Comic Review – Lucifer #1

Lucifer #1 Cover

NOTICE: The management of The Multiverse would like for it to be stated that we do not support the activities of the being commonly known as Lucifer, Satan and/or The First Of The Fallen. We are not members of his fan club, although he’s apparently responsible for most of the music we like. Regardless, we would remind everyone that the comic which is about to be discussed is a work of fiction and this review is not meant to be an endorsement of any sort of Satanic activity, foreign or domestic, ethereal or substantial. Thank you.

The greatest strength of Lucifer #1 is also its greatest weakness. A new reader who is completely unfamiliar with the rich history of the character from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman can pick this book up and have no trouble understanding its story. This is because, apart from one off-hand reference, none of the character’s history comes into play.

This is the odd paradox of Lucifer #1. Fans of the character who have read The Sandman, Mike Carey’s spin-off series Lucifer, the short-lived Lucifer revival by Holly Black and Richard Kadrey and even viewers of the Fox television series Lucifer (which is VERY loosely based on Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer character) are more likely to be confused than new readers. This is because there’s no apparent relation to the stories we see here and any previous incarnation of Lucifer.

I’ll spare you any spoilers about the earlier series. They’re all well worth reading and tracking down and I won’t rob you of the pleasure of reading them for yourself. (For what my opinion is worth, Seasons of Mist, the fourth Sandman volume in which Lucifer figures prominently, is the best of the series.) But anyone hoping for a true crime police procedural about a charming bar owner/detective who just happens to be a fallen angel should abandon all hope before entering here. There’s nothing of the kind in Lucifer #1.

Instead, we are treated to two stories. One depicts how Lucifer, once the angel Samael, has become imprisoned in some other realm, blinded himself and gone mad trying to escape what seems to be a Hell designed to hold him. The other depicts John Decker, a police detective with a terminally ill wife, who seems to be trapped in an entirely different kind of hell he wishes he could escape.

It’s unclear precisely where writer Dan Watters is going with any of this. While Watters is to be commended for making one of Vertigo Comics’ most complex series easily accessible to newcomers, there is as little here to grip new readers as there is to confuse them. I suspect this series may ultimately read better in trade-paperback format than as a monthly comic.

The artwork by Max and Sebastian Fiumara is more engaging and suits the story perfectly. The style of Lucifer is vividly detailed and melancholy, with an foreboding aura prevalent throughout. Colorist Dave McCaig tints the two stories differently, with washed-out blues depicting the depressing life of John Decker and bright oranges and yellows dominating Lucifer’s story, slowly shifting to red as he becomes more angry.

Established fans of Lucifer may be upset that, so far, the new series bares little resemblance to any that has come before. Taken on its own merits, however, Lucifer #1 has a lot of potential. This issue marks an interesting entry point into the shared universe of Vertigo Comics if nothing else, and the artwork is worth the price of admission alone. This is a series to keep an eye on.

6/10

Lucifer #1 releases on October 17, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Border Town #1 Banner

Comic Review – Border Town #1

Border Town #1 Cover

In 1993, DC Comics transitioned a number of their titles aimed at mature readers into a new line called Vertigo Comics. The brainchild of editor Karen Berger, the core idea behind Vertigo was to take those comics that were already being used to tell more complex stories and expand them outside of the strictures of the Comics Code Authority. The end result was a number of legendary series (Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, to name a few) which blended genre fiction with social commentary to create something never before seen in American comics.

Recently, Vertigo Comics decided to get back to basics just in time for their 25th anniversary. In addition to their revamping The Sandman with four new series spinning out of The Sandman Universe #1, they announced seven new on-going series cut from the same cloth as the original Vertigo line.

Hither comes Border Town – the first of these seven titles. Set in the town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona, the plot centers around Frank Dominguez, who – much like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – was forced to move across the country after one little fight and his mom getting scared. Yet Devil’s Fork contains dangers more menacing than over a dozen species of native lethally-venomous reptiles and skinhead gang-members.

The boundaries between this world and the next are weakening and creatures that take the form of your worst fears are now roaming the desert. It will fall to Frank and his fellow teenage outsiders to solve the mystery of what is really behind a series of violent deaths and deal with a problem the local authorities are quick to write off as being the work of “God-dang illegals.”

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Border Town inspired controversy as soon as it was announced, due to a concept that was based around addressing issues of racism in the Southwestern United States through the lens of Aztec mythology. This prompted death threats against writer Eric M. Esquivel and talks of boycotting the new line, Vertigo Comics, DC Comics and everything Warner Bros. makes. All over a book that has no agenda beyond saying “racism exists and is a bad thing” while using literal boogeymen as a metaphor for how foolish people are when they let irrational fears control them.

I mention all this because, as a critic, it’s my job to consider the context of these things going into a work. Personally, I love analyzing and discussing this sort of thing and how the writer’s life influences the work, though it hardly takes a great scholar to guess that Esquivel (a half-Mexican, half-Irish native of Tuscon, Arizona) probably put a fair bit of himself into the character of Frank. I appreciate, however, that many would just like to get down to brass tacks, ignore the controversy and simply be told if this book is worth reading.

Holy Mother of All Things Good N’ Plenty And All Her Wacky Nephews, YES, this book is worth reading!

While Esquivel’s plot is hardly original (seriously – think about how much children’s fiction and horror is built around kids and teenagers fighting monsters their parents don’t believe in), the execution is flawless and the setting puts a wholly unique spin on a classic concept. While one can draw comparisons between Border Town and Stephen King’s IT, it would be lazy to write it off as a Southwestern Stranger Things. If anything, I’d compare Border Town to Garth Ennis’ Preacher, which also explored issues of racism and politics in a Southwestern setting with twisted humor. Both series also share a willingness to go over the top for a joke, as when we see the various forms the fear monster takes on its rampage through town.

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Artist Ramon Villalobos does a fantastic job bringing the world of Border Town to life. Sporting a highly-detailed style that invites favorable comparison to Frank Quitely, Villalobos’ work is intricate in its line work without feeling cluttered and thinly-inked so we get to appreciate every little touch. The colors by Tamra Bonvillain are equally impressive, with gradient effects in several scenes that perfectly capture the aura of an Arizona sunset. Letterer Deron Bennett keeps the text visually interesting, with distinctive fonts for narrator captions and word balloons.

Ignoring all the controversial elements (which really are much ado about nothing, in this critic’s opinion), Border Town #1 is a solid start for a series that upholds the finest traditions of Vertigo Comics on every level. If the rest of the revival is this strong, I predict we’ll see a new congregation of Vertigo enthusiasts heading into 2019.

10/10

Border Town #1 releases on September 5, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Sandman Universe #1

Sandman Universe 1 Cover

The only real flaw with Sandman Universe #1 is a presumption that the reader is already familiar with the universe of The Sandman. This is a fairly safe assumption, however, as the original Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and a host of fantastic artists is one of the few undisputed classics of the graphic novel medium. Thankfully, what little information the book itself doesn’t give you is easily looked up on-line. But in the interest of speed and keeping you reading, I will explain…

There are seven beings called The Endless. They are personifications of forces we believe need to have an intelligence behind them, like death or destiny. So there is a Death and a Destiny. And there is a Dream, who is known by many names, including The Sandman. Dream is the personification of creation and imagination. He is the Prince of Stories and his realm, The Dreaming, is the place where gods are born, ideas are forged and anything is possible.

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The Dreaming is also home to many strange beings who came from elsewhere to become a part of its stories. There are the brothers Cain and Able (yes, THAT Cain and Able), who safeguard Mysteries and Secrets and the houses that hold them. There is Eve the raven woman, who guards her own sinister house when it is not a sinister cave. At the center of it all, in the ghostly castle at the center of The Dreaming, lies the Library of Dreams where every story ever written and never written can be found. And at the center of that may be found Lucien – the Librarian of Dreams and the servant Dream leaves in charge of his realm when he goes off to do business in The Waking World.

As the issue opens, Lucien is informed that a crack has appeared in the sky of The Dreaming and the people are fearful that history may be about to repeat itself, as The Dreaming was all but destroyed in a similar manner once after Dream was bound and held captive for several decades. With Dream not responding to Lucien’s summons, Matthew The Raven – the messenger of Dream – goes forth to find his master by following the magical bond that connects them. This leads Matthew into The Waking World and through a number of scenes that suggest whatever forces are changing The Dreaming are also altering the rest of reality as well…

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What follows sets up the various spin-off series that will make up the new shared reality of the revamped Vertigo Comics universe. Matthew and Lucien will continue to try and solve the mystery of Dream’s disappearance in The Dreaming. The adventures of newbie magician Tim Hunter (another of Gaiman’s creations) will continue in a new Books of Magic series. A new house, overseen by the Vodou deity Erzulie, will be introduced to The Dreaming in House of Whispers. Finally Lucifer, the fallen angel and one-time ruler of Hell, will once again headline his own series that will have nothing to do with the recent Fox television series that was VERY loosely based on the original Lucifer series that spun out of The Sandman.

Of the four stories we see here, it is the one setting up The Dreaming that attracts the most attention, largely because it promises to directly continue the story introduced here. It is Lucifer that is the hardest to get a read on, being so alien in reference even to those who read the most recent Lucifer series by Holly Black and Richard Kadrey. Strangely enough, House of Whispers looks the most intriguing despite barely tying into the narrative of this issue, thanks to some eye-catching artwork. Even the weak link – the section with Tim Hunter – is not bad and it suffers only because of how short it is and how disconnected it is from the main story, with Matthew The Raven basically saying “This looks interesting, but I can’t stop to help this kid.”

So what’s the verdict? If you’re a fan of The Sandman and Neil Gaiman, Sandman Universe #1 will prove a welcome return to form and an exciting promise of what dreams may come. Based on what we see here, this will be one of those rare anniversary events that will live up to the legend of what inspired it. If this is your first time venturing into the Vertigo Universe, you should be fine, but you may want to treat yourself to the original Sandman books that lay the foundation for what we see here anyway.

8/10

Sandman Universe #1 releases on August 8, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Deathbed #1

Deathbed #1 Cover

When I first saw the cover of Deathbed #1, I was thrilled. Joshua Williamson is one of my favorite writers right now, and if you haven’t been reading his run on The Flash, you should be. Riley Rossmo, likewise, is an artist whose work I’ve always found enjoyable, particularly on the highly-underrated Constantine, The Hellblazer.

That thrill quickly gave rise to dread as I opened the book and we were given our first look at the book’s protagonist, Valentine Richards. I have a general rule of thumb about how any comic book which features an image of a woman sitting on the toilet in its first issue should probably be put down immediately. This sort of thing seems to be a trope in every independent comic for mature readers that is determined to prove how dangerous and edgy it is going to be. I don’t know why, but this image seems to come up with frightening regularity and only the reputation of the creators kept me going.

Thankfully, Deathbed quickly moves past this image and on to better things. It also, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the infamously cheesy 1977 horror movie about a bed that eats people.

Our focus lies on Valentine Richards – an aspiring novelist turned reporter turned biography ghost-writer, who is sick of telling other people’s stories instead of her own. Unfortunately, with her contract at her current reporting gig up, she’s forced to take a job writing the memoirs of Antonio Luna – a famous adventurer who she’s assured is like Doc Savage, James Bond and Teddy Roosevelt rolled into one. Yet somehow, she’s never heard of him.

Deathbed #1 Gallery Scene

(Click on the above image to see it full-size, in another window.)

Valentine arrives at Luna’s mansion on a dark and stormy night. Taken to the master bedroom, Valentine finds the 90 year old Luna at death’s door and apparently ready to tell the unlikely story of his life. However, Luna has another purpose in seeking out a writer to tell his tale – one that seems likely to give Valentine a story of her own to tell!

This first issue is largely concerned with setting up the series, so there’s not much in the way of action. This is surprising, given Joshua Williamson’s usual scripts are packed full of improbable action sequences but it is early yet. As far as laying the ground-work goes, this issue does a fantastic job of showing us everything we need to know about our characters without telling as much. This is because Williamson is one of an increasingly rare few writers who seem to trust their artist to be as much of a storyteller as them.

Case in point. There is a rather gorgeous two-page spread of Valentine walking past several portraits of Antonio Luna from his glory days. This tells us far more about who Antonio Luna is than any piece of expository dialogue ever could. Likewise, we learn far more about Valentine by the questions she asks and the internal monologue about the deeper meaning behind each question than we do by her conversation with her editor.

Bottom Line: If this first issue is any indication, Deathbed will be one heck of a read.

9/10

Deathbed #1 releases February 21, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.