Vanguard… a hit and miss new anthology…

Published On September 5, 2011 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Vanguard – Issue 1

Written by Dirk Van Dom.

Art by David Blankley, Louis Carter, El Chivo, Owen Watts, Cover art by Liam Byrne.

Vanguard is a new anthology series put together and featuring four strips all written by Dirk Van Dom. Van Dom’s previously featured on the FPI blog as the writer of Icarus Dangerous in Paragon issue 7.

The 2000AD model for anthology comics is one many find appealing, especially those comic creators who’ve grown up with 2000AD. But the thing is, 2000AD comes out weekly. The short punch of a six page strip, with the next episoode a mere week away, works brilliantly well in 2000AD. But where the punch of a few pages leads to a few months or more of waiting I find the model leads to frustration more than anything else.

And Vanguard is a prime example of this. As I’ll get to in a moment, of the four strips here, there’s two I want to read more of. Except I’m aware that the second issue of Vanguard will be at least six months down the line, by which time the memory of these initial episodes will be long gone. I understand the problem of small self published comics like this, where the writer and artists are working for nothing, so it’s difficult for the writer/editor/publisher to get an artist to slave away at more than a few pages but I have to say it’s a disappointment that the strips I enjoyed are too short and there’s far too long to wait for the next instalment.

But enough of that…. the actual comic…..

Liam Bryne’s cover grew on me. Initially I didn’t care for it, but as I kept seeing it on top of the review pile I found more and more to like… colours nice and bold, all the characters present, nice composition, good, bold, striking. On reflection, I think I’m there with it.

Okay, taking the four strips in order….

(Atomic Call, written by Dirk Van Dom, art by David Blankley)

Atomic Call is a good strip, action packed, tongue enough in its cheek, a touch of the 2000AD about it, a touch of Ellis’ Global frequency – although the basic premise of a mercenary/bounty hunter with some hi-tech kit to call up whatever she requires seems ridiculously familiar. But I just can’t place it – help an old man’s memory out anyone?

There’s definitely enough in the tale to entertain, it’s well written, pushes many of the right buttons and pretty much works in creating a fun, hi-octane bit of flash bang adventure.

David Blankley’s art is figuratively strong if somewhat design poor. All the individual panels are rather nice, with some good art throughout. My problem is how he arranges the damn things on his pages – all too often my eye was fighting against his panel layout, his panel designs all too often fail to guide the eye as smoothly as they should, even if the actual work in the panels is fun and strong. You can see it on the first page above – the offset panels don’t make for a natural transition across the page… a simple mistake and one I hope Blankley works on next time, because his art’s too nice to be held back by little things like that.

(Halo and the Gryphon, written by Dirk Van Dom, art by Louis Carter – page 1, beautifully simple, almost abstracted to start with)

Halo and the Gryphon is weird. But weird in a “what the hell” sort of good weird way. This first episode intorduces the Gryphon and never gets around to Halo till the very end.┬áBut just the Gryphon was weirdly interesting enough.

We’re on some alien planet or other, where Gryphons fly, but never too far for fear of the Heartlings (whatever they are). One young Gryphon decides to go exploring, on the hunt for something that’s seen crashing down on that first page above. In doing so he finds himself in a whole mess of trouble and runs into someone or something very nasty that wants the Gryphon to get its Halo back.

The art by Louis Carter starts out so strongly, that very first page above of really nice, almost abstracted shapes as the Halo makes planetfall. But after it gets too damn busy, panels just so full of detail, with everything a mass of lines and shading. It’s not bad, not at all, but if it were stripped back just a little, to what we saw on the opening couple of pages it would be so much better. But the potential here is huge.

(Halo and the Gryphon, by Dirk Van Dom and art by Louis Carter…. Too. Many. Lines)

After two adventure fantasy strips, the single pager Tucker’s Romantic Escapes is obviously meant to lighten the tone, but it’s out of place, stupid where it wants to be zany, artistically okay and nothing more. Obviously set up as something to continue – each page no doubt finding Tucker in some romantic scrape or other and getting out any way he can.

This time round he’s on a first date with a clingy, marriage and children mentioning skydiver. Tucker’s response is simple. And maybe it’s just me having a bad day, but it just didn’t come across as funny or knowing at all, just plain dumb. Not for me at all.

(Mammoth Jack, by Dirk Van Dom and art by Owen Watts)

The final strip Mammoth Jack is the one I really just didn’t like. At all.

Turn of the century Irish farm turning horses into glue, but the horses have a new friend, and stage a breakout, killing and stomping on anyone getting in their way.

Owen Watts’ art is, frankly, a little all over the shop. There’s just too much wrong with it, and Watts needs to go away and work harder on telling a good story with clarity instead of throwing too many flashy photoshop effects in. All the shading effects in the world don’t help if the basics aren’t right.

So, out of the four here, I could cheerfully read more of Atomic Call and Gryphon & Halo, but could do without any more of the other two strips. It’s not the greatest hit rate perhaps. But I’m hopeful, in the second issue of Vanguard I’ll find more to my liking. It’s not great, but it is trying hard, and those two strips certainly have something about them that makes me interested enough to stick around for more in future.

You can get hold of copies of Vanguard from their blog – details here.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

3 Responses to Vanguard… a hit and miss new anthology…

  1. Matt Badham says:

    That’s a great cover. Loved the parachutist.

  2. Amazingly thorough review dude and amazed to see it on Forbidden Planet!

    I’m getting better bit by bit at storytelling – it’s a bit of a learning curve!

  3. Dirk Van Dom says:

    Thanks for the review Richard! Points and comments duly noted, will take everything on board in preparing the next issue!