Vertigo Miniseries Tour Part 36: The Royals – Masters of War; The Kitchen; Wolf Moon

As a longtime Vertigo fan, I’ve always had a special fondness for their miniseries: taken together, they represent some of the most varied and experimental comics the imprint published. But as I moved from buying monthly issues, to buying trade paperback collections, to relying on library collections for them, around 2014 I began to lose track of new Vertigo miniseries (and libraries seem to have stopped acquiring them as well). The published output was considerably smaller than during the early years of the imprint, when there was typically a miniseries issue published every week. But there were still quite a few, which I discovered during Comixology’s Vertigo sales. So I am catching up, in roughly chronological order.

The Royals: Masters of War
Rob Williams, writer; Simon Coleby, pencils & inks (Chapters 1-3); Gary Erskine, inks (Chapters 4-6); J.D. Mettler, colors
Vertigo Comics, 2014

This series ties into a couple of longtime Vertigo interests: British subjects (which follow the frequent hiring of British creators) and a novel approach to superheroes. As it is set during World War II it is also a kind of alternate history. The core concept is that royal families all over the world have superhuman abilities: the purer the bloodline, the stronger the powers. There has been an agreement among the royals that they would stay out of commoner wars. But then England’s Prince Henry is so appalled by  the carnage of the Blitz that he decides to intervene–which breaks the truce, bringing all of the Royals into play.

From there the story follows many significant WWII events with alternate explanations: Pearl Harbor, Midway, D-Day, the Siege of Leningrad. Historical figures feature in the story as well, including Churchill, F.D.R., Hitler, and Hirohito. Personally I wasn’t much taken with the super powers aspect, but the history kept it interesting. Coleby’s artwork is mostly realistic: it is generally easy to recognize the real characters portrayed, and the battle scenes are exciting. Not one of my favorite Vertigo miniseries, but it held my interest, at least partly because the lead characters are shown to be in real danger. They may be superhuman, but a happy ending is not guaranteed.

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The Kitchen
Ollie Masters, writer; Ming Doyle, artist; Jordie Bellaire, colorist
Vertigo Comics, 2015

Set in the 1970s in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, this eight-issue miniseries tells the story of three women married to Irish mobsters, and what they do to carry on after their husbands were sent to prison. Kath, Raven and Angie had been playing the part of faithful wives–with no involvement in their husbands’ illegal activities–but they can’t see any other way to make a living. So they start collecting protection payments, and discover that they are good at it.

Which means that they are good at violence, intimidation–and killing, when it seems necessary. Their success attracts the attention of other mobsters, and before long they have connections with the Mafia. This leads to power struggles, ultimately involving all three in ways they could not have anticipated. The story also reveals the history of their marriage relationships, which explains a lot about the way the wives reacted to their husbands going to prison.

This is a standard gangster tale in many ways, with the women gangsters as the main novelty. When the men get early release their wives have to decide if they want to continue with their leadership roles or return to their traditional status. If they had decided to defer to their husbands the story would stop there…so their decisions almost go without saying. The women are strongly drawn, so that angle is more than a gimmick. Ming Doyle’s art has a stylized realism which is reminiscent of cover artist Becky Cloonan. As a musician I have to observe that when they go to meet the Mafia don at Matranga’s Musical Instruments the store is stocked with some of the most unrealistic mutant stringed instruments I have ever seen, even in a medium not known for accuracy in this area. The ultimate fate of the wives comes to seem almost inevitable, but it is no less compulsive a read.

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Wolf Moon
Cullen Bunn, writer; Jeremy Haun, artist; Lee Loughridge, colorist
Vertigo Comics, 2015

At this point writer Cullen Bunn had established himself as a horror story teller with The Damned and The Sixth Gun for Oni Press, and his Dark Horse series Harrow County had been announced (and begun publishing during this miniseries’ run). Bunn’s miniseries with artist Jeremy Haun (Detective Comics, Image series The Beauty) had a long development period.

In the end Bunn came up with a unique approach to the werewolf mythos: rather than being transmitted by a bite, the transformation leaps from host to host. So the damage extends far beyond the innocent victims of the wolf’s violence. Each of the werewolf’s innocent hosts have to live with the memory of what they have done–which usually includes the murder of family members and others close to them. Hence the theme of the story: The Wolf doesn’t simply reshape flesh and blood. It reshapes lives.

Some victims cannot bear the guilt. But some become hunters, like Dillon Chase. Hunters are not seeking a single individual who transforms, but rather the one who is infected during the current moon cycle. The hunt becomes increasingly complicated for Chase as his friends become involved, and he must come to terms with the fact that killing the Wolf may require also killing an innocent host. As he closes in on his quarry he discovers the existence of other hunters, including one he thought he knew.

The climax is an exciting story which begins in a crowded mall and ends on a more intimate scale, surprising to the end. But the final page leaves room for a sequel. Haun’s artwork is light on background detail, but it advances the action very effectively. Loughridge’s colors set the mood of the scene, and do a good job delineating flashback sequences.  Wolf Moon is a convincing werewolf story with original touches that are rare in the genre.

About marksullivan5

Freelance Journalist & Musician; Senior Contributor, All About Jazz.com; writing on comics at mrvertigocomics.com & No Flying, No Tights.com
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