Monday, August 24, 2009

Exfanding Review: Vertigo Crime

Last week, I talked about my excitement regarding the newly released Vertigo Crime imprint from DC Comics. Well, the first two books of that imprint hit shelves last week, and I had the chance to read both of them over the weekend.

The two titles were Filthy Rich, written by Brian Azzarello and with art by Victor Santos, and Dark Entries, a John Constantine (Hellblazer) story written by noted crime novelist Ian Rankin and illustrated by Werther Dell'Edera.

Filthy Rich coverNow, Vertigo has been pushing this line for many months now, and their PR department certainly managed to raise the bar high in terms of expectations. In comics, hype must always be taken with (more than) a grain of salt, though, so I tried to go into my reading with a level head.

I couldn't.

The hype was just too much, and I honestly went in expecting something revolutionary. Something that would hook non-comics readers into our little world. Something that would POP out on the bookshelves at Borders or Barnes & Noble, and catch the attention of a college kid. Or a thirty-something crime fiction/noir fan.

So, what did we end up with?

Quality stories, for sure. And I found the art, while maybe not up to the standards of many mainstream fans, definitely serviceable. Both artists are European, and they bring a shadowy, dark style appropriate to each book. I guess the question I have is, why not go with a well-known DC artist (Marcelo Frusin for the Constantine story, for example)?

Still, the art was fine, and the stories were entertaining enough. BUT.

The books are much smaller than your average floppy comics/trade paperback, as they are a little larger than the typical Manga collection. Why did Vertigo decide to go in this direction? Probably because, spine-out on a bookstore shelf, these kinda look like "real" books.

But not exactly.

And I found that pretty strange. Also, the paper quality isn't great. It's not Manga, newspaper-quality thin, but it's pretty darn close. But Manga doesn't cost twenty dollars. The hardcovers were very nice, and fancy, but this was another case of "great expectations leading to little disappointments," as the outer quality of the cover belied the inner quality of the paper.

Yes, fine, these books both clocked in at around 200 pages, but most trade collections at least come close to that number, especially Vertigo trades, and those books rarely see a twenty dollar price tag.

So the consumer (me!) was paying for a big name creator, a pretty cover, and a ball of hype.

Unfortunately, I think the whole, newly-branded Crime imprint hurt the possible acclaim these books might have received had they been issued as normal-sized trades. Because, as I said, both stories were well-crafted, top quality tales from the best possible writers.

In the case of Dark Entries, what we got was a classic, late-80's type John Constantine tale, and Filthy Rich was everything you'd expect from Azz--hard boiled plot, lightning fast pacing, cool, hip dialogue, and a couple of twists and turns along the way.

Dark Entries coverBut I don't want this "review" to be about the stories. And I know that sounds pretty stupid. But hear me out. I want to review the form, the package, these stories came in.

Because, certainly, Vertigo was hoping that these books would be cross-market sellers. But all I kept thinking as I read either title was, boy I wish this were comics-sized.

Now, I have to admit, when I first picked up the books at my LCS, I went, "Oh, this is kinda cool." But as I started reading (both books in one sitting, mind you), I kept getting annoyed at the small size of the books.

Comics are big, and they are the anti-novel. What I mean is, comics are big because we need to be able to see (and appreciate) the art.

This small size screams marketing ploy to me.

You know, the whole, "Hey, cool twenty-something! Look! This isn't really a comic! It's a book! You can read it on the train and not feel ashamed!"

So, we're now trying to get more people into comics by tricking them into reading something that doesn't look like a comic? Grr.

This is probably the strangest review I'll ever write, because I liked both stories, but hated the packaging. Maybe I'm wrong, and this is the new wave of comics.

I don't think I'm wrong, though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are wrong though.

There have been comics in numerous sizes since forever.