Fight For Tomorrow was a six-part Vertigo miniseries, created by writer Brian Wood and penciller Denys Cowan (Kent Williams did the inking and covers). It features a martial arts fighter with a shadowy past, so shadowy that at first I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going. Eventually we learn that Cedric Zhang is a Buddhist monk who was kidnapped as a boy and forced to fight in kung fu competitions. He formed a bond with Christy, a fellow prisoner. As the story opens she has recently left him, and while trying to cope he competes in underground mixed martial arts fights in New York City. He’s also trying to be a father figure to Little Brother, an orphan who lives with his sister. One dramatic weakness: Wood doesn’t fully explain Cedric’s back story until the middle of issue 4. That’s a long time for a monthly reader to wait, and I remember having trouble following it at the time. The cover dates say that it came out in six consecutive monthly issues, but I recall at least one delay towards the end. Eventually he discovers that Christy is now with Sivan, their tormentor in the camps. She’s there by choice, so his efforts to free her are in vain. It’s not Brian Wood’s best work. It was trying to be a story about human trafficking, but the main focus was on Cedric’s personal pain, which Wood never clearly ties to his past. We get flashbacks, but it’s far from a clear story. All of the fight scenes make it look like a martial arts book, but we don’t quite get that either. And the resolution wasn’t worth waiting six issues for.
Zatanna: Everyday Magic was written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Rick Mays (with colors by Brian Miller). It’s kind of a cute version of Zatanna and John Constantine, which makes it an odd choice for a Vertigo one-shot. Although it does earn the Mature Readers tag by virtue of all the swearing and sex in it. Zatanna spends most of the story trying to have a normal everyday life (hence the subtitle), finally concluding that she’s only really at home on the stage. The big magical adventure comes from having to rescue Constantine from a curse laid on him by a rival female magician (due to a romantic entanglement, of course). Dini and Mays have a lot of fun with goth culture here, which makes it a bit subversive for Vertigo. Not that all Vertigo readers are goths, of course, but there’s a core group of Sandman fans who are. Dini gets the “charming rogue” aspects of Constantine right, but the portrayal is too light to be completely believable. These days DC probably would have slightly toned down the adult themes and published this as a DCU title.
Blood and Water was a five-part vampire miniseries written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Tomm Coker. It’s Winick’s only Vertigo work, and a creative approach towards the vampire genre. Winick’s vampires live forever, but they consume only animal blood; they have no vulnerability to crosses or sunlight; and they are stronger than normal humans, with more acute senses. It makes being a vampire look awfully attractive, especially when you are terminally ill like Adam Heller. When his best friends Nicky and Joshua turn him (which they do by having him drink some of their blood), he becomes vibrantly healthy. The three of them begin enjoying his new life, but something has awoken an ancient evil. It turns out that Adam has a genetic history tying him to an ancient race of super-vampires called the Tribe. Both times I read this miniseries I felt that Winick was pushing his version of vampire mythology a little too far. Something had to be there to create conflict, but I had trouble buying into this. Although upon reflection there have been a number of vampire stories that include ancient vampires with tremendous strength and unusual abilities, so maybe it’s not that much of a stretch. But I also had trouble with Adam’s sudden change of heart at the conclusion. He goes from being a self-centered hedonist to admitting that he brought his health problems on himself by shooting heroin, and then resolves to be a better man after defeating the Tribe. It’s all a little too sudden, and too pat to be completely believable.
Beware the Creeper was a five-part miniseries written by Jason Hall and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (who also did the covers). It was the first lengthy, high-profile illustration project Chiang did after his assistant editor stint at DC. This Creeper is female, and the story is set in Paris in the 1920s, so there is no direct connection to the original Creeper created by Steve Ditko. But Zatara appears, so it is apparently set in the DC Universe. Twin sisters Judith and Madeline Benoir are at the center of the story. Judith is a flamboyant painter active in the Surrealist movement, while Madeline is a playwright (and the “sensible one” of the pair). The other key players are police inspector Ric Allain, who is in love with Judith because of letters she sent him during the war (which were actually written by Madeline); and Mathieu Arbogast, a would-be painter from a rich family. After Judith is raped by Mathieu a woman calling herself the Creeper begins to terrorize bourgeois Paris society, focusing on the Arbogast family in particular. The situation escalates as the Surrealists adopt the Creeper as one of their own, while the Arbogast family fights back. The identity of the Creeper is in question until the very end, when a twist reveals her identity and delivers justice at the same time. The historical setting allows for the appearance of characters like artists Andre Breton and Man Ray (with brief appearances by other Surrealist artists), as well as writer Ernest Hemingway. I enjoyed this series at the time, and it holds up well. I could have sworn I remembered a trade collection, but Amazon lists one due to be released on August 6, 2013.