By: Jeff Lemire (story), Andrea Sorrentino (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)
The Story: When the chips are down in your country, it’s time to head for Canada.
The Review: Count Vertigo belongs to that strange category of villains that are at once recognizable, but without much reason to be. As one of Green Arrow’s primary archnemeses, he’s considered a classic DC antagonist, and yet no one really knows that much about him: he’s from royalty and he can make people dizzy—that’s about all I got (pre-Wiki research, of course), and I doubt the bulk of comic book fans can do better.
So yes, your natural inclination is to see the count as a bit on the lame side. Unfortunately, his first appearance in the new 52 didn’t do much to change that impression. After a splashy introduction that was mostly a display of Sorrentino’s artistic prowess, Vertigo basically fell apart and turned into a quivering puddle once Ollie and Shado managed to disrupt his power set. I have a feeling that it’ll take a lot more than a Villains Month one-shot to make up for that underwhelming display.
The problem with a one-shot, of course, is that it can’t possibly capture a character with any real depth, not if you plan to truly delve into the particulars of his life. A skilled writer with the right vision might be able to render a strong enough impression of a character, but he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’ll be able to deliver a bio in that amount of space with any kind of impact. What he usually ends up with, as Lemire does with this issue, is an outline begging for more time to put flesh on its bones.
Lemire might have been able to better pull off this issue had he kept his focus on one significant event from Werner “Warren” Zytle’s life, but he pretty much doomed himself when he decided a series of vignettes—a visual bullet-point list, if you will—would suffice. While there are certainly moments in Vertigo’s history worth exploring, we don’t venture much from the most basic facts: his childhood exile from Vlatava, his life of poverty in Canada, the obtainment of his powers, and his return to his native kingdom.
Through it all, we have Vertigo’s deep, gashing mommy issues. In many ways, his mother is a more complicated, thus interesting, figure in the issue than her son. Although you only see hints of it here, the count’s mother houses a fiery spirit in her gangly frame, revealed by no small amount of self-loathing that she couldn’t die with her husband as he toppled from power. With such a volatile combination of emotions, it’s little wonder she self-medicates and is eventually driven to give up her son, setting him on the path to villainy and her own doom.
There’s so much more material Lemire could have dug into: what led to the rebellion in Vlatava in the first place; the origins and purpose of Crius, the group that experimented on the young Zytle; how he managed to make his way back to the homeland and rebuild his reign. But these are points for a much, much longer story than DC has allowed Lemire, and a very different one, too. Ultimately, the story we have serves its function well, giving us a comprehensive, if not very profound, portrait of Count Vertigo.
Luckily for Lemire, he has the aid of Sorrentino, whose gritty, urban style draws out the most profound qualities of a story. By seeing Zytle’s life through his own eyes, by taking note on the things his gaze fixates on, we come closest to grasping his interior: the bottle in his mother’s hand, the way he clutches the ears of his teddy bear as his mother berates him, the men ominously looming in the background as his mother tries to rationalize her abandonment of him. Sorrentino also uses narrow, accent panels to emphasize certain visuals which leap out to Vertigo, and Maiolo’s brilliant inversion of their colors reveals how twisted these memories have come in his mind.
Conclusion: Outstanding artwork from Sorrentino as always, revealing dimensions to Count Vertigo that Lemire doesn’t entirely succeed in capturing in his script.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - I will never understand what possessed Vertigo to get that ridiculous spiral tattoo on his chest and neck. There’s certainly nothing very royal about it.
– I appreciate Lemire’s constant attempts to shout-out his homeland. If Zytle’s mother had gotten her act together, they could have lived a pleasant, happy life in Vancover—the fools.