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Abhay Likes Sean Phillips’s Covers for Vinyl Underground, But…

Abhay Khosla

This is a negative review of Vinyl Underground #1, a new “ongoing” series from DC Vertigo:

Why does DC-Vertigo think that I give a flying fuck about London? Does London have New York City in it somewhere? No? Then, I don’t really care about London. Right this second, you have a plane ticket to anywhere: would you really go to London? It’s not even near my Top 5, and I have family there. Madrid. Rome. Lisbon. Reykjavik. Svenborgia. Athens. Amsterdam– does London have hash bars? No? See you in Amsterdam, boring Vertigo comic. And that’s just Western Europe!

Vinyl Underground #1 pretends to be about London so– just on some fundamental level, I’m not really sympathetic with the series’ stated goals.

Add in that it’s not really about London much at all, at least in the first issue– like most comics, it’s just sort of about bullshit. The premise of this comic: there’s a bunch of crappy characters; they have to solve some crappy mystery; that’s it. Ho hum: it’s not really about anything.

The only thing you really learn about London is that apparently some people there do a legal drug called “Khat.” That’s really the only information that’s conveyed. No one really talks about the city or its history. You don’t find out good places to hang out. You don’t really find out about interesting neighborhoods or trends or bars. Or why London’s important, or why it matters, or why you should care about it.

Also: a comic about London and you can’t squeeze a single Pakistani or Indian person in there anywhere? Really? It’s a Vertigo comic—if there’s one thing I know about Vertigo, I know for a 100% certainty that the colorist didn’t run out of brown.

Craftwise, let me ask you a question: how excited can you get by a comic that looks like this? Which isn’t to say it’s ugly: I like Simon Gane’s pencils; I like Cameron Stewart’s inks; I like Guy Major’s colors. Man, those are three talented dudes. But presentation-wise, this basically looks like a Batman comic. So look: why shouldn’t I just read Batman instead? How important do you think it is for a non-mainstream comic to distinguish itself visually from a mainstream comic? It’s nice, but there’s nothing that signals this as special or unique. It’s nice but it’s not… more. It’s just business as usual. If you’re Joe Comic Reader, why get this when you can get something that looks like this, and reads like this, but has some cool character in it you already know and like? Game, Set and Match: the Batman.

Characterwise, the book unfortunately reminds me of American Virgin, a hideously written Vertigo comic with some very nice art that was canceled just recently. In the few issues I read (I gave up after #3 or #4 after sticking around out of morbid curiosity), the lead character was wildly fucking abrasive; he just seemed fake. I couldn’t imagine people would want to come back and read about such a thoroughly phony and unpleasant main character month after month.

This comic…

One character’s a convicted sex offender because he set up a “bogus kiddie porn” website to entrap pedophiles– but he went to jail because he’d “spent all the punters’ money.” At the risk of looking stupid on a comic book review blog: why does that mean he’s a sex offender? If the website were bogus, wouldn’t that have meant that at most he committed fraud? I’m not sure but: DC either publishes the heroic adventure of a character who went to jail for trafficking in child pornography, or they publish a comic about a guy who didn’t traffic in kiddie-porn but was a registered sex offender anyway because…? Either way…

Another character’s a “nymphomaniac virgin” who is “the only on-line porn star who never goes all the way.” Which, uhm, is wrong: there are any number of online porn stars who don’t go all the way. There’s softcore or semi-softcore websites where the appeal of the girls to their audience is plainly that they haven’t been in hardcore scenes. It’s porn– there’s no “only” anything; no matter what you want, there’s a half-dozen websites for it. Why doesn’t the writer know that? Is that supposed to be funny? It’s just wrong. It’s factually inconsistent with how I understand the world to work. It’s meaningless.

Blah blah blah, there’s the leader (he’s had sex!), the useless girl (he’s a psychic, but he has seizures), the hothead (she’s black so that means she’s sassy!), and the muscle (the virgin girl who does porn also enjoys violence!). So, the useless girl in this comic is a boy, while the muscle in this comic is a girl. Pretty daring stuff.

None of them say anything funny or interesting or intelligent. A dull “sex scene” aside, none of them seem to like each other very much, or really be friends in any noticeable way. What’s supposed to bring people back for #2? What makes them worth your time or attention? Who is this comic for?

Then there’s a scene where the young white girl tries to buy drugs and is almost raped at knifepoint by two black drug dealers and a token white character thrown in to … to, what, somehow make the scene somehow palatable to liberal sensitivities? It doesn’t really work that way. Isn’t the plain implication of a token white character in a gang of black rapists the following: “hang out with the Africans and adopt their fashions, white-boy, and you too will become subhuman”? Uhhhm: hrm.

There’s a moment in this comic where there’s a news headline that says “Going Straight After 18 Months” at the bottom of the page. Besides that a caption that says “hang on a second though.. let’s rewind for the true and secret story…” The next page starts: “Morrison Shepherd, broken down and broken-hearted drug-and-drink-free for twenty-eight months and counting.” My question is this: does rewind mean something different in London than it does over here? Like the way “fags” over here means “cigarettes” over there, or “homosexuals” over here means “coffee cakes” over there. What does “rewind” mean?

Oh yeah: there’s some bullshit about psychic powers and the occult. I don’t know why the real world is so fucking studiously avoided by comic book writers, as I tend to think it’s a rather lovely place to live– but for those of you looking for a comic about psychic powers and magical pixie dust sprinkled on ha-has and unicorns scissor-fucking rainbows and whatever else fake bullshit, here’s one more for you, I guess.

What’s especially difficult is to understand how this got picked up as an ongoing series, given that Vertigo’s last dalliance with a comic about London did so badly. Did they ever collect Peter Milligan and Philip Bond’s Pop:London? I believe sales were so low that they never bothered, which is a shame as it was one of Peter Milligan’s better comics—I was and am very fond of it. That was only a few years ago and it failed spectacularly.

Did they think that sales would somehow be better with a guy who doesn’t draw as well as Phillip Bond, and a guy who doesn’t write as well as Peter Milligan so long as they kept the setting in London, a place the majority of the readership (uh: who live in the United States) doesn’t care the least bit about?

What were they even thinking?

I don’t know if I’d describe myself as an Anglophile, but I know my Charlie Brooker from my Tommy Saxondale; I know where BBC-America’s on my dial; I think Britain’s Hardest is cracking good television; and I still could give a fuck that a comic’s set in London. Is there a sizable hardcore Anglophile audience that sprang up after the failure of Pop London that I’m unaware of?

There’s a time and a place for this comic; it’s called 2000AD. We ignore that comic over here.

2 Responses to “ Abhay Likes Sean Phillips’s Covers for Vinyl Underground, But… ”

  1. […] and Abhay was right about Vinyl Underground — #2 is all incoherent exposition, no movement, no appeal. Similar […]

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