Heartthrobs (#1 – 4) – Various, Steve Gerber

5 out of 5

Man, I’d been somewhat asking for the dissolution of Vertigo in recent years – it just felt like a shadow of itself – and going back and checking out something from its golden years, like Heartthrobs, runs me through that feeling, page by page.  This was an anthology comic, something the imprint did quite of few of during the 90s, and they were often just packed with talent, the kind of names you recognized at the time and would continue to see for years to come.  The title suggests the theme – stories of love, of heartbreak – but the expression of that seemed mostly up to the creators, bouncing between sci-fi, fantasy, horror, true-life, twist endings, etcetera and etcetera.  Kudos must go to editor Axel Alonso for making sure each issue was balanced, both in tone – a mix of light and dark – and in look – a mix of different stylizations from the crew of creators.

The frontispiece / title page on each book (Carlos Batts and Scott Ewen) is often a little crowded, but it matches the behind-the-curtains vibe of the series all the same; the following page is a cute listing of first heartbreaks for each of the writers and artists featured in that issue.

And then we’re off: three tales per story, varying lengths, and even when I’ll say the writer or artist or tale isn’t necessarily someone whose work I like, or a story I was floored by, it’s the sign of a well put together comic that I still enjoyed going through those entries; they feel like full-fledged and required parts of the book.  But even with those exceptions, there are some great stories here – some truly unexpected ones – and that mix, to me, suggests that everyone will likely find their own highlights.

Since I partially bought this for Gerber (there were other writers at the time I was into, though), some words on his entry, which is the last one in issue 4: while it doesn’t have much of an ending, its exploration of chat room sexting was / is miraculously modern, and once again reminds me how on point Gerber generally was, even as an older man.