Art is everywhere and it is always watching. That idea, while seeming odd, lends Art Ops a great twist. Human beings constantly search for beauty and meaning in art, but less often in actual life, despite the fact that art can only spring from life.
Art Ops, the new Vertigo title by Shaun Simon and Michael Allred, focuses on a secret organization that keeps all art under wraps. The premise behind the book taking that secret society/service idea and putting a surreal unique spin on it is to ask the questions: Is art alive? And if art is alive what can it do to us?
Our lead character in this world is Reggie Riot. Reggie's mother Regina is the long-time leader of the Art Ops. Reggie was raised in a world where paintings coming to life and his mother happens to be in control of putting them back into the frame. Reggie grows up feeling disconnected from his parents—the father who disappeared and the mother that was never there—and finds himself a misfit living in the abyss of New York City. When his mother and the rest of Art Ops comes up missing, it is up to Reggie and The Body, a superhero pulled directly from the comics, to rescue Mona Lisa.
A big factor in what makes this book shine is the cast. The Body is stiff but still relatable as he tries to do his best while also trying to keep Reggie on the right path, all the while working on his cherished sitcom script. It is also a surprise that having Mona Lisa as a supporting character would pay off this well. She is not only enjoyable, but her continued presence helps to anchor the book in both the familiar and surreal. Along the way Reggie and Mona befriend a girl named Juliet, who goes by J. In this initial foray into the world of Art Ops, we barely scratch the surface of her story, but more will definitely add texture to the story down the line.
Written by Shaun Simon, the book never stays far from the weird and surreal. Shaun is no stranger to these worlds, having previously collaborated with Gerard Way on The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Reading Art Ops, it becomes very clear what strengths and imagination Shaun brought to the previous project based on how vividly they surface here. Shaun has a knack for character development and humor. He adds an amazing sense of levity to the book, and this helps to not only compliment the art, but make the whole premise quite believable.
Speaking of the art, Michael Allred shines as usual. The subject matter of Art Ops is tailor-made for Allred's signature pop style. It goes hand-in-hand with the work he did on Red Rocket 7, while still having the kitsch and charm of Madman or iZOMBIE. Allred's resume isn't even necessary as the art jumps off the page and speaks for itself—it is as daring and kinetic as any of the famous works of art that the Art Ops team works with in this fantastical world.
Simon and Allred have created a world where anything can happen. Mona Lisa can sing in a punk band and the bathroom at CBGBs can maneuver through time and space. With this book Simon and Allred are truly creating a bonafide, lasting work of art.