After a bit of a delay as chief writer and creative force Dirk van Dom went to live in Japan, his anthology returns and it's another strong and varied collection of comic strips.
"Atomic Call" gets the cover and the lead strip, so the pressure is on for van Dom and artist David Blankley to impress. It's a good, solid tale with a compelling protagonist and strong art; there are a couple of wobbly moments in the storytelling but on the whole Blankley's loose and sketchy linework and intelligent use of greytones works well. The story itself is somewhat slight — always a danger with the anthology format — but the strip's biggest handicap is that it looks a little bit conventional — bland even — alongside the other stories.
Take "Mammoth Jack", the ongoing saga of a girl and her homicidal mutant donkey. The tone of the strip is erratic, mixing mature themes with, well, a homicidal mutant donkey. I'm not sure the contrast works as well this time around as it did in the first issue; there's a difference between animal cruelty and attempted rape, and something in that difference makes the introduction of an absurd animal protagonist a bit less effective. Still, the strip wins points for originality, and it boasts energetic, visceral art from El Chivo, who is definitely a bloke, as I have discovered since last time.
"Halo and the Gryphon" is somewhat less demented, but nonetheless has a hint of the weird about it, due in the most part to Louis Carter's art. It's a blend of bold, thick linework and fine detail, and it should make for an ugly clash, but it somehow works, even if it looks less like what one might expect from a post-2000 AD anthology comic and more like one of those Soviet Bloc cartoons that were used to fill an empty five minutes on BBC2 back in the day. The writing lacks the eccentric feel of the art, but the narrative provides some structure that one might well argue is necessary to prevent things getting too arty and indulgent. "Halo and the Gryphon" was my favourite strip from the first issue, and my favourite it remains; it's unique and odd and so very compelling.
The issue finishes with a one page strip following the ill-fated Buck Tucker as he allows his sociopathic tendencies to overwhelm him on a dinner date, with unusual — and when I say "unusual", I mean just a little bit deranged, like all the best parts of this comic — results. It's a short strip but the pacing is spot on, and the art — there's no credit that I can see — does a good job of selling the punchline, which is even more nutty than that of the previous issue. The middle-class liberal part of my brain wants to tut at "Buck Tucker", but I can't help but find the premise funny. Perhaps it's because any date I've been on has also been a disaster, although I hasten to add that no one's ever been shot.
It remains difficult to pin Vanguard down and give it a pithy summary. "Atomic Call" is a good adventure strip that wouldn't be out of place in 2000 AD, but then everything else is off-kilter and loopy; that said it's all entertaining stuff, and perhaps consistency of tone isn't so important when everyone's having fun.
You can check out Vanguard at vanguardcomic.blogspot.com
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, The Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don't get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn't hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.