Sunday, 8 May 2011


5. Invincible Volume 14: The Viltrumite War. Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Ryan Ottley. Image Comics. Paperback, collects Invincible 71-78.

Invincible is probably just about, in a close-run fight, my favourite solo superhero title. Gail Simone's Secret Six group book beats it overall.

When it started, 15 year old Mark lived happily with his mom and Science Fiction writer dad. Except that Dad turned out to be Omniman, the world's strongest superhero and member of the Guardians of the Globe, and Mark is just beginning to develop super powers of his own. He's just getting warmed up when Omniman kills the Guardians and is revealed as an alien, a Viltrumite, who is preparing for the conquest of Earth. After beating his son to a pulp, he heads off into deep space.

For the next few years (this is almost set in real time), Mark as Invincible learns his trade as a superhero, gets a girlfriend, loses his virginity, becomes established in Image Comics superhero universe, develops relationships, realises that his friend Atom Eve is the girl of his dreams, survives encounters with other Viltrumites and finally the stage is set for the Viltrumite War.

Despite their near-Superman power levels, the Viltrumite population has declined rapidly and their interstellar empire is vulnerable to a coalition of their enemies. The coalition, however, needs Invincible (now nearly the equal of his father), a reformed Omniman, their friend the one-eyed Allen the Alien, and Mark's young half-brother by his father with an alien humanoid insectile princess (it's a long story, okay?).

So basically what you've got is an epic interstellar superpower war.
Did I mention that it's extremely violent at times? The series started out as what appeared to be a rather sweet son of Superman sort of thing but, despite the clear exaggerated style quickly became dark in tone while still managing humorous touches.
Obviously this isn't the place to start, which is with Volume 1, but it's a terrific payoff for fans of Invincible who've following this series from the beginning. The twist at the end is completely unexpected. I'm also really looking forward to the next one as when Invincible left Earth at the beginning, he didn't know his girlfriend was pregnant. Now it's ten months later.

6. American Vampire Volume 1. Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque. Vertigo. Hardback, collects issues 1-5 of the ongoing series.

And now for something completely different.

Each chapter is divided into two parts of 16 pages each. The first is set in Hollywood in 1925 and is written by Scott Snyder, the creator of the series. The second is set in Wild West and is the origin story of Skinner Sweet, the American Vampire of the title, and is written by Stephen King. Vertigo is the mature readers imprint of DC Comics and has done much to raise the standards of comic books and the idea of what they can do. Gaiman's Sandman was published by Vertigo to give just the most famous example.

The premise is that European vampires have moved to the USA and expanded into legitimate business enterprises such as movies. Not long after their arrival, they hunted down the outlaw Skinner Sweet who been robbing their banks. Sweet is not a nice person. He is a brutal killer with no qualms about letting his men commit rape during the course of their robberies. He is caught, accidentally vampirised and buried for over 20 years.

In the main story, Sweet appears to have mellowed slightly and is first seen flirting with two movie extras. when one of them, Pearl, is attacked by vampires at a Hollywood party, he vampirises her, gives her some basic information and sets her loose on them (they're old enemies).  The twist is that Sweet and now Pearl are a new breed of vampire, able to walk in daylight. It's also made clear that this series will span the next few decades of the 20th century.

This is not superhero stuff and a long way from it, a long way from the fun fantasy violence. It is crude and brutal with an appropriately edgy but highly skilled art style to match. There is a lot of story contained in these five issues making it a dense read which repays rereading. I'd been putting off buying this, despite the many good reviews which suggest it's joining the ranks of Vertigo's best titles, and now I wonder why. This is really very impressive.

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