An ambitious eight-part miniseries which spans four time periods, each illustrated by a different artist, united by the discovery of mutilated murder victims in London’s East End (the “bodies” of the title). In each period there is a dedicated detective on the case, and a secret society with possibly some involvement in the murders. The eras echo each other throughout the series, with several represented in each of the individual issues.
1890 takes place in the era of Jack The Ripper. Illustrated by Dean Ormston (Vertigo series Lucifer & Books of Magick: Life During Wartime, and the Dark Horse series Black Hammer), it focuses on Inspector Edmond Hillinghead, a diligent detective who also struggles with his homosexuality.
1940 is set during World War II at the time of the Blitz. Illustrated by Phil Winslade (Vertigo series Goddess & Nevada, Marvel MAX’s Howard the Duck), it stars Inspector Charles Whiteman, a Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust. His life as a policeman is complicated by his double life as a racketeer.
2014 is the present at the time of publication. Illustrated by Meghan Hetrick (Vertigo series Red Thorn & Fairest), it centers on Muslim cop Detective Sergeant Shahara Hasan. She is fighting against racist rioters, a sobering reminder that not much has changed in the last four years.
2050 takes place after a pulse wave has created a techno-apocalypse. Illustrated by Tula Lotay (Vertigo’s American Vampire & The Witching Hour, Image’s Supreme: Blue Rose), the amnesiac young woman known only as Maplewood spends most of her arc trying to remember who she is, while also struggling to understand the corpse she has discovered.
Visually it’s a striking series, each time period playing to the strengths of the artist. Colorist Lee Loughridge uses a dramatically different pallet for each era, reinforcing the different line artist’s styles as well as making the time shifts clear to the reader. It builds toward a solution of the mystery continuing through the centuries. Which it does deliver, but it is a surprisingly weak English unification message in the end–although I grant that it is arguably even more relevant now in the age of Brexit than it was at the time–and the 2014 conclusion ultimately makes the entire 2050 sequence seem unnecessary. Good as much of it is, it also fails to deliver on the arresting cover image.
Vertigo CMYK was originally published as four quarterly anthologies, each devoted to one of the four traditional building blocks of comic book coloring: [C]yan. [M]agenta. [Y]ellow. and Blac[K]. Every issue contained nine stories, each approximately eight pages long. So there are a total of 36 stories, from a wide variety of creators. The color scheme is an obvious hook, and in fact the stories in each quarterly do tend to emphasize the titular color in their palette. Sometimes the colors have themes associated with them as well: cyan is greenish-blue, which suggests “blue” themes, and of course black is associated with dark themes (and this section is indeed even darker than the frequently dark stories earlier in the collection). Magenta (a light purplish red) and yellow don’t have such strong associations, but a few of the creators work them in anyway.
As always in an anthology each reader will find some hits and some misses. There is no denying the visual and thematic variety, though. For me the Cyan highlights included the twist ending of “918” (story and art by Mike Keatinge and Ken Garing); Jock’s striking art (color by Lee Loughridge) for Lee Garbett’s “Blue Sundae;” and “Breaking News of the Wonders the Future Holds,” the first installment of Fábio Moon’s recurring story at the end of each issue. Quiet slice of life stories featuring one central character, which together were the most memorable part of the collection for me.
Magenta included the horror story “Bone White, Blood Red” by Rachel Deering, Matteo Scalera and Mereno Dinisio; Peter Milligan, Rufus Dayglo and José Villarrubia’s oddly moving fetish story “The Show in the Attic;” and “Captives” by Michael Moreci, Andrea Mutti and Trish Mulvihill, in which a mental illness may actually be something real. This section was especially notable for indie-style stories, like Carla Berrocal’s “Who Is Uber” and “Gem Pockets” by Annie Mok and Dawson Walker. Clearly Vertigo was really taking chances in the creator choices.
Yellow featured Gerard Way and Philip Bond’s “Untitled,” a trippy fantasy reminiscent of Bond’s collaborations with Grant Morrison (color by Hi-Fi); “Playthings” by Marguerite Bennett and Bill Sienkiewicz (a surreal nightmare that involves a Yellow Room); Matt Miner and Taylan Kurtulus’ “Amber,” a touching story about two aging hipsters with a startling ending; and “The Cataphract of the Yellow Lotus” by Benjamin Read, Christian Wildgoose and Jordan Boyd, in which a commoner becomes a goddess in a kind of time loop.
The Black quarterly is especially rich in both thematic variety and name creators. Francesco Francavilla contributes the spooky “The Dying of the Light;” “Super Blackout” (a phone app that affects reality) comes from Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew; and Jeff Lemire (with colors by José Villarrubia) adds a small chapter to his Sweet Tooth series in “Sweet Tooth: Black.” The storied creative team Steven T. Seagle and Teddy H. Kristiansen (Vertigo series House of Secrets and graphic novel It’s a Bird) reunite for “Fade;” “Black Death In America” is a powerful black and white social commentary about war and race from Tom King and John Paul Leon.