Vertigo Winter’s Edge (#2, 1999) – Various

3 out of 5

A lot would seem to have changed in a year. The tone of Vertigo’s second Winter’s Edge installment is just different – a somewhat forced swagger versus the first’s collected confidence. The concept is exactly the same, with a framing story bringing together some then-current comic all-stars, and even some of the titles included are the same, but the magic is missing this time. The thicker stock cover is replaced with a magazine one; the credits page feels like a boastful announcement instead of a table of contents; the stories are not nearly as self-contained as before; and the two-drinkin’-buddies interview with Ennis and Dillon is replaced by a millenial hip-speak bit of blurbs from Paul Pope. It’s as though, in prepping for the year 2000, Vertigo decided to put on its cool shades, cock a hip, and be the sassiest damn comic on the block.

Most of the contents still stand out, but we’re rather front-loaded with the stuff with the biggest learning curve: Gaiman’s / Jeff Jones’ Death entry is poetic, and the black and white visuals are appealing, I just can’t imagine it as being all the interesting unless you’re already invested in Gaiman’s Vertigo worlds and characters. That’s admittedly me saying that as someone not big on the writer, but the first Winter’s Edge Gaiman strip felt welcoming, while also maintaining the series’ literary vibes. This is more along the lines of something you’d hand to someone to “prove” that comics aren’t for kids; if you already like comics (and aren’t necessarily already familiar with Gaiman), it’s perhaps off-putting, especially with the odd lead-in from the framing story, which I’ll get to. Secondly, we have Transmet, which is just Warren Ellis swearing a lot and being crass. Transmet was always idiotic to me – as though mixing sci-fi with swear words was automatic intelligentsia – and this does not change me opinion. I’ll allow that it’s a good representation of the strip, but pairing this with Death… It’s a kneejerk experience. And then a Sandman entry from Steven Seagle which, unfortunately, is not great, lacking the more stately, leading gravitas of last year’s strip and coming across rather forced, and also not great for new readers. Don’t know Sandman? Good luck knowing what’s going on.

So that’s a steep climb.

It gets much easier after that: Peter Gross’ Books of Magic also, if Timothy Hunter and crew are unknowns, takes a few pages to understand, but the main conceit of the short works without that understanding and is solid. Ed Brubaker’s Scene of the Crime is one of the most concise examples of the bitter noir the writer would become known for, and maybe one of the best – its short length gives it focus. The Invisibles as paper dolls cutouts is maybe a throwaway gag from Morrison, but it’s funny, and Gerber’s Nevada proves that that strip would’ve been damned fun with all of its setup out of the way. The Dreaming from Caitlin R. Kiernan is the sole hiccup in this back half, very much in line with the Sandman entry: if you weren’t reading the series, this will likely offer very little interest. It’s backed up by one of the best, saddest things Ennis has every written, though – a Hellblazer reminiscence with affecting art by Glyn Dillon. As with Scene of the Crime, forcing Garth into the short format requires him to shed excess, and Constantine – this era’s take on him, anyway – was the perfect imperfect antihero for the author.

So some great stories mixed in with good ones, and a few iffy ones. That’s not so bad, is it? Enter Peter Milligan’s The Minx as a framing story. Or rather… it half enters, forgets to close the door, then falls out the window to exit. This is not a frame, in any way, shape, or form. Once or twice Pete figures out how to use a phrase to lead to the next story, but otherwise, these are just pages that appear inbetween each entry, meaning it’s just a short that’s been broken up into individual pages, and thus ruined in terms of pacing. The story itself is also something of a waste, though, hiccupping into poetics on Millie’s obsessions with family that don’t have much weight against the uninteresting “lead” character, a bad dude named Leo who’s searching for a yarmulke for unconvincing reasons, and really only because the yarmulke appeared in a more interesting context in last year’s story. Also requires you to have understanding of The Minx series. Fun. …To be more charitable, perhaps Pete wasn’t told until after the fact that he’d be writing the frame story, and so he had to retrofit something. Who knows. But it just kind of adds to the nigh-2000 attitude the book brings to the table.

The first WE was a cover-to-cover read. This one is very much something to cherry pick for a few stories.