Collecting together chapters 6-9 of his webcomic, Vanguard Volume 2 is where Dan Butcher’s Brit superhero comic really begins to mature and evolve and become more than just another wannabe Big Two book – instead it becomes a compelling mix of gritty action and smart social satire with a really strong sense of where it’s heading.
Publisher: Self Published
Writer: Dan Butcher
Artist: Dan Butcher
This volume starts with a bang and a series of attacks on targets around the world from a shadowy villain which sets the explosive tone for the book. Political twists and turns see Vanguard put on a collision course with the US sanctioned Team Xtreme, which now features former Vanguard-er Gradlon on their roster, and relations between the two sides become increasingly strained. The punch and counter punch of the plot gives the book a tense undercurrent, with Butcher not afraid to pack pages with dialogue in order to get the story across. However this can lead to it feeling a little confusing at times as a result.
What makes this volume really tick though is the way Butcher ensures his events, however major or minor, have consequences – and very real consequences at that. What might be throwaway moments in other books have a knock on effect for not only the characters, but the world as a whole, and it is the decent into civil unrest as the heroes attempt to control it that makes the story and the world of Vanguard so compelling. Butcher never returns to a settled ground zero (as you would expect in a Marvel or DC book), preferring to take events into deeper and darker territory with every page, and never shying away from important character moments and events. All of which gives you a series of knockout punches in the closing pages which fall like hammer blows as you know these actions are not going to be undone.
Although the main plot feels a bit overly complex at times, the secondary elements (such as Ophelia’s attempts to save her sister from the unrest going on in the streets of Britain, or Gradlon’s interactions with his money hungry scumbag team mates) is what fleshes the book out and makes it so readable. It also gives the story the depth and edginess it needs to stop it feeling like a poor man’s big two title.
Butchers artwork continues to grow and develop as he gets more confident with his style. At times it is reminiscent of Darrick Robertson with it’s mix of cartoonish faces and extreme violence. In fact the whole book evokes series like The Boys, with it’s mix of classic superhero tropes and gritty post modern action, as well as series like The Authority with its articulate, very self aware and adult sense of story telling set in this familiar world of super powered people.
As with his recent work on El Marvo, the unsung star of this volume is Butcher’s colouring, which at times covers up some of the weaker elements of his pencilling and gives the whole volume a real slickness and polish that helps it rise above its small press roots to become something very impressive indeed.
Whether you are a new reader or a long time fan this is an essential read ahead of a real tonal shift that is coming in volume three (some of which you can read online at vanguardcomic.com). Even though it is a continuation of the story from volume 1, thanks to a detailed synopsis and a very readable main story you can pick up the action relatively easily, so newbies shouldn’t be put off.
With it’s mix of post modern originality and good old fashioned British grit Vanguard volume 2 is an essential read for all indie superhero fans that grows and develops in confidence and ambition with every new page. If you have ever heard the name Dan Butcher and wondered what the fuss about this title was, read this volume and you’ll see why it’s one of the best small press superhero series around!