Mr. Vertigo Reviews 69: Skin & Earth Vol. 1; The Beauty Vol. 1; Archangel

Skin & Earth Vol. 1
Lights: story, art & lettering
Dynamite Entertainment, 2018

Singer/songwriter Lights created this debut graphic novel as part of a multimedia project to accompany a concept album of music portraying the same themes. Probably not my usual thing–either musically or visually–but it came with some impressive recommendations, including comics creators Gail Simone and Brian K. Vaughan.

This is Lights’ debut comic, and it has to be said that it is a very well-made comic. Research, hard work and talent have resulted in a book that does not look like the work of a novice. It tells the story of a dystopian future where the habitable area is shrinking, and the Tempest Corporation is in charge of the desirable parts of society. It is an extreme version of the 1%: the upper crust don’t just have most of the money, they also occupy the privileged part of the city ecologically. They have a life that is entirely apart from the rest of society.

Enaia Jin (call her En) has lost her mother, and feels alone in the world. She finds love interests that seem bad for her–and it becomes increasingly apparent that there is something special about her, as well as her mother. The first part of the story seems to be about the social divisions in this world. But as the story develops it becomes much larger. There is a division between our world and another, founded upon a bargain with the Tempest family.

At this point the narrative becomes increasingly metaphysical, and En’s role may be far larger than she could have imagined. The final scene finds her escaping from the other world, setting up a potential sequel.

The comic is made up of 14 Chapters, spread out over six original monthly issues. Each of them has an associated song. There are QR codes at the beginning of each chapter. My Android phone got me an introductory video from Lights at the first code, but the others only linked to a brief sample of the album tracks–although there were other options, including a full live video. As I said in my introduction, this is probably not aimed at me, but at the young adults who are part of Lights’ audience. Still great to see a comic aimed at a young audience that may not be comics fans.

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The Beauty Vol. 1
Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley: story; Jeremy Haun, art; John Rauch, color
Image Comics, 2016

I’m late to the party with this series (fortunately it’s available for free download from the library Hoopla service, and is still ongoing). The Beauty is an STD with a difference: it makes the infected physically beautiful. Fat melts away, hair returns, blemishes fade, facial features slim–a disease that people actually want.  For a long time the only downside appeared to be a constant slight fever, but all that changes when the infected’s heads start exploding. We first see it on a subway train, but when it happens on camera to a “Wake Up America” co-host the issue becomes very public.

It is a striking original premise. The cast of characters starts growing quickly: two homicide detectives on a task force dedicated to the disease (one already infected, another who contracts the disease despite knowing better); an agent from the Center for Disease Control; a Senator trying to keep the crisis under wraps; and a drug company trying to milk the disease for all of the profit they can get. Add to that a flamboyant hit man and his crew and rogue scientists trying to sidestep the FDA to get a cure out to the public before a disaster.

The action is nearly nonstop in the six issues collected here. And far more violent than one might expect in a story about a sexually transmitted disease. An exciting start to a series I plan to read more of.

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Archangel
William Gibson & Michael St. John Smith, creators; William Gibson, script; Butch Guice, art
IDW Publishing, 2017

Renowned science fiction writer William Gibson makes his debut in comics with this series. The story revolves around time travel and alternate time lines: the sort of things that occur in his novels, although this story is more fantastical.  It begins in 2016, with the Vice President of the United States assuming the identity of his grandfather. After a quantum transfer he and his team are in the Pentagon in 1945, paying a visit to the grandfather, who is a Major in the Office of Strategic Services. Back in 2016, Torres–the operator of the quantum facility called The Splitter–has initiated a countermeasure to the VP’s plans. The fight for the past (and the present, as a direct result) has begun.

Back in 1945 we meet another major player: Naomi Givens, a British intelligence officer based in Berlin. She is charged with investigating a mysterious event in the air, which turns out to be part of Torres’ operation, and she calls on her ex Vince, an American OSS officer. He gets her in to see the Pilot, a nameless US Marine from 2016. There are a lot of moving parts.

The big picture is revealed gradually. The US government has taken control of the entire world, but at the expense of massive radiation which is poisoning the environment. The operation which Vice President Henderson  is running is an attempt to change the timeline in this alternate universe, diverting the nuclear strike intended for Nagasaki. The title target Archangel is a Russian port: a nuclear strike there would have changed the results of World War II.

In the notes to the series, Gibson points out one connection with his then-current novel The Peripheral and the novel he was working on: the drones in the size and shape of a fly that are present in all of the narratives. He also talks about the ending, a vision based on current politics. This series is a bit convoluted, but still an interesting look at an alternative history. Artist Butch Guice does his usual professional work here. The backgrounds tend to be minimal, but the characters are identifiable.

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