Vertigo Pop! Bangkok #1-4 (July-October 2003)
by Jonathan Vankin, Giuseppe Camuncoli, & Shawn Martinbrough

My comics karma is such that I tend to discover cool, though wildly unpopular, comics months after they were wildly unpopular. As such, I end up skulking around comic shops in search of titles that were forgotten as soon as they hit the stands, inevitably resulting in the proprietor asking me if I'm looking for anything in particular, only to be completely bewildered when the thing I seek is so uncool.

Fortunately, I'm an intriguing enough fellow that once I identify such an uncool thing as being my heart's desire, people tend to reevaluate their own perception. So my taste is both blessing and curse.

Latest latecoming discovery: Starting in late '02, Vertigo put out three four-issue miniseries under the Vertigo Pop! rubric, each title drawing inspiration from a major foreign city (Tokyo, London, Bangkok), both in terms of cultural reference points and style of art. In each case, the writers and artists were people who had spent some time in each place and could craft a tight narrative free from the clichés and misrepresentations that an outsider would inevitably inject.

They're great comics. Totally unique, with atypical storylines, organic characters, smart dialogue, and crackin' artwork. I normally veer away from Vertigo books because they so often seem like DC's ongoing attempt to cash in on some vague idea of the hip comic reader's supposedly "extreme" interests (I never went in for that Sandman shit), but I was immediately won over by the quality of the writing and art. Plus, each book has some titillating nudity, which the 13-year-old buried deep inside me appreciates to no end.

Bangkok relays the tale of two American tourists in that spiritual and sexual oasis, as they find themselves inadvertently ensconced in the ambiguous morality of the sex trade there, trying to "save" two sisters who they perceive have been forced into a life of prositiution. Most satisfying about the book is that it shifts the angles around continually, so all your NPR-esque liberal pretensions are run through a moral kaleidoscope until you are actually forced to look at things as they are instead of how they should be.

The ending, too, is unforced and non-soapboxy. This is not a title that will win you any points in conversations about "great comics," but keep in mind that hype, or popular acceptance, has no proportional relation to quality.

Review by Brother John