Mr. Vertigo Reviews 96: Bang!; The Old Guard – Tales Through Time; North 40

Bang!
Matt Kindt, story; Willfredo Torres, art; Nayoung Kim & Bill Crabtree, colorists; Nate Piekos, letterer
Dark Horse Books, 2020

Matt Kindt has created a lot of comics with characters based on pulp archetypes, like the spies and secret agents in Super Spy and Mind MGMT. This is a wild ride through similar territory, populated by a secret agent with memories older than him; an aging mystery writer who mysteriously finds herself at crime scenes; an action hero with strange drugs that give him an edge in the succession of crises that seem to find him; and a cybernetically enhanced woman with an AI assistant. There is also a seemingly omnipotent terrorist organization (named Goldmaze), and a science fiction author (Philip Verge) whose books somehow predict the future.

The chapters are each introduced by a page from a Philip Verge novel, each text describing what is about to happen. The significance of these excerpts is not fully revealed at first–we see them in illustrated form in the following pages, but which came first? It turns out that all four of the principals have had experiences that make them question their history. When Verge meets secret agent Thomas Cord he doses him with a drug that allows Cord to see that he is a brainwashed killing machine codenamed “Thomas Cord,” the latest in a long line. The others have also had reason to feel manipulated, as if their life choices are not their own. After an explosive climax, the team visits Verge’s mansion and destroy his entire library. But Verge survived, and the final scene shows him scripting Cord’s meeting with his handler, followed by “To be continued.” So Cord and his team may not be as free as they think. I hope the story is continued: I would certainly read it.

Kindt’s script is beautifully illustrated by co-creator Torres, along with the colorists and letterer. It’s a classic visual style, with plenty of action (and associated sound effects). The collection concludes with with all covers, a sketchbook section, and pinups by Matt Kindt.

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The Old Guard: Tales Through Time Vol. 1
Greg Rucka, writer & creator; Leandro Fernández, art & creator; Daniela Miwa, colors; Jodi Wynne, letters; & others
Image Comics, 2021

A compendium of 12 tales of the immortal Old Guard ranging chronologically from ancient times to the present day. Two of the stories come from co-creators Rucka and Fernández, with a dazzling list of comics creators providing the rest. “My Mother’s Axe” tells the story of Andromache’s battle axe, which is also the story of her life (the violent parts, anyway). Over the course of its life every part of the axe has been replaced, but it is still the only axe she has ever owned. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro and Rebecca Good’s “Bonsai Shokunin” is a stylish rendering of Noriko’s origin in Japan, including several wordless pages. “Passchendaele” (by Brian Michael Bendis, Micheal Avon Oeming and Taki Soma) tells the story of the reunion of one of the immortals and her chance meeting with the boy she raised as a son after finding him on a battlefield–now grown and cook and owner of a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio.

Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber and Daniela Miwa pick up Andy’s story in the American frontier in “How To Make A Ghost Town.” She leaves her Black husband Achilles to go on a job. Before leaving the country, she stops back in to check on him, only to find him dead and their home burned down. Thus does a love story turn into a familiar one of blood and vengeance. The answer to the title question: first, you take a town…then fill it with ghosts. “An Old Soul” by Jason Aaron, Rafael Albuquerque and Daniela Miwa is mainly about Book in New York City in 1978. When Andy comes to his rescue in Guyana three months later, she finds him embroiled in a bizarre relationship with a group of nuns. He has convinced them that his immortality is proof that Armageddon has come. Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernández and Daniela Miwa’s “The Bear” introduces an Immortal named Isaac. A trip to town shows him being a friend to the townspeople. But back on his remote island home he is all alone, until he meets the titular bear.

The collection concludes with a collection of full-sized covers, including alternates. It would not work for readers unfamiliar with the series, but it’s an excellent anthology. I would gladly read more of them.

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North 40
Aaron Williams, writer; Fiona Staples, artist
Vertigo Comics, 2015

This was a six-issue miniseries originally published (in both single issues and collection) by WildStorm. After the (first) end of the WildStorm imprint the collection was reprinted by Vertigo, which was a logical home for it. So this could have been part of my Vertigo Miniseries Tour, but I completely missed the reissue until now. The story begins with an accidental summoning: two library workers open up a mysterious interlibrary loan book from a nearby university library’s Restricted section, apparently sent due to an electronic catalog error (as a retired librarian I had to love this). The whole of Conover County experiences a bizarre lost night. Everyone wakes to a scene of mayhem–the car crashes and building damage are far from the worst of it–with no memory of what happened.

Many of the town’s residents have been transformed overnight, including a man with multiple eyes, a woman transformed into a flying vampire, a giant, and a man who can fly. There’s also a zombie girl who sets about raising the dead from the graveyard. Despite all of this, everyone heads to the high school dance, which can’t possibly end well.

There is also a team fighting for the light, although they only become aware of each other gradually. An ancient old woman (author of the spell book that started everything) first speaks to town outcast Amanda, having her fetch a scythe and learn to do magic. Then there’s Wyatt (the flying guy) who is deputized by Sheriff Morgan (who the old woman calls “The Watchman”). Turns out the mage and the lawman have a very old relationship, which isn’t revealed until later. The witch sends messages via a waitress who writes notes that are delivered by crows. You can tell who is manifesting magic by their green glowing eyes, and there are a lot of them in evidence.

Having failed to contain the evil, the big climax comes when the team must bind the huge Cthulhu-like tentacled entity that has emerged from the pit at the edge of town. That is not quite the end of the story. The pair that did the summoning are still present in spirit form, and one of them sends a possessed girl out into the world to send more people to town. And there is a final enigmatic scene in which an unknown authority figure is reading the narrative, and says that the “inner circle” will want to know about it. This implies some sort of continuing story, I guess, but it is not clear, which makes it the most unsatisfying aspect of the story. Fiona Staples’ art deserves special mention: all of the wild visual imagination she would later employ to design alien races in Saga is on full display here. Her demon character designs totally sell the story.

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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