Sunday, September 3, 2017

Vermillion issue 8

'Vermillion' issue 8
Written by Lucius Shepard, art by John Totleben
DC / Helix, May 1997

Lucius Shepard (1943 - 2014) was one of the 'first generation' cyberpunk authors. His first novel, Green Eyes, debuted in 1984 as one of the inaugural Ace Science Fiction Specials. In 1986 his novella R & R won a Nebula Award, and the novel derived from it, Life in Wartime, received much critical praise.

Shepard's prose then turned increasingly towards magic realism and fantasy topics, as showcased in the 1988 anthology The Jaguar Hunter.

In 1996 DC comics launched its 'Helix' line of sci-fi comics, and Shepard contributed the twelve-issue series Vermillion, which ran from October 1996 to September 1997.

'Vermillion' is set in the far future, when the eponymous city occupies the entire Universe. The lead character is a man named Jonathan Cave, who, even while stricken with deep anomie, bouts of self-loathing, and existential despair, acts to preserve the city and its culture from the machinations of a race of malevolent aliens, the Ilumi' nati, who disguise themselves as humans while roaming about the world.

I'll post an overview of the 'Vermillion' series in the near future. But issue 8 was a standalone title, meant as an interlude between the series' two major story arcs. It gives a good sense of Shepard's approach to writing for a comic book. In this issue Jonathan Cave, drunk and consumed with self-pity, takes a tour of the city, in the company of his mute girlfriend Sylvia.

While Shepard's writing does at times become pretentious and a bit overwrought, what saves issue eight is the exceptional artwork by John Totleben, who gained fame in the 80s as an artist on Swamp Thing

Totleben's rendering of the streets and landscapes of Vermillion, with a somber, autumnal color scheme contributed by Angus McKie (himself a noted artist) gives the creepy, phantasmagorical adventures of Jonathan Cave an atmospheric quality that is rarely seen in most comic books nowadays..........    

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