Vertigo’s ‘Strange Sports Stories’ #1 is So Good We’re Using Sports Metaphors
Over the last several years, Vertigo has revived several forgotten anthology titles with good results: Strange Adventures, Mystery in Space, The Witching Hour and Time Warp. With Strange Sports Stories, Vertigo once again dips into comics history, drafting a lineup of heavy hitters and utility players for odd tales of sports and science fiction coming together in unexpected ways.
When it comes to anthologies, my feelings are always a little mixed. What makes them so interesting and satisfying --- different creators telling self-contained stories --- is also what makes them frustratingly difficult to judge overall. There some three-part ratio of good to great to mediocre that has to be figured out, and I'm terrible at math.
With Strange Sports Stories, it's not a problem. Four stories kick off the inaugural issue and there's not a bust among them, and to paraphrase Meatloaf, four out of four ain't bad.
With the theme of sports and sci-fi coming together, you're right to expect some Rollerball/Death Race 2000-type stories, and Strange Sports Stories boasts no less than two, but both are interesting twists on the old bloodsport trope.
In Amy Chu and Tana Ford's 'Dodgeball Kill', all of your junior high anxieties are given teeth, as prison inmates fight a lethal version of dodgeball. In 'Chum', by Lauren Beukes, Dave Halvorsen, and Christopher Mitten, an ultra-violent version of hockey is played atop the icy prison of a defeated alien-slash-god.
The highlights of the first are issue are the stories that bookend the collection. Gilbert Hernandez's 'Martian Trade' feels like the perfect beginning to this new anthology, an atypical introduction of weirdness into normal human activity that is, of course, brilliantly charming and subdued.
Batting cleanup on the premiere is the haunting 'Refugees', by Ivan Brandon and Amei Zhao, about baseball, bad relationships, and the end of the world. Brandon is a writer on the ascendant, and this short, detached koan might be the best thing he's done, with elegant lines and expressive colors by Zhao, a talent everybody should keep an eye on.
Editor Will Dennis has curated an eclectic, quality group of creators for the first issue of Strange Sports Stories, and they deliver. If the rest of the roster can deliver, Vertigo is looking at another home-run of a resurrection. Time to start taking bets on what old anthology they're bringing back next.