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By Derek Mainhart

Welcome to The Best Comics You’re Not Reading, where we highlight some books that are deserving of your attention. This week we dare to enter…Vault Comics.

Revisionist Victorian ghost stories, punk rock apocalypses, explorations of literary dream realms; in the 1980’s and 90’s, such was the dominion of Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, founded by legendary comics editor Karen Berger. Their unique, sophisticated blend of horror and experimentation, fantasy and commentary, set a new standard of storytelling in comics. Then, in the 21st century, the rest of the comics world caught up. The boundaries Vertigo broke were explored and integrated into all manner of comics and publishers, for both good and ill. But since its demise, no other publisher has captured that rarified air of Vertigo in its heyday.

Until (perhaps) now.

Vault, with its stable of titles featuring boundary-pushing work by top-tier creative teams, is doing a better job at occupying the space formerly occupied by Vertigo than anyone around. To wit:

Radio Apocalypse

Anyone tuned in to the comics scene knows that you should be picking up anything Ram V has been laying down. His book The Many Deaths of Laila Starr (published by BOOM! Studios) was the best comic of last year.

Add this track to the hit list. Yes it’s the Apocalypse (that played out genre), but the emphasis is on the Radio. Here, it’s the only thing keeping what’s left of humanity together. And humanity is in some Dire Straits (musical pun intended), what with ecological devastation, dwindling resources and refugee crises among the pressing issues cast into sharp relief. But music lives on, and its power helps what’s left of the population not just to scratch for survival, but remember, even in bleak circumstance, to live.

It’s a bit as if Mad Max had been directed by Cameron Crowe. And the art by Anand RK absolutely shreds; a little Chris Bacchalo punk, a bit of Sanford Greene funk, with some psychedelic flair added by colorist Anisha.

All this and Springsteen? I’m down.

Dark Interlude

Imagine the precocious literary tapestry weaving of Neil Gaiman, mixed with the meta-gamesmanship of Grant Morrison, add a healthy does of caustic wit, and you might get something approximating Dark Interlude.

Henry, Henry, a most unreliable narrator (and a would-be writer himself) previously introduced us to an allegorical literary dimension called the Fearscape (in the eponymous first volume of the series), even as he tried to corrupt it for his own petty ends. In this sequel, he further implicates the reader, as he again offers commentary on the nefarious goings on, as they are occurring. In this case, the offending literary trope is the concept of sequels, which Henry vehemently argues against, even as we are reading one.

(The lettering, credited to Andworld Design, cleverly abets the meta fun)

Too much you say? Gloriously so. The joy of reading this book is reveling in Ryan O’Sullivan’s purposely overwrought, beautifully hilarious use of language, as we quaff his heady brew of satire and allegory.

 This is paired perfectly with the pleasure of savoring Andrea Mutti’s atmospheric artwork, especially suffused in Vladimir Popov’s misty hues. 

A puzzle for the mind, a feast for the eyes and a tickle for the funny bone.

The Rush

Western stoicism meets eldritch horror in Si Spurrier’s latest; a tale of one woman’s quest into the unknown. Set during the Gold Rush, a desperate mother braves that fabled, desolate frontier in search of her missing son. There, she discovers a land beset by greed, obsession and….something darker. The evocative period narration (told via the mother’s letters to her son) perfectly sets the tone, as her indefatigable nature comes up against forces that are increasingly unfathomable. (Fans of Tom King’s and Bilquis Evely’s recent Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow – also one of last year’s best – would do well to check this out). Spurrier seems to be forgoing the ornate world-building and narrative metaphor he’s explored elsewhere, instead offering something more focused and intense, heightening the claustrophobic paranoia of the story nicely.

Nathan Gooden’s remarkable artwork seamlessly balances the stark western and visceral horror elements, accentuated by Addison Duke’s refined palette, alternating from pale blues and sepias to spasms of crimson violence.

Unlike what most prospectors found in their ill-fated pans, this comic is pure gold.

Vertigo may be long gone. But luckily for you, the discerning comics reader, the Vault is open.