Vertigo Comics seem to always stuck in a timewarp that is eternally 1996, so every time I pick up a Vertigo comic I expect to hear Oasis on the radio, the Spice Girls on the telly and reams and reams of shite Britpop bands clogging up festivals during that odd year which was 1996.
It has of course dragged its arse out of the pained Goth/fantasy comics which it was doing far too many of in the mid to late 90’s which tended to push some of the more diverse comics it was doing out of the limelight. That said there was a certain formula for a ‘Vertigo Comic’ which tends to still mainly hold true today, which brings me to Bodies written by Si Spencer and the synopsis of which states:
VERTIGO brings you the miniseries of the summer, with four detectives, four time periods, and four dead bodies – all set in London. Edmond Hillinghead is an 1890s overachiever who’s trying to solve a murder no one cares about while hiding his own secret. Karl Whiteman is our dashing 1940s adventurer with a shocking past. Shahara Hasan is 2014’s kickass female Detective Sergeant, who walks the line between religion and power. And Maplewood, an amnesiac from post-apocalyptic 2050, brings a haunting perspective to it all.
So far so very Vertigo. London setting-check. Victorian setting-check. Kickass female-check. SF setting-check. What does make it stand out is the fact Si Spencer is writing it, and there’s an interesting selection of artists drawing it but the problem with the comic is that it starts with a battle in London’s East End between the police and what seems like Irish Unionist sympathisers or England football fans, or even the EDL but it’s a puzzling start as it’s not made obviously clear. It’s not a huge deal but it’s a bit, well, too Guardian in it’s deception of a riot and the use of the Union flag doesn’t help either.
It’s possibly a minor problem and to a lot of readers it won’t matter, but it took me out of the story from the off which isn’t good and it’s not until the story goes through its first timeshift from 2014 to 1890 that I was drawn back into it.
There’s a lot which is derivative here from the Victorian setting and the Jack the Ripper references, but here Spencer manages to get the story going as he outlines what Inspector Hillinghead has to struggle with as a Victorian detective. Spencer also sneaks in a lovely line of dialogue.
After setting up threads in the 1890 timeline the story flits to 2050 where some sort of disaster has befallen London and Maplewood, (the lead character of this timeline) is a tad forgetful.
After a brief visit to 2050, the story flits back in time to 1940 and wartime London during the Blitz as we’re introduced to Karl Whiteman who isn’t exactly your ordinary copper.
Bodies does dip into the Vertigo cliches an awful lot, plus people speak in this sub Alan Moore/Neil Gaiman/Warren Ellis way that real people don’t, but it’s a mystery that Spencer is spinning here, and he does it well, though some of the art is occasionally patchy, Spencer managers to keep the shifts in time as unjarring as possible, though I will say the 2050 segment is by far the weakest as it tries just a little too hard to paint a J.G Ballard vision of a future London.
This isn’t the best thing Vertigo has ever done, but it’s an interesting read, and I want to see where things go and how this resolves itself, even if it’s flawed. It’s that rarity for a mainstream comic in that it may have issues, but at least it’s trying and its interesting.