Vinyl #1 details a retired FBI agent’s kidnapping by a murderous cult of flower children and his “best friend”/serial killer’s attempt to rescue him. No matter how absurd that concept seems, and it’s every bit as wild on the page as it is in a summary, I couldn’t escape the sense that I had read this story many times before when perusing this issue. It’s not simply that writer Doug Wagner and artist Daniel Hillyard previously published another eccentric Image Comics series featuring a serial killer in Plastic, although Vinyl doesn’t do much to distinguish itself. It’s that no matter how “strange” this story strives to make itself, it’s ultimately a contrafactum placing some new details and lyrics atop a very familiar tune. This is a serial killer presented as idiosyncratic anti-hero possessing seemingly superhuman abilities in a setting that exudes “strange” from every panel. We’ve seen this before in Nailbiter, Hack/Slash, and an entire generation of stories stewed in creative brains that encountered Natural Born Killers at a young age. And while it does everything to make itself appear unique, it’s anything but original.
It’s not just the aesthetic details that are familiar in Vinyl, the first few pages inform readers that this comic will be structured like many new Image series as it opens with a flash forward. Ordinarily, this device is used to provide expectations to keep readers engaged, which is entirely unnecessary in a series that would open with an FBI agent interrogating a serial killer about his choice in music before being kidnapped. Leaping forward to the story’s conclusion accomplishes nothing except to say that there is an ending planned. Only the inclusion of a zombie-like, axe-wielding psychopath offers readers anything they wouldn’t see in Vinyl #1 anyway. Why include this flash forward? It seems as if it’s simply because that’s how comics are made these days.
Providing an abundance of gorey details at both of this story’s beginnings may be enough to keep readers hooked. Quirkiness is fun and someone who enjoyed the many comics and other media that have played this tune before will likely find something of value here. I won’t deny the montage of Walter’s serial killing pals is intriguing based on the details presented, much like the “cereal convention” in The Sandman even if Vinyl seems to miss the ultimate purpose in pointing out these sort of men are ultimately deluded, isolated, and pathetic monsters.
Sequences throughout the final third of Vinyl #1 begin to present Walter with his mask on silently appearing in the background of panels. It creates a startling, creepy effect that build tensions well when the killing begins. This effect also positions Walter as something more akin to Michael Myers, a supernatural, impossibly effective murder machine, than anything human.
It’s all but certain that readers who enjoy Vinyl won’t be sticking around for the characters, however. Dennis sole distinguishing characteristic is being crotchety and doesn’t appear to even be competent at his job before he is kidnapped. Walter enjoys killing innocent people. Together, they don’t make an odd couple as much as they do an excuse to find another comic book on the stands. After all, this story has been told before and it has certainly been sung with better lyrics.
Published by Image Comics
On June 23, 2021
Written by Doug Wagner
Art by Daniel Hillyard
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Cover by Daniel Hillyard and Dave Stewart