Uncollected Editions #6: Keith Giffen's Vext (DC Comics)

Monday, April 11, 2011

[Welcome to this month's installment of our "Uncollected Editions" series by Paul Hicks]

When you stop and think about it, there sure are a lot of gods in superhero comics. You have the gods of Norse myth, the gods of ancient Greece, the New Gods of Jack Kirby, just to name the most obvious. What if there were more gods than that, not just the big and powerful guys, but gods who were just a bit more ordinary. Who would be the one to tell us about these gods? What would that tale be called? Could we see what it was like for one of these gods to walk among us? Could it be the basis for a very funny comic? Could it be set in the DC Universe? Would it last for more than six issues? The answers are Keith Giffen, Vext, yes, yes, yes and no.

The Jejune realm is not the home to major gods. You won't find the god of love, the god of thunder or the god of war lounging in that dimension. Rather, you can expect to find gods like Vext (no surname, like Madonna) the "patron deity of mishap and misfortune." What's it mean to be the patron deity of mishap and misfortune? It means that bad luck constantly befalls you, and often those who associate with you.

The first bit of mishap to befall Vext is the fact that the dimensional overlords in charge of the higher planes have declared the Jejune realm to be spiritually irrelevant. The realm is being shut down and there is a mass migration underway of minor deities to the other realms or planes of their choosing. Except for Vext, who never received his correct paperwork and after twenty-three years of re-queuing and a narrow escape from execution (sound effect = ZOF ZOF ZOF ZOF), he's randomly consigned to the plane that contains the DC universe. With some local currency, appropriate clothing, but entirely without any proper preparation he arrives in the DC locale of Delta City (from Giffen's Heckler series, but never heard of since).

From there the series settles into the very funny fish-out-of-water adventures of Vext acclimating to life in an American city. After finding an apartment and meeting his neighbor Colleen, we see Vext's attempts to cope with a toilet that won't stop flushing, a foldaway bed that's trying to kill him and a landlord who mishears every sentence spoken to him.

Having the appropriate spiritual warning systems in place, the JLA are alerted to his presence and pay a visit in the first issue, in the form of Superman and the angel Zauriel. They warn Vext that they are watching him, plus Superman offers some advice on the toilet problem -- "You've got to jiggle it a bit." Vext is completely unaware of who Superman is and Colleen assumes they are cosplayers until she sees them flying away.

Subsequent issues of the series give you amazingly convoluted plots like Vext furnishing his apartment; Vext trying to get his driver's license from the DMV, and so on. The issues work extremely well as standalone stories and each was very, very funny. One issue involves the microscopic assault on a sleazy burger joint by a sentient virus known as "The Strepto-Commandos of Company Q." With these set ups, I will unreservedly state for the record that Vext is the funniest Keith Giffen comic since his classic Justice League International in the late 1980s.

The sense of chaos extends to the editorial handling of the book. Issue #4 amusingly featured letters for a Scooby Doo comic, while the editor tries to give responses relevant to Vext.

There is an unresolved subplot that winds through the issues, involving a narcissistic archaeologist named Aaron Caldwell who is best described visually as a cross between Doc Savage and Tintin. He has two beautiful but ruthless assistants, who seem to be the understudies for the Body Doubles from the Resurrection Man comics. Caldwell is assembling artifacts of minor deities in order to gain the immortality of those gods. His first success in this endeavor is when he gains the powers of the "god of ill-timed flatulence," R'ypta G'dun. It seemed inevitable that the now lethally smelly Caldwell would cross paths with the clueless Vext, but sadly that never was to be.

The series started in March 1999 and although pitched as an ongoing it only lasted for a mere six issues. The cancellation was treated by all the creative crew as an inevitable manifestation of Vext's bad luck, giving it a good-humored send off.

For each of the six issues of Vext, you're treated to superbly detailed and confident art by the team of penciller Mike McKone and inker Mark McKenna, both of whom later went on to bigger things with Exiles and Geoff Johns' relaunch of Teen Titans. Since the plots are straight-forward, these issues are all worth picking up singly or as a set; the entertainment comes from Vext's passive bewilderment to some incredibly silly situations.

Giffen really brings the wacky with this one. At his best, he is the Aaron Sorkin of funny dialogue and Vext is definitely Giffen at his best.

Later this week ... the Collected Editions review of Superman: Secret Origin. Don't miss it!
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  1. I remember liking his series A LOT when it came out. Giffen ate his best, and Mike McKone really delivered on the rt. Maybe it could b reprinted in the "DC Presents" format they've been doing lately.

  2. This book was fantastic. Great art and hilarious writing. An overlooked classic.

  3. I second James's suggestion of a DC Comics Presents: Keith Giffen, maybe with some Vext, Heckler, and Ambush Bug material (or a DC Comics Presents: Ambush Bug or Lobo would suffice, too!).

  4. I can't see any additional Ambush Bug collections, as they released the Showcase edition that contained all of them (except for the recent "Year None."). That being said, I'd love to see DC release collections (or mini-collections) of Giffen's..."less collected" works.

    I have The Heckler issues and I remember loving it, but I haven't read it in years. This series greatly interests me; I may have to track it down.