the poor are organized into gang-like groups called tribes. It all looks very familiar, and gets off to a bad start with a bunch of characters who are barely introduced and dark, confusing artwork. The title comes from a drug which gives the user super speed, which is a creative touch. But then it becomes the gateway to uploading human personalities into cyberspace, and we’re back in carbon copy territory. Kadrey did come up with a pretty good surprise ending, but it’s not enough to save the miniseries from mediocrity.
Adventures in the Rifle Brigade #1 – 3 by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra was the first of two Vertigo miniseries starring a bunch of misfits who are supposed to be an elite British special forces unit fighting Nazis in W.W. II, and a unique entry for both Ennis and Vertigo. It’s a farcical war comic, which earns the “Mature Readers” tag by featuring lots of casual violence. In that way the tone is a bit like the then-recently completed Preacher series (which had featured Ezquerra as a guest artist). I say “supposed to be” an elite force, because this bunch of misfits doesn’t demonstrate much military competence, apart from being efficient killers at close range. Their entire mission turns out to have been a mistake, but they manage to turn the situation to their advantage by pure luck. All this and funny Nazis to boot.
I read The Rifle Brigade as it came out way back when. I really liked the artwork a lot, and I’ve more recently come to appreciate the work of Garth Ennis. I remember thinking it was pretty hilarious even at the time. I need to dig this one up and read it again!