Vertigo miniseries tour Part 32: American Splendor Vol. 2; Army @ Love: The Art of War; Greatest Hits

American Splendor 2American Splendor Vol. 2 (I’ve sometimes seen it titled “Season Two,” although that doesn’t appear anywhere on the printed comic) was the second Vertigo series of Harvey Pekar’s perennial series of slice-of-life stories. Still in glorious black and white, and still featuring a wide variety of artists. One thing I noticed while reading this set is that they are actually presented in a deluxe format. Despite the low-budget impression made by the lack of color, each issue contains 31 pages of story, and there are no interior ads (not even in-house ones). Rick Geary returns to illustrate two stories, along with Darwyn Cooke, Sean Murphy, David Lapham, Ed Piskor, Darick Robertson, and many others. The fourth issue contains an interesting format experiment: “Free Association” is made up of a chain of stories, all of them related to a series of thoughts and events related in the Introduction. Several other stories in this miniseries are related to each other as well: the repercussions of a recent fall Harvey took off his front porch forms an especially important narrative thread. And there’s also a bit of the meta-fiction Pekar sometimes employs, in the form of the one-page story “Team Player,” which is a story about Harvey providing an unexpected one-page story to fill out Issue Two. As a jazz musician and fan I’ve always enjoyed the stories about Pekar’s love of jazz, and Issue Three includes a long piece called “Bop Philosophy” (in which Harvey debates the role of innovation with a jazz musician). These stories were collected in the collection Another Dollar, following the first miniseries collection Another Day.

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Army love 2My Vertigo miniseries rereading has gotten me to another title I never read in the first place: Rick Veitch’s Army @ Love: The Art of War, the 2008 six issue sequel to the 12-issue maxiseries (which was originally announced as an ongoing, I think). I bought the two TPBs of the first series and liked it well enough to wait for this one to be collected. Which never happened! Vertigo has collected most things in recent years, but there are exceptions, as I discovered when I checked a chronological list.

Veitch and inker Gary Erskine had a lot of fun with the covers, playing on the word “art” in the subtitle. They are almost all parodies of famous paintings:

Issue 1: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)
Issue 2: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks
Issue 3: Édouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass
Issue 4: James Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, also called Portrait of the Artist’s Mother [Whistler’s Mother]
Issue 5: Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of George Washington [Portrait of George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait)]
Issue 6: This last one isn’t a painting at all — as Rick Veitch explained in an email: “It was based on a photo from the Abu Ghraib torture sessions.  The joke was turning that into a paint-by-numbers set after the previous run of great masterpiece satires.”

Click here to see my  side-by-side comparison of the covers and the sources in PDF.

There is a discussion of the covers here.

The Vertigo solicitations for the series again described it as Season Two (the formal indica says V.2). Appropriate in this case, because it’s very much a continuation of the earlier series. Veitch acknowledges this in his metafictional introduction, which appears in all issues except the last. He is being tortured in Gonlocomo Bay, Cuba, pressed to reveal how he knows so much about governmental black ops research and development. In the first issue he gives a detailed summary of the large cast and their convoluted relationships. It would be a daunting task to remember it all, but the story provides lots of contextual reminders. I certainly don’t recommend reading The Art of War without reading the previous issues first.

The action continues from where it left off, although this time we’re  seeing the fallout from previous events: there’s very little actual battle shown. The settings are mainly Outer Mongrolia and Afbaghistan, along with exotic locales like Switzerland and New Jersey. As the cast copes with the situation, the messages from the future (which Veitch called Temporal Signaling) become increasingly important. They culminate in the revelation of the existence of a multitude of pocket universes, all a copy of the actual universe. From here the story goes even further into Grant Morrison territory, as the quantum computer Big Finger finds a way to manifest itself physically (through magic, of course). This makes for a huge–and completely unexpected–conclusion. It’s a shame that many readers of the first series passed on this one, expecting more of the same war satire. You get that, but it also goes to a completely new place.

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Greatest HitsI remember anxiously awaiting the collection of Greatest Hits when Vertigo published the mini in 2008 – 2009. A group of superheroes modelled on the Beatles, created by David Tischman and Glenn Fabry: what could possibly go wrong? Then after months of not seeing a solicitation for the collection, I completely forgot about it. After reading it in single issue form I’m still wondering why there was no trade paperback.

The series opens with a 1967 TV news story, which serves as an introduction to the super team (the first description is “team of costumed heroes”) The Mates: Crusader (super strength and invulnerability); Vizier (a Celtic priest with magical powers); The Solicitor (strategist and Olympic-level boxer); and Zipper (super speed). The scene shifts to 2008, with writer/director Nick Mansfield. His career is stalled, but he will be convinced to work on a documentary about The Mates. This framing story (and the issues he has with his journalist father, who worked with the group) winds up playing a significant role in the series, even arguably representing the central focus.

The biggest moment for The Mates came when they flew into space to turn back an alien invasion. The whole episode is supposedly on videotape, but Nick and his partner Ethel discover that there is missing footage. Their investigation leads nowhere, until Vizier appears and takes them back in time to witness the event. What they see transforms Nick’s image of his father, although they don’t get any footage they can use in the movie. The stories of The Mates after the group disbands are mostly cautionary tales, but they are more about life and the negative effects of celebrity than commentaries on superheroes.

The series ends with the successful premier of the documentary. Nick returns to the path of writing material true to himself, rather than chasing after commercial success. It really was his story, after all.

With Greatest Hits Tischman and Fabry return to the “superheroes in the real world” genre so powerfully rendered by Watchmen. They certainly updated it–the “bed-in” that Solicitor and Soul Sister stage is based in the one done by John Lennon and Yoko Ono–but the template is clear. That extends to the plot line about deep, dark team secrets. Possibly labelling the series “The Greatest Rock N’ Roll Heroes of the ’60s!” was too much like deceptive advertising. It implies that the story was about rock stars as superheroes, when it was really about superheroes with the social status of rock stars. Fabry is not known for his interior artwork, and in fact Gary Erskine was added as inker starting with the fourth issue. But the comic maintained its striking visual appearance.

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About marksullivan5

Librarian, Jazz musician, comic book fan
This entry was posted in miniseries, Vertigo comics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Vertigo miniseries tour Part 32: American Splendor Vol. 2; Army @ Love: The Art of War; Greatest Hits

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