Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Marvel's Vertigo: A Look At Jason Aaron's GHOST RIDER & SCALPED

I consider Jason Aaron on GHOST RIDER to be very significant. GHOST RIDER #20 was the first Marvel comic I read in a long time that I could say felt truly like a Vertigo title. It took what was a quintessential Marvel character and successfully gave it a Vertigo sheen.

To be fair, this feat was pulled off with ample assistance by artist Roland Boschi, whose art style looks like the love-child of John Romita Jr. and Eduardo Risso, and the moody palette of Dan Brown.

I remember reading a Marvel MAX giveaway comic some months ago that provided previews of their upcoming publishing schedule. This included books like FOOLKILLER, PUNISHER, and DEAD OF NIGHT. It was clear to me then that there was some sort of concerted effort to give this line a more "Vertigo Classic" focus. While GHOST RIDER is not a MAX title, I would fit the effort within the same publishing plan.

Part of this Vertigoization is in the lack of tie-ins to the current continuity; no crossovers with Spider-Man, no Wolverine. GHOST RIDER #20, dealing with the ramifications of the character's discovery that he is an "angel," is very much in its own contained world. In such a world containing heavenly creatures that might very well be evil, killer nurses, and the usual sort of semi-zombie backwater folk that pounce on unwary tourists, the mention of "who's the Skrull?" would seem rather gauche.

Looking back to the first collected volume of Aaron's breakout hit SCALPED, we get a gritty crime drama which I would hate to peg as "The Sopranos On An Indian Reservation," but I think I'm going to have to. The gripping story revolves around three central characters: Prodigal son Dashiell Bad Horse, his activist mom Gina, and Tribal Leader/crime boss Lincoln Red Crow. The story is relentlessly violent and sordid, with just the right amount of poetic moments to let the narrative breathe.

A word about the oft-lamented "Vertigo Brown" color treatment that has afflicted many of their titles: it might look good on the computer screen or high-grade paper. But on the cheaper newsprinty paper used for the Vertigo trades, the color turns into muddy soup. Something to keep in mind.

As for writer Aaron's claim on a message board that he would refund anybody who bought the first SCALPED trade and didn't like it, I would have to say that the book is at least worth the $9.99 cover price. It is, as they say, Quality.

Looking at the big picture as it pertains to a possible Vertigoization of certain Marvel titles -- I am all for it. There is no reason why GHOST RIDER cannot be as good a book as PREACHER. There is no reason for titles like THE PUNISHER not to be in perpetual trade-paperback heaven, forever young in backlist. But this will mean, as in the case of actual classic Vertigo, a minimum of forced crossovers with Marvel U proper. Spider-Man's striped pajamas are an incongruent spectre in such a universe, except for the occasional Irony issue.

As for Jason Aaron's exclusive with Marvel -- how did DC let this one go? Did they even make an attempt to offer him a mainstream DCU title on GHOST RIDER's level? Or is it, as in the case of Dan Slott several years ago, DC not thinking outside the box enough to visualize what heights these unique voices might reach?


  1. Yeah, Aaron at Marvel had me shaking my head. But Ghost Rider's good? It's not a title I've ever been likely to pick up.. but I'll check it out on Wednesday.

  2. Love Scalped. I try to pass the book on to anyone willing to read it. Fantastic series.

    Ghost Rider, I couldn't care less about. There is nothing I find interesting about Ghost Rider.

    Think Aaron is writing Wolverine. Which I heard good things about. But again, anything with Wolverine or the X-men in it is a complete turn off to me. :|

  3. Agreed that DC massively screwed the pooch letting Aaron get away. (Or at least it looks that way - maybe they offered him a truckload of $ but Marvel offered 2 truckloads.)

  4. This is the second strong Ghost Rider #20 recommendation I've read. I'll have to pick it up.

  5. All reports are that Marvel offered a better financial option than DC. I don't think Ghost Rider is as free as continuity as you liken it here. It makes note of Messiah Complex and World War Hulk. Future solicits contain promises of Old characters returning.

  6. Jason Aaron has become one of the few writers who are my 'always buy' guys since issue #1 of what I feel is an overlooked series, THE OTHER SIDE (with great artwork by Cameron Stewart). SCALPED is amazing and more than worth anyone's time and money. Is it too soon to call SCALPED the heir apparent in the tradition of SANDMAN, PREACHER, Y THE LAST MAN, and the soon to end 100 BULLETTS, one of Vertigo's lynchpin series?

  7. I actually thing Ghost Rider currently is a lot of fun! It isn't "great," but it is a good old fashioned comic book story.

  8. Glad you're liking both books, Valerie. I must admit, I'm not consciously trying to make GHOST RIDER more like a Vertigo title. I'm just writing it like a 1970s exploitation flick. Rough and wild and over-the-top.

  9. I just read the 1st trade of scalped this weekend and it was quite enjoyable. The Other Side was amazing though. Extremely under rated.

    DC was silly to let Aaron go, but maybe he is more comfortable with the Marvel characters and saw it as a better place to grow as a writer.

    The whole Ghost Rider thing makes me sad, as I can see nothing on earth that would get me to pick up a Ghost Rider book.

    They should give him Cloak and Dagger and let him Vertigoize that though. So much potential.....

  10. In re: Marvel's current MAX offerings:

    I'm always reluctant to recommend it, because it is so dark and so relentlessly devoid of the spark of hope, but Garth Ennis is doing the best work of his career on Punisher right now.

    There was a page transition in the most recent issue (the concluding part of "Long Cold Dark", the climactic storyarc of his long run) that actually made me gasp out loud. In public.

    It's over the top--it has a body count that would choke Kill Bill--but it has a relentless internal logic that carries it past "superhero", past "crime comic", into "monster horror". I'll be so sad when it's over.

  11. I have to third that strong recommendation for GHOST RIDER under Aaron's pen. It was an impressive job from first page till last. GR can fire on all eight cylinders: who knew? (I've enjoyed past, waaay past incarnations, but not on this level).

    I also wanted to rave about THE OTHER SIDE: an amazing, unique POV into the Viet Nam war. And illo'ed by Cameron Stewart. Was it Eisner nominated? Surely it must have been...

    Funny that PUNISHER was mentioned. That's another character who I thought I would likely never be interested in, but I kept reading reviews from folk's whose oppinions I respected (Jog is one I can r ecall) so I checked it out. I am glad I did. Ennis' MAX run has been really well-crafted and intense. MOTHER RUSSIA (trade 2 or 3) kicks the *** of most action and suspense movies.