Donning the now infamous and incredibly fashionable ‘fiction suit’ Grant Morrison has spent the last few decades diving down into pulp and ink further exploring and immersing himself in the vast fictional worlds and multiverses of comics, the idea of living stories and their seductive power over us. As part of the revamp of the recently flagging Vertigo imprint, the latest title Art Ops from co-scribe of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys and iZombie creative team Mike and Laura Allred looks to aim to do for artwork what Morrison did for stories. This time you don’t even have to get dressed. This time it’s coming to you. What if the art we surround ourselves on a daily basis was exploding with life, waiting to tear itself from frame and wall? What if it the ink, paint and brushstrokes spilled into our world even more colourful, alive and dangerous?
The clandestine Art Ops group of the title who are tasked with protecting the world’s most famous artworks deal with such events on a daily basis. With unknown criminals targeting and destroying the world’s most famous works of art we are introduced to the team at the Louvre where, with a little technical wizardry, they remove the Mona Lisa out of her frame and put into a witness protection program. As part of the high concept premise behind Art Ops the creative team definitely know the power of art to ignite the imagination, starting their own series with a high tech heist of the Mona Lisa. One of the world’s most well known and highly parodied paintings itself the target of many a spectacular theft and criminal endeavour in real life. Across the world New York we meet Reggie Riot, son of the Art Ops leader as he runs into his own art based difficulties resulting in being drawn further into the art world then he would like after being given his own inky appendage to replace his recently served flesh and blood one.
Although Simon’s script has elements borrowed from a dozen other places, a secret government agency here, an absent parental figure there, they are put together with such eagerness and style that it’s easy to forgive the more tropey moments. Here they seems fresh and new alongside the strange living art concepts and almost serve as a much needed grounding before the comic reveals the much weirder world just beneath the surface. It’s brimming with the big bizarre ideas that Vertigo used to be the first port of call for. It’s a world brimming with potential that he has created in the opening issue and if nothing else Simon should be applauded for making the world realise how badly they need to read a comic with the Mona Lisa as a main character.
For a comic book world filled with untamed living artwork, there could be no other choice but the Allreds. Mike Allred’s distinctive style, already full of movement and action has always had the sense of bursting of the page and while his retro art-pop stylings have always been evident throughout his work, from Dawn’s Polka dot Dress in Silver Surfer to the proliferation of Benday dots in iZombie, it’s even more perfectly suited here in a comic about art on the loose and in the wild. From the Mona Lisa staring at you from the front cover to a gloopy paint swirl arm slugging a boxer out cold with a triumphant “surprise Chump”, the artwork here can barely be contained. Painted on by a maniacal cross between artist and surgeon, Reggie Riots pollack-esque prosthetic is easily the best set piece in this book, due in no small measure to Laura Allred’s exciting and exuberant colouring that always heightens the already kinetic lines and dynamic figures and I look forward to seeing the Allred’s let loose on the entire history of artists and artistic movements in future issues.
It’s heartening to see Vertigo once again putting out interesting and challenging titles to compete with the enviable line-up of comics at Image and Boom, this one being one of the more bizarre and promising series it’s put out in a while. For a first issue, Art Ops has a lot to set up and at times is very heavy on the world building which makes up the majority of the issue, with the team’s characters barely touched upon. However the setup is so bizarre and the concepts it has introduced already are so compelling and strange it more than makes up for the lack of characterisation and ultimately does what a first issue should do, to keep you guessing and pull you in for the next issue.