Robot reviews: Two from Vertigo

Air Vol. 2: Flying Machine by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. PerkerVertigo, $12.99

The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identityby Mike Carey and Peter GrossVertigo, 144 pages, $9.99

I hate to say it, but I remain thoroughly disappointed in Vertigo. What was once an interesting, thriving imprint has become a rote factory, printing out dull comics that follow a strict formula. To wit: A young, thoroughly average, completely naive white (usually) male (usually) is indoctrinated (or thrown) into a magical world of mystery (or catastrophe) and conspiracy that alters their entire preconceived notions about themselves and the world they know. Seemingly every title in the past decade or so has taken this story path -- from American Virgin to Y: The Last Man. If you take away the supernatural elements, even DMZ's initial arc fits the pattern. As a result, even the more interesting or idiosyncratic titles have a stale familiarity about them.

This is a ridiculously broad statement, of course. There have been a number of new series from the line in the past few years that seem to be trying to break with that tried-and-true formula -- Fables and Scalped being two of the more obvious examples (though one could argue that some of these merely put aside one set of cliches for another). Despite this, however, Vertigo seems determined to cling to its tried-and-true formula, with only superficial changes in the material.

Case in point: Air, the relatively new ongoing monthly from G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker. I wasn't terribly impressed with this comic upon reading the first issue many moons ago, and I honestly can't say that my opinion has changed all that much upon reading the second collection.

I suppose part of that may be due to the fact that there's a gap in my reading, since I missed issues 2-4 and now have to play plot catch-up. I don't think so, though. Like I hinted at earlier, part of the problem with Air is, despite all its considerable attempts to offer metaphysical wonders and odd plot twists (Amelia Earhart flew magic planes! And she's still alive!) the basic structure feels very formulaic and familiar, in the manner of a mid-level CBS drama. Writer Wilson's attempts at profundity ring false as well. And while Perker seems to have taken a bit more care and detail in his panels (hey look, backgrounds!) I still find his lanky-limbed characters with their odd cross-hatched shading off-putting.

No, Air to me seems too emblematic of what's wrong with the imprint these days. If I wanted to drum up some hope for Vertigo, I initially looked to The Unwritten, Mike Carey and Peter Gross' new series about the son of a famous children's author who slowly discovers he may have more in common with the fictional characters his father created than he'd like.

I enjoyed the first issue and was looking forward to reading more. But after finishing the first trade collection, Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, I feel frustrated and disappointed. So far all the series seems good at is running in place. Five chapters in and everything still seems to be stuck in first gear.

Mind you, it's not that I want all the major plot points to be revealed right away. But I do want to feel like there's some sort of progression. By the end of the book, Tommy is just as petulant and in the dark as he was in the beginning, and all his dithering around, asking questions felt just like that -- dithering. Oh, menace is hinted at and mysteries are suggested, but I really need more than the old "stories are important" saw to hold up my flagging interest. Carey and Gross try to liven things up with the old "serial killer in the house picking off folks one by one" bit, but they're completely unable to generate any tension or horror out of the scenario.

All the material is in place for The Unwritten to be a solid, entertaining series, possibly even one of Vertigo's flagship titles. And my hope is that once the Carey and Gross get to their eventual premise and central plot that will happen. But my initial enthusiasm has dampened somewhat by the creators seeming inability to build upon their promising start and attempts to draw the story out until the book becomes ... well, like a lot of other lackluster Vertigo books, quite frankly.

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