By 2006 Vertigo’s miniseries schedule had been reduced to about three minis a year. Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit was a five-part sequel to the earlier 2004 Bite Club series (written by Howard Chaykin & David Tischman, art by David Hahn). The first series was about the struggle for power in the vampire crime family the Del Toros. This one depicts the aftermath through the eyes of the police force’s elite Vampire Crime Unit. Risa has won control of the family, but she finds it more challenging than expected. The business is beset by lawsuits; the police are hounding her about a string of murders; and her relationship with Carrie has soured. Homicide detective Paco Macavoy becomes convinced that Risa is innocent, while he and Risa develop a strong mutual attraction. He confirms her innocence, as well as widespread corruption in the VCU. A vampire bat attack turns Macavoy into a vampire, and he decides to leave the police force. With Carrie’s assassination, the path is clear for Risa and Macavoy’s relationship. But he has seen too much to be happy in Miami. It’s a much more muted, bittersweet ending than the first mini. All eleven issues have been collected in the The Complete Bite Club trade paperback.
Harvey Pekar’s long-running American Splendor series moved to Vertigo for two four-issue miniseries. The basic premise remains unchanged: a series of short stories mainly about Harvey’s daily life, presented in black & white. The Vertigo connection does give him access to a broader array of artists than usual: the first miniseries includes covers by Glenn Fabry and Gilberto Hernandez, and there are interiors by Ty Templeton, Richard Corben, Eddie Campbell, Chris Weston, Rick Geary, and Gilberto Hernandez (along with some of Pekar’s more usual collaborators, like Dean Haspiel, Greg Budgett, and Gary Dumm) . We see Harvey do battle with his foster daughter Daniell, his cat, government bureaucracy, and the household plumbing. There are also stories with a broader focus such as Pekar’s parents (and his relationship to them as an adult), and a discussion of city government and regionalism. A couple involve author signings, a topic that wouldn’t have come up in the early American Splendor stories. In case the caption is too small to read in my thumbnail of the first issue’s cover, the caller is saying “Harvey Pekar? I’m calling from the Oprah Winfrey Show. We’re having a show on Pet Peeves and we understand you can complain on any subject.” Proof that Pekar was able to laugh at himself, if any was needed.
Jason Aaron first made a big splash with the five-issue miniseries The Other Side, co-created with artist Cameron Stewart. It looks at the Vietnam War through the eyes of two soldiers, one an American Marine named Billy Everette, the other a soldier in the People’s Army of Vietnam named Vo Binh Dai. They are both in the grip of delusions: Everette is haunted by the ghosts of soldiers who died in battle, while Vo Dai sees himself as a mystic warrior. Billy’s rifle also talks to him, which Aaron referred to when he autographed my copy with the inscription “Don’t do anything your rifle tells you.” The comics format gives Aaron and Stewart the perfect medium to express both men’s delusions visually. The decision to present the conflict from both sides produces a rich narrative, a kind of dialog of pointless war. Because however heroic the soldiers’ actions–American and Vietnamese alike–the results are anything but heroic. Battle is a nasty business, and in the end survival is the best result any soldier can hope for. Under the circumstances a happy ending would not have been believable, but both stories do get resolved, as the two protagonists finally meet. The collection concludes with Aaron’s essay on his cousin, writer Gustav Hasford (whose novel The Short-Timers was the basis Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket). Stewart contributes “A Vietnam Diary,” a description of his research trip in words and pictures.