The second collection opens with confusion: a ten-year old girl named Katie Lawrence is remembering her life and the fall that killed her, with Elle as witness. Elle comes to in Katie’s body, with two urgent missions. First, she needs to correct the official declaration of Katie’s accidental death: Katie clearly remembers being pushed down the stairs by her black sheep older brother. Second, she must convince everyone that she is really Elle in Katie’s body. Of course that’s a really hard sell. But she knows enough intimate details to convince her best friend Jo, and Doctor Geller at the hospital (as well as the detective assigned to her case) are starting to believe that something mysterious is happening.
Meanwhile, the apparent conspiracy behind her coma deepens. Elle’s mother confers with a doctor at the hospital. The doctor reports to The Fifth (his “Chief”), there is a timetable for Ellis’ move to the Facility…and there is less than 48 hours before the “next phase.”
Quite a sequence of actions and double-crosses in the last part of this arc. It is definitely hazardous to have dealings with any of these characters, even the ones that seem sympathetic. Elle discovers that she has apparently been in the in-between spirit zone before her accident, and in fact was prepared for it by her therapist. There’s a striking silent issue (“Speechless”) in which Jo learns that Elle knew she was about to do something dangerous, and Dane’s father is taken off the board, an act in which Jo becomes accidentally complicit. Finally, we discover who the mystery man in the hoodie is, and there is a useful map laying out the relationships between all of the characters known to be part of the action. As Eddie Jr (Elle’s brother) says, “There’s far more to my sister than any one person could ever know.”
In the extra material in the back, creator Jim McCann reveals the real-world theatrical activities that underlie his story. And he provides a helpful two-page spread of the character map, “for those playing detective.” Anyone who is reading this series and paying attention would have to be in that group. The only thing I wish it had was labels with all the character’s names. I have no trouble recognizing the faces–kudos to artist Rodin Esquejo for clear character designs–but don’t always remember the names. And the script rarely re-introduces any of the characters by name.
All in all, an excellent second volume. While deepening the mystery, the story also answers as many old questions as it raises new ones.
The New 52 Swamp Thing saga continues. The first part of the collection takes the regular series from Issues #8 – 11, where the main focus is Swamp Thing’s battle with the forces of the Rot under Sethe’s command. Swampy arrives girded for battle, complete with antlers and wings (don’t remember ever seeing those before!). As usual his main goal is to rescue Abby, but of course that requires battling a huge army of rotten flesh puppets. When he reaches Abby she has been transformed into a kind of Rot avatar, so he has to fight her as well. Finally he reminds her of her humanity and breaks her (literally) out of her shell.
Abby takes the weakened Swamp Thing back to the swamp, where he reveals a nascent Parliament of Trees. They apparently are not gone forever, since he reached into the Green to save their essences. This sequence also features two other callbacks to the classic series: the appearance of Un-Men, and…wait for it…the reappearance of Anton Arcane.
After yet another battle, Arcane beats a strategic retreat back into the Rot, via some kind of portal. Abby urges Swamp Thing to stay away. But Animal Man shows up with his family and says that they need to enter the portal together, immediately.
As always, Issue 0 is a retelling of the character’s origin. Snyder uses the opportunity to weave Anton Arcane and Abigail into the entire history of the character, as the Rot does battle with the Green (and the Red) throughout time. Annual #1 serves as an introduction to the Rotworld saga, but the main story tells about the first meeting of Dr. Alec Holland and Abigail Arcane. Holland has forgotten it, for reasons that are explained in the story, and the Parliament of Trees allowed him to forget, regarding his love for Abigail as a weakness. I guess it was a successful strategy, because Holland directs his anger at Arcane, rather than the Parliament.
Scott Snyder’s writing brings the horror origins of the series back to the forefront, with able visual assistance from regular artists Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy (guest artists Kano and Becky Cloonan also did a fine job on the zero issue and the Annual, and Francesco Francavilla illustrated one regular issue). Paquette and Rudy frequently use unusual panel designs and layouts, which are especially good at depicting the chaos of battle. And there is a lot of fighting: one thing that sets this treatment apart from the typical Vertigo style is the emphasis on action. More action, less talking, less nudity, no profanity. It’s a good trade-off in exchange for a much larger readership than a Vertigo title would have gotten.
This Vertigo miniseries starts from an unlikely premise: it is set in a post-Victorian England where the upper classes have voluntarily taken the Cure and become vampires (“the Young”) to escape the lower classes, many of whom have been turned into ravenous zombies (“the Restless”) by the Restless Curse. All of this leaves the remaining normal humans (“the Bright”) in the middle, feeling like pawns in a class war. So the series has vampires and zombies, and a punny title. How good could it be?
Really good, even only a couple of issues in. Writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard drop the reader right into this world, as we witness a zombie attack in progress. Chief Inspector George Suttle of Scotland Yard dispatches the Restless who has killed his housekeeper. His maid was also bitten, so he takes her to the hospital for the Cure, giving us a good overview of the undead situation. When Suttle arrives at work he is dispatched to the scene of a murder, a crime that has all but disappeared. Not only is it an actual murder, but the victim is a vampire. He was not killed in any of the usual ways, so Suttle has a true mystery: how do you kill something that was already dead?
Suttle’s investigations take him into Zone-B, the Bright quarters (with a Bright driver, as well). The murdered vampire Lord Hinchcliffe was known to have certain “tendencies,” which he satisfied by visiting a brothel. Suttle gets a bit more than he bargained for, finding some old desires stirring. He’s so stirred up that he nearly starts a fight a few minutes later when a gang of Brights threatens him. His next stop is the Hinchcliffe estate, officially to explain to the Lady Hinchcliffe how the investigation is going, and why she cannot have her husband’s body for burial. But Suttle also hopes to learn more about the dead vampire’s history.
To get to the estate he must cross Zone-D, an area where zombies roam free (aka the Restless Belt and the Dead Zone). Getting into the zone requires the use of a flame thrower to clear the way, which I couldn’t help but picture on the screen. On the way he remembers the Memorial War as he answers questions from his driver, Constable Bowes. Our picture of this world gets more complete as the story progresses, in a very natural way.
As Suttle speaks with the family he begins to suspect that they may have something to hide, and he may be getting misdirection in answer to his questions. All of which is couched in class terms, as well. The Young may be in the top rung of this very class-conscious society, but nobility still trumps everything. Another interesting wrinkle is the angle that the women’t suffrage movement takes: what they want is equal access to the Cure (“Throats For Women” is a rallying cry). He also is beginning to get a notion about the meaning of the strange symbol that was found burned into the murder victim.
That symbol represents a secret society called The Sons of Adam. Suttle gets his first serious evidence of magic when he chases down an artist/poet named Salt who was known to consort with Lord Hinchcliffe. Salt proves to be very elusive: when finally chased down, he manages to enchant Suttle into believing that he was responsible for the murder! Salt admits that he killed Heathcliffe via magical means. The Sons had forced him to cast a spell that went horribly wrong, and he means to take revenge upon them all. Suttle bests him, and he falls to his death, ending the revenge plot.
But the curse remains. Suttle agrees to close the case without revealing his findings, in the name of national security. Despite all the details I’ve already given away, I prefer not to completely spoil the ending for those who haven’t read the series. I was a bit disappointed to find magic behind both the central murder mystery and the undead state of society. But I had not expected the solution of one mystery to also be the solution to the other, so that was a pleasant surprise.There is certainly plenty of room for sequels–I can even imagine a prequel telling the full story of the war and the beginning of the undead plague–but this story is very complete, with even more closure than I expected.
There are aspects of this world that are a bit hard to accept if you think about it too hard. Why not clear out the zombies, making life safer for the Brights and eliminating all the need for fencing and border defense? I guess we’re just supposed to see it as such a huge task that no one even thinks about trying. There’s also the strict class lines. The Young are almost entirely upper class, so they don’t think much about the Restless or the danger they pose for the remaining Bright population.