With the Minx imprint just a footnote in its long history, DC is once again trying to develop a new line of books. This time they are taking a more conservative approach, creating a line of original graphic novels through their most successful existing imprint, Vertigo, and they have enlisted two very popular authors for their inaugural releases. The very popular mystery writer, Ian Rankin, writes his first comic, Dark Entries, and Brain Azzarello follows the success of 100 Bullets with Filthy Rich.
Now before I go any further I am going to tell you how I came to have copies of both books three months ahead of their release. Sometimes, as a critic, I would be sent review copies, but that wasn't the case here. I work for a bookstore and one of my responsibilities is ordering the graphic novels. Publishers and venders ship advance copies, 'reader's copies', of books to retailers in the hopes that one of us will read something, become excited about it, and tell you customers that you absolutely have to read this book! And that's how I got these. It didn't influence whether I would order them for stock - I already had - but like many reader's copies these are much more cheaply produced than the final product will be. These are soft cover. Their cover art is in black and white. Those are the most obvious. I've introduced this long aside because production quality can have a tremendous impact on the art and I suspect the final product will be better. Of the two, I liked Werther Dell'edera's work on Dark Entries more than Victor Santos' work on Filthy Rich, where I found the anatomy too cartoonish for the subject matter, but I am giving both a honorary pass and concentrating on the stories instead.
I may be wrong, but I have the impression that Ian Rankin isn't quite as popular in the US as he is in the rest of the English speaking world, where he is unquestionably the number one mystery writer. Getting him on board for this project is a great coup for Karen Berger, Vertigo's capo dei capi (capa dei capi?). Still, comics fans were worried when Rankin confessed his love for the movie version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and his preference for the film version of From Hell over the source material. Well, his taste in movies may be questionable, but he has managed to transfer his skills from novels to comics without any problems. Dark Entries is a John Constantine story. The occult detective is called on to solve the problems of a reality TV show. The show's premise is that a group of young people are locked together in a haunted house, but the producer starts to worry when things happen that aren't meant to happen. Is the place really haunted? Given that its actually a set, that seems unlikely, but how else can you explain it? He contacts Constantine and actually succeeds in getting him to join the cast (the idea being that he can move about the closed set without raising suspicions). Simple? Hardly. There are wheels within wheels here and after one important misstep Constantine has to work hard to save himself and the rest of the cast. Its smart, well paced story and Rankin manages to avoid taking some obvious put shots about the nature of reality TV. Almost.
If Azzarello hasn't the mainstream stature of Rankin, he is one of Vertigo's most successful writers and vies with Brubaker for the position of comics top crime writer. While 100 Bullets monthly format meant telling his story in one hundred bite sized episodes, Filthy Rich gives him an opportunity to tell the story in a more natural manner. Richard Junkin - aka Junk - is a loser. A college football star, he was being investigated for gambling when a knee injury forced him out of the game altogether. Now he trades on his former fame while doing a poor job cars and spends his days pitying himself for having hit bottom. When his boss offers him the job of keeping his misbehaving daughter out of the papers, he learns that bottom is still a long way below. Not that he will have any problem finding his way there. I think Berger deserves credit for not calling these noir comics, a much overused term for a specific kind of crime story, but Filthy Rich is definitely a noir story. Circumstances reveal character and characters' lives unravel as though they were acting out some predetermined writ.
Of the two, Hellblazer's fans give Dark Entries a built in audience. A factor, I suspect, even more likely to move sales than its famous author. Azzarello does a good job telling his story, but I didn't know Junk when I started it and I didn't really care about him when I was finished. Vertigo Crime has several more title upcoming, written by both mystery and comics authors, but I wonder if the future isn't in these stand alones, but in original graphic novels of existing characters - like Azzarello's own The Joker - or perhaps an ongoing series, in continuity with the rest of the DCU, told only in graphic novels format.
Both books are scheduled to be released August 19th.