Sunday, November 22, 2009

Verti Go-Go

For the past two weeks I've been trading e-mails and splitting pizza with C.L. Minou, aka transfeminist from BelowTheBelt. What happens when you put two geek bloggers from other sides of the country together and feed them curry caffeine? Why, they start working on a comic, of course! And then one of them gets the idea to just run with it like it was once owned by Margaret Cho and form their own label.

Voila! Cowgirl Astronaut Comics, the first queer trans feminist comic label (run by bloggers). I can now add "editor/creator of comic label" to my ever-growing list of things I will probably never get paid for no matter how passionate I am about it. Mama be so proud. I bring this up not because I think you care what it is that I do during my "me time", but because it is a convenient and awkwardly relevant segway to my topic for this article: my favorite comic label, Vertigo.

For those who either don't know what Vertigo is, or love explanations for explanation's sake, Vertigo is DC's "darker, more mature" imprint. While it's hyped and marketed as the gritty "No Kids Allowed!" answer to DC's more kid-friendly mainstream, it is home to some of the most artfully rendered and poignantly worded comics available. And they sort of started the "trade paperback" trend, which is what 90 percent of my comic collection consists of, so yeah, read as much bias into that as you want, you'll still be way off.

The future me who might have a job and some actual follow through would like her label to a template somewhat like Vertigo (sans the megacorporate connection): mature, socially relevant themes, gratuitous but fabulously drawn sex and violence, subversion of mainstream archetypes and tropes, and the occasional dabbling in absurdism. Gotta put that college learning to use somewhere.

Below is a modest list of my favorite Vertigo comics, all of which would appear on my "top ten comics OF ALL TIME. OF ALL TIME!"

Note that while worshipping/admiring Alan Moore than I already do would probably result in a "restrainingus orderus" curse cast upon me, Moore never actually penned anything for Vertigo, although his works are cited as helping necessitate the creation of Vertigo, and V For Vendetta was re-issued under the Vertigo name after Moore swore never to work for DC again. So, yeah, just in case you were curious.

And by no means should this list be construed as a "best". I don't do "bests" on anything. I rate things based on my own peculiar and admittedly random tastes. Sometimes I like things that suck and hate things that are beautiful. Try not to think about it. You, like the Netflix suggestion system before you, will lose your damn mind.

5 -- Sandman Mystery Theatre

While DC likes to pop off that good shit about Batman being the world's greatest detective, I would argue that he's really not that much of a detective these days, more of a CSI lab with kung fu hands of death. To me, the quintessential comic book detective will always be The Sandman, who is finally given "the big boy treatment" in SMT. The series was dealing with racism, antisemitism and the rise of Naziism five years before DC tried to sell Identity Crisis as a rape story. Set before Sandman founded the JSA, it has a refreshingly small amount of "Hey, you got Wolverine in my Spider-Man/You got Spider-Man in my Punisher!", although the few hero cameos they do feature are fucking ingenious. And to provide the nostalgic reach-around for those like me who crap their pants at cryptic name-dropping, the whole series is set in the 30's, which is like all the aesthetic awesomeness of the 20's plus 10!

4 -- Y: The Last Man

A guy who ran a comic store once told me that if you put an ape in a comic, it will sell. At first I was like "sir, you speak the excrement of bulls". And then I saw Ampersand on a cover of Y: The Last Man. And I was compelled to buy it. And then I learned that monkeys aren't apes. I was 23. Why didn't I already know that?

While I wasn't blown away by the art work, I greatly appreciated what I felt was the unifying theme of the book, that is, people will take whatever excuse they're given to go batshit "Everyone Is Jesus In Purgatory" insane. As far as post-apocalyptic humor goes, this one is definitely somewhere close to the top of the ladder. It was so easy for the creators to make this into an author tract, as we say in the spending too much time on the internet analyzing media biz, but instead it's a vehicle for sword fights, gun fights, and all other forms of girl on girl action. There are talks of making this comic into a movie or miniseries, possibly starring Shia Lebouf and Alicia Keys. This would mark one of the few times I would approve of casting Shia Lebouf in another comic book movie, because roving bands of people with guns hunting him down is perhaps the most realistic premise for a film I've seen since Super Size Me.

3 -- Sandman

Yes, of fucking course this was going to appear somewhere on the list. For me, though, it wasn't about the art or the grandiose storytelling or the parade of mythology class wank fodder. Sandman was the first comic I read start to finish where I absolutely loathed the title character. Morpheus is a jerkass, and the rest of The Endless aren't that far from the finish line. Usually, when I find that I cannot stand the protagonist in a comic, I finish the volume I'm on and never pick it up again (see also Fables, Hawkman, Mr. A, etc). Like a best friend with a girlfriend you simply cannot.fucking.stand, the art and mythological references gave me enough incentive to keep reading just long enough to watch Morpheus die, at which point I let out a most hearty "yea varily". I always recommend this book to anyone who says that they like comic books but wire tired of superheroes, a group that once elicited sighs of frustration from me until I spent my senior year in college watching Justice League Unlimited reruns with my classmates until 4 in the morning and realized I was slowly turning into one of them.

2 -- Transmetropolitan

Warren Ellis is often overlooked, I feel, by both mainstream comics and the "alternative comics community". I believe it is because Ellis comes across as a diet Alan Moore, or maybe even a decaf Grant Morrison. Planetary and Global Frequency possesses all that tasty subversion you would expect in Watchmen or Animal Man, but without all that "I AM A MAGICIAN! THIS HORCRUX IS FOR REAL!" noise you get from some of the other UK-based writers.

Transmetropolitan spoke to me, as someone who sympathized with the gonzo movement but simply did not possess the attention span necessary to read page upon page of picture-less text. Like V For Vendetta, the comic gave you a morally ambiguous protagonist you could either identify or disagree with, but with the weirdness and violence turned up to 11 in lieu of the "well, these are the GOOD aspects of facism/consumerism" argument found in V. Transmetropolitan provided such a rich and detailed illustration of cyberpunk that after spending years watching others fail where Ellis had succeeded I simply gave up on cyberpunk. Soon I will find a similar cure for my obsession with steampunk, and then can try on something sexy like atompunk or dieselpunk. Soon I, like Green Day, will become so punk that other punks will hate me as a sign of their punkness.

1 -- Doom Patrol/The Invisibles

Why did I feature two titles in the first place category?

a) They're written by the same guy.
b) They consist of similar themes, artwork, and characters.
c) I wanted to make more room for other works I felt needed mentioning.
d) I hate the number 6.
e) All of the above.

All love to the X-Men, but Doom Patrol will always be the "misunderstood misfits trying to save the world that loathes them" for me. I read Grant Morrison's run of Doom Patrol during a period in my life where I was flying an awful lot, and brought trade paperbacks on the plane with me because they were easy to fit in my bag and I was too poor to afford an iPod or decent laptop. Doom Patrol stirs in me the sensation of being trapped in a pressurized tube flying through the air while sipping ginger ale and hoping that the flight attendants weren't going to surprise me by requesting a piss test. Grant Morrison would probably agree that such conditions are optimal for enjoying and understanding his books. Now that I live in a place with actual public transit, I take trade paperbacks of The Invisibles with me on the train. Nothing like a little time travel and chaos magic to freshen you up before therapy!

If you'll permit me to be a little "personal", I read both books in a time when I was questioning my gender, and while a sentient transvestite street and a MAAB forcibly raised as a girl to fit some local superstitious tradition are by no means "gender role models", it was comforting for me to see somewhat positive gender-variant characters in comics at a time where I was afraid that transitioning would make me an outcast in the comic/game/geek community. Granted, I was rightly afraid, because I was shunned by a lot of my friends within the various fandoms, but now I have friends and fellow bloggers who accept me for who I am. So yay. Group hug.

Comic books don't have to make sense. Which is good. Because neither of these titles do, really. Some issues are better read once or twice more, and one issue of Doom Patrol in particular, the one featuring The Cult of the Unwritten Book, actually requires you to sit and decipher a series of fucking anagrams spoken in the dialogue. The Invisibles will go right over the head of anyone unfamiliar with non-linear story structure, history, time travel, neopaganism, gnosticism, chaos and the concept of the Mary Sue. But that might be some of the charm. Some people like to be confused. I can find no other explanation as to the success and popularity of Numb3rs.

So, stay tuned for more of Jetta's adventures in comics. One day you'll be able to go "I knew that bitch when she was just a blogger...and her writing hasn't gotten any better".

1 betches:

Anonymous said...

Actually, you're really not far off combining Doom Patrol and the Invisibles. Morrison had originally intended to reveal that Ragged Robin was Crazy Jane, and you can see him hinting at it a little in the early issues, but he dropped the idea which I think was for the best.

I gladly support your choices, my own list wouldn't differ much:
5. Sandman Mystery Theatre
4. Y: the Last Man
3. Sandman
2. Doom Patrol/the Invisibles
1. Shade, the Changing Man

though I do like Fables. Actually, I bought the 1st volumes of Fables and Y at the same time and wasn't all that grabbed by either. But for some reason I gave both a second chance and ended up hooked. I do think the art on Y isn't much more than serviceable and I think it would have benefited from someone more distinctive. Fables was the same but Mark Buckingham has grown much more stylistic as he's settled in and he really fits the book now.

Anyway, I love Shade. Shade Shade Shade. I'm fine with being solitary on that if I have to.

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