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Art Ops: How to Start a Riot (Vertigo, 2015; #1-5)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a punk, a comic book hero, and the Mona Lisa walk into a bar. Okay, to be fair, only two of those three are in the bar, but they’re all characters in Art Ops.

From Shaun Simon and Mike Allred, Art Ops is basically Men in Black for sentient artwork instead of aliens. If a work of art is in trouble or endangering other art or people, the Art Ops intervene. Suppose someone wants to steal the Mona Lisa. That’s when the team would secret away the subject from her portrait, place her in witness protection, and replace her in the painting with an undercover lookalike.

When things go wrong, it is up to the Art Ops’ leader’s son, Reggie, to assume the mantle of chief. But he wants no part of the family business. He resents the long hours that always kept his mother away—and he blames the art. To complete his self-loathing, after an attack by a shadowy figure leaves his girlfriend dead and Reggie without his right arm, his mother and her team give him an arm made of art.

Yes, it is a metaphor. This is a book about rebellion—and when it can be either a force for good or for destruction. To that end, failure is a part of the book, and it comes at a cost. Reggie fails over and over throughout this first arc. And how he avoids or accepts and moves on from his failures provides the most interesting moments of the story.

If you’re going to call your book Art Ops, you’d better have good art. Series co-creator Mike Allred shares art duties with Mat Brundage. The former’s a little more pop, the latter a bit more punk. Within issues, they trade off pages, with Allred handling sleeker, more fluid pages while Brundage tackles grungy, frenetic moments. There’s a clear handoff between the two, but their styles have similar enough form and composition—and both benefit from Laura Allred’s colors—that the switch is never jarring. And yes, it’s solid art.

It took me a couple of issues to get into Art Ops. Once the ball was rolling, though, it reminded me of something that might come out of DC’s Young Animal imprint (which is, perhaps, unsurprising given that Shaun Simon has collaborated with Gerard Way in the past). It’s more fun than deep, but the out-there art makes for some cool, trippy spectacle. The series as a whole is only twelve issues, so I’m definitely on board for the second trade.

Collected in

  • Art Ops, Vol. 1: How to Start a Riot (#1-5)


Writer: Shaun Simon | Artists: Michael Allred, Matt Brundage | Breakdowns: Rob Davis (4-5) | Colorist: Laura Allred | Letterer: Todd Kleim | Covers: Michael & Laura Allred

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