Writer/artist Dan Butcher continues to hone his vision of a superheroic Britain as we return to the world of Vanguard.
If you were in any doubts where we left off, the opening of “Blood of Heroes” plunges us back into the action: a Russian soldier exits his barracks for a smoke only to discover a missile passing directly overhead, one of the very missiles Kingsguard was speeding after at the end of the previous chapter. However, unlike their DC counterparts, the eponymous team have to contend with a reality much more similar to our own. As insurgent forces overtake the former Soviet Union, anti-Western sentiment reaches its peak, the UK Cabinet meet at Number 10. Meanwhile, Vanguard’s own Green Arrow, Woden, recoups from his wounds in hospital, with the rest of the team on bedside duty.
As well as quickly forwarding the plot, Vanguard Book 2 does a lot to expand and develop the details laid down in the previous installment. For one thing, it seems that Valiant are not the only British superhero team, merely the friendly public face, a front offering plausible deniability when the government is forced to send in wetwork team The Nine. Amidst all the super-powered theatrics, the series continues to strive for a sense of fidelity: the British PM, for instance, bears a more than passing resemblance to the current office-holder while one of his ministers looks like Peter Mannion from The Thick of It. Butcher’s artwork, meanwhile, has a digitally processed, almost rotoscoped quality to it.
There are also new elements of satire as wolf-man Gradlon is approached by celebrity superheroes Team-Xtreme who offer him wealth and fortune. Meanwhile, this superhero-inspired Cold War continues to hot up as the American equivalent of Vanguard are massacred on live TV before the eye of the world. Vanguard also continues to slip in moments of character development between garish bloody carnage and news bulletin plot developments. One sequence, set in the darkness of an underground facility, recalls GoldenEye with Time Crisis visuals. It may not always be entirely consistent but the character modelling and use of perspective suggest a steady hand at work here.
Vanguard Book 2 is broader, more fun than the previous with an increasingly complex and compelling story, full of action and intrigue. In short, this is good stuff.