I’ve really been looking forward to Vertigo Crime. See, even though I’ve never read 100 Bullets, which I hear is the ultimate example of the genre, I love crime comics. I especially loved the recent Darwyn Cooke graphic novel from IDW, Parker: The Hunter, which put me in the mood for more new comic crime fiction.
DC’s Vertigo Crime line is, well, exactly like it sounds – a line of crime graphic novels released by DC’s mature readers imprint, Vertigo. The line began last week with the release of two books, Filthy Rich (Written by Brian Azzarello; Art by Victor Santos) and Dark Entries (Written by Ian Rankin; Art by Werther Dell’Edera). I wanted to pick up both, but decided to go ahead and just start with Dark Entries, since it had the plot line that most intrigued me:
Occult detective John Constantine has seen his share of strange things in his career, but nothing could prepare him for the horrors of…reality television. “Haunted Mansion” is currently the hottest show on tv, but when the macabre house actually starts attacking the contestants, Constantine is hired to be the ultimate mole. Locked inside with a cast of wannabe-celebrities, his every move being monitored by a deadly figure from his past, Constantine must figure out who (or what) is pulling the strings before he gets cancelled—permanently.
Before I go into spoiler territory, if you want to know the long and short of it – when it comes to a good mystery, the story is made or broken by the twist. You can enjoy the journey as much as you want, but if the twist upon which the story rests isn’t worth the journey, then the story just isn’t worth it. I can name dozens of movies off the top of my head where the twist wasn’t worth the journey, my primary example being Identity starring John Cusack. Absolutely LOVED the first half of that film, but when the twist is revealed, it killed the entire thing for me. Dark Entries does the same thing. Spoilers after the jump.
So the first thing you may have noticed is that this initial entry into the Vertigo Crime line actually stars an existing Vertigo character, John Constantine (closer the comic, and much more Brit than Keanu Reeves if you only know the character from the movie). I think the fact that the book starred a supernatural detective and obviously dealt with the supernatural is what intrigued me to it over Filthy Rich, the other book released on the same day. The one thing I love more than crime fiction is supernatural crime fiction – characters like John Constantine (when written correctly) and Cal McDonald just can’t be beat in my book.
Starting off with what I loved about the book – the format. Much like Cooke’s The Hunter, this book looks like it belongs on your bookshelf, not in your longboxes. The cover (above) is striking, and the book is in a smaller-than-graphic-novel format that’ll make it just fine sitting next to your hardcover crime fiction novels.
The art in the book, especially the first half, by Werther Dell’Edera, is very good. It’s a little scratchy/sketchy, but it works in the context of the book, especially the quieter scenes. I think Dell’Edera’s work is definitely suited to crime comics. However, in the second half of the book, when the twist occurs, his art just goes a little too off the wall, to the point that some panels I just wasn’t sure what he was even drawing.
Which brings us to that second half of the book (the book makes it a little too obvious where the twist is by switching the page borders from white to black – you can see where the twist is just by looking at it!). Everything about the first half of the book worked for me – John Constantine was delightfully bitter, the characters were interesting, the art was great, the dread was building … and then the twist happens, and it ruins it.
So…this haunted house game show that John Constantine has been roped into appearing on is actually being filmed in Hell. Yup, seriously. The show runners are all demons and the contestants are all ghosts who were plucked from limbo, with the prize being a chance to get back there, instead of staying in The Pit. I wouldn’t have minded the twist so much had the tone of the book not shifted so much. The art style is different, there’s way more humor, with the demons in hell watching the show on TV, but not being allowed to enjoy it. You see the Devil watching TV in his throne room … it’s just such a huge tonal shift in what we had come to expect in the first half of the book that it took me out of the story entirely.
I don’t think all aspects of the twist were a bad idea – I like the idea of demons running the show, I like the idea of the contestants being dead. I think where my main issue lies is in setting the final half of the story in Hell. It just seemed way too over the top, with giant Hell TV’s broadcasting the show, and demons storming the house for a chance to get out of Hell…overall, it just didn’t work for me. Which is a huge disappointment – I’ve been looking forward to this book for quite some time, and chose it over Filthy Rich, which is written by Brian Azzarello, who I am a fan of.
I don’t think the fault lies entirely in art or writing on this one, but in both, and in the way this book was marketed. When I hear Vertigo Crime, I expect to see things like 100 Bullets (which was part of the Vertigo Crime sampler book released recently) – heavy hitting, adult, crime fiction. This book just went way outside of the “crime fiction” genre, to the point that it didn’t even feel like a crime comic to me. I expected a supernatural aspect, but not this much of a supernatural aspect.
I hate to say it, but skip it. I’ll check in with my review of Filthy Rich next week!
Check out a preview of the Dark Entries here!