by KC Carlson
Having worked on a few comic book collections in my time as editor at DC Comics (including The Art of Walter Simonson, Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga (the original), Superman in the Sixties, and the first collections of V for Vendetta and Sandman: The Doll’s House), I always appreciate an interesting collection that includes a twist or two. Far too many collections today involve just slapping together the last long storyline, not even bothering to commission a new cover. So, when the solicitations for May’s comics started becoming available, with a large number of quirky collections (some with more than just a twist), I knew I had to devote a column to it.
NOT JUST STORIES
Some of the very best comics collections don’t collect stories — they’re about collecting artwork. But the very best ones manage to tell their own stories, even if you’re not fully aware of it.
The Art of Amanda Conner: One of the more amazing creators in comics, Amanda Conner has an incredible chameleon talent to adapt to virtually every genre in a long career and an amazingly diverse resume. Her work ranges from Vampirella, Painkiller Jane, and Gatecrasher to Barbie and Archie comics, as well as a vast array of superheroes including Power Girl, Supergirl, various X-Men characters, and Birds of Prey. Some of her more diverse projects include Codename: Knockout, Two-Step, Gargoyles, Soulsearchers and Company, and the much discussed (and frequently reprinted) superhero parody The Pro (written by Garth Ennis). Plus, she also has a “real world” career as a commercial artist, with work appearing in The New York Times, Revolver magazine, Mad Magazine, and on ABC’s Nightline, as well as advertising work for accounts including Nickelodeon and Playskool.
Conner’s Supergirl story in Wednesday Comics (written by Jimmy Palmiotti) and her story in Wonder Woman #600 (written by Conner) were some of the best things out there last year. Her artwork is incredibly undervalued by much of comic book fandom because so much of her work is based on personality, warmth, and humor — over a rock-solid foundation of incredible design work that you don’t see unless you’re looking for it. (All of which are not really things on most fanboys’ radar.) The rest of us know — She’s the one.
I can’t wait to see this book, a 200-page, full-color hardcover, published by Desperado and IDW.
Brian Bolland: Cover To Cover — Another artist deserving of a great collection — and one specializing on his specialty! Even if you’ve only been around comics for about five minutes, you’ve probably seen some of Brian Bolland’s work — because Bolland is a master at the art of comic book covers, and there is seldom a month goes by that doesn’t have at least a couple of his latest works up for display at your local comic rack. Much of his cover work has been for DC Comics (and its various imprints), including long runs on such characters/titles as Batman, Green Lantern, Animal Man, Wonder Woman, The Invisibles, The Flash, and most recently Zatanna. Bolland’s cover artistry at DC extends back a couple of decades, so this book has a lot to draw from. Personally, I think that its 208 pages may not be enough to do a complete survey, especially since DC is promising rarely-seen and never-before-published-artwork from Bolland, along with his own commentary about the work.
DC’s solicitation info doesn’t mention this, but I suspect that the project is coming from the office of DC’s recently promoted Art Director Mark Chiarello, the mastermind behind most of DC’s best ideas and publications — most notably the recent Wednesday Comics and Adam Hughes’ Cover Run projects. So order this oversized, full-color hardcover art book with confidence.
Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: Described as a primer for the classic Golden Age series Crime Does Not Pay, this 224-page, full-color trade paperback collects the very best stories from the “evil” comic that both your parents and your county did not want you to read. (Naturally, it was the most popular comic of its era — claiming a readership of 6,000,000 readers on its covers!) Crime Does Not Pay became a target of concerned parents after objections by both Dr. Fredric Wertham and the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency because of its brutal and sensational (and sensationalized) accounts of true crime and real-life gangsters as told by some of the best artists in comics, including Bob Wood, Charles Brio, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino, Dick Briefer, Dan Barry, and Fred Guardineer. It directly led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority and also inspired Harvey Kurtzman’s famed reality-based EC Comics.
Packaged and co-edited by Denis Kitchen, the collection also features an illustrated essay by Kitchen on the series (with the tantalizing tidbit that the editor of the original series — Bob Wood — brutally murdered his girlfriend and was later murdered himself!). An important book about an important era of comics history published by Dark Horse.
Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1 Starring Green Arrow: First of all, don’t get too excited — Jack Kirby only drew a relative handful of Green Arrow stories (11 six-pagers, to be exact) as back-ups for Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics in the late 1950s. But this is the only name character to be found in this 304-page hardcover collection, which I believe caps off DC’s Jack Kirby Library project (at least the Golden Age part of it). The book also features all the rest of Kirby’s short stories from the pages of DC’s many now-forgotten anthologies, including My Greatest Adventure, All-Star Western, and the pre-horror incarnations of House of Mystery, House of Secrets, and Tales of the Unexpected. But make no mistake — DC is is doing historians and fans alike a great service in collecting in one place these obscure sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery tales — giving us one last look at Kirby’s pre-Timely monsters and fantastic settings, all stories which many Kirby fans have only dreamed of finally seeing — and owning.
Rocket Raccoon: Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant: I suppose that stranger things in comics have happened, but if someone had told me that Rocket Raccoon was going to have his own hardcover collection, I would have thought that the teller was either insane — or I was! I also wouldn’t have believed that Rocket Raccoon was going to become one of the most kickass Marvel characters ever… But here we are. And now I’m telling you that that this 144-page hardcover features the original four-issue miniseries by Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola, and Al Gordon, as well as the character’s first appearance from Marvel Preview #7 (by Mantlo and Keith Giffen) and an early appearance from Incredible Hulk #271 (by Mantlo and Sal Buscema). He’s also (as far as I know) the only funny animal character that was directly inspired by a Beatles song (complete with Gideon’s bible).
X-Men: Fallen Angels: Another odd one, this time with cybernetically enhanced lobsters Bill and Don (and the sad, but extremely moving, death of one of them), a bunch of misfit mutants, and Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy. The mutants included Sunspot and Warlock (New Mutants), Madrox and Siryn (X-Factor), and Boom-Boom and Vanisher (X-Force). And rounding off the team are new characters Ariel, Chance, and Gomi. They all operated out of Ariel’s home dimension, the Coconut Grove (not to be mistaken for the famous nightclub).
This took place in the 1987 miniseries written by Jo Duffy and illustrated by Kerry Gammill, Marie Severin, and Joe Staton. It was a fun read, but I don’t have the faintest idea why it’s being reprinted as a 200-page hardcover today. (Has Marvel actually run out of X-Men series to reprint?)
Hey, didja know that that there was originally supposed to be a 1988 sequel to the miniseries, with art by Colleen Doran and Terry Austin? Comic Book Legends Revealed tells the story and Colleen explains why the series was abruptly cancelled. TwoMorrows’ Back Issue #21 also covered the miniseries. I only know about this in the first place because many, many years ago, I got to hold some of the original artwork in my own hands. Beautiful stuff…
Trouble (Premiere Hardcover): This thing? Really?
From Marvel’s solicitation copy: “When friends May and Mary take on a summer job after high school, they meet brothers Ben and Richard — and summer lovin’ ensues! Prepare for sand, sun… and lots of sex!”
Okay, it’s a sex romp. Where one of the girls gets pregnant accidentally. But does anything here seem kinda familiar? And just why did Marvel publish this five issue miniseries in the first place — and why are they collecting it now?
Still murky? Think about the backstory for one of Marvel’s most famous characters. Like maybe Spider-Man…
Still no? Okay, I’ll help. Spider-Man is really Peter Parker. His parents are Richard and Mary Parker. And when they die in an accident, Peter is sent to live with his beloved Uncle Ben Parker and his wife, (Aunt) May.
Getting the picture now? Interesting coincidence, huh?
Yes, the story of Trouble was meant to be the “real” origin of Spider-Man. A lot different than the one with the burglar, huh?
But, wait. It gets worse. But I won’t ruin the story for you. I’ll let the story do that itself. (Hint: I haven’t said who gets pregnant.)
Yes, originally Trouble was going to be marketed as the “real” origin of Peter Parker. Until people actually read the story and were so horrified by it (on moral grounds, as well as the fact that it so severely contradicted prior Marvel continuity — plus, that it was just plain awful) that Marvel backed down and declared that Trouble was not part of “official” Marvel continuity.
(Would that subsequent revelations regarding Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn and Peter and Mary Jane’s wedding be dealt with in the same way… I digress. But why always Spider-Man?!?)
Further, an announced collection of Trouble never materialized. Bill Jemas, who came up with the story’s basic premise (with Joe Quesada) was gone from the company shortly thereafter. (And we all know what happened to Quesada).
Officially, Trouble is credited as being written by Mark Millar and drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson. (Note how big Millar’s credit is compared to Terry Dodson’s on the collected book cover. Rachel isn’t even mentioned.) The Dodsons managed to escape much of the criticism and hatred foisted upon the series (for good reason — the artwork is gorgeous). But Miller was roundly criticized for dialogue not appropriate to the time period (Trouble is supposedly set in the 1970s) and for characterization so weak that it was difficult to tell the characters apart aside from their sexual activity — and not anything like the previously established characterizations.
Sadly, Trouble was originally published under the Epic Comics imprint, a major black mark for that once amazing comic line.
If that wasn’t enough, it was decided to originally publish Trouble with photo covers featuring young models, supposedly representing May and Mary. Which led to lots of fan discussion at the time as to whether the models were underage. (As it turned out, they were not.) Further, Marvel tried to spin the the series as a modern romance comic — a genre which sold millions of copies of comics to young women in the 1950s — but the horny sex-romp storytelling of Trouble disgusted most women (and most men who weren’t horny fanboys).
Don’t just take my word for it. Comics Alliance named Trouble one of the Worst Comic Books of the Decade. (BTW, those other two Spidey stories I mentioned also made the list, as well as another forgotten Jemas gem — Marville.)
Trouble. The comic book for horny fanboys. And Mark Miller fans. (Write your own last line.)
FUN FOR EVERYBODY!
Barks’ Bear Book: Simply put, a collection of Carl Barks’ comic book work that doesn’t feature Donald Duck or Uncle Scrooge. Based on a previously published (and long out-of-print) collection of the same name, this 220-page, full-cover hardcover from Yoe Books and IDW collects Barks’ stories about Barney Bear and Benny Burro — super-obscure stories from the Golden Age of Comics, based on characters that originally appeared in cartoons from the MGM studios. They originally appeared in the Dell Our Gang Comics as a back-up feature. Barks’ stories ran in issues #11-36 from 1944-1946, and they were both written and drawn by Barks. This new edition features a new cover and introduction by Jeff Smith.
(Incidentally, this new edition of the Barks’ Bear Book probably won’t have the exact contents of the original Barks’ Bear Book. The original also included a Porky Pig story that was the one time Barks ever worked on a Warner Bros. character — and Roger and I are guessing that story won’t be included in this new volume, since Porky is still a viable Warner trademark. Although Barney Bear — assuming he hasn’t fallen into Public Domain — should also be controlled by Warners, since Warner also owns the MGM cartoon library. Hmmmm… Anyway… that Barks’ Porky Pig story was reprinted in the DC Comics 1998 collection Bugs Bunny and Friends: A Comic Celebration — now sadly out-of-print.) The original book also contained an Andy Panda story and a couple of Happy Hound (who would later be known as Droopy Dog) tales, but we’re unaware if these will be reprinted in the new edition.
Archie’s Joke Book, Vol. 1: Archie’s Joke Book was unique in that the longest story in any issue was usually just one page in length. Literally, no story — just the joke. Archie’s “visual creator” (too long and frustrating to explain here) Bob Montana was a master at the quick joke page — which was why he excelled at the Archie newspaper strip for decades! For this new 208-page, full-color hardcover Archie’s Joke Book collection, IDW is concentrating on the very best of Montana’s contributions — most of which are from the early years of the series. If you’re looking for great visual humor, slapstick, and dynamic punchlines — this is the book for you! Includes over 300 great Montana gags!
Scary Godmother Comic Book Stories: Dark Horse recently collected all of Jill Thompson’s full-color Scary Godmother work, so now it’s time to pull together all of the wonderful black and white Scary Godmother stories in this massive 312-page collection. Including all the comics as well as obscure ashcans, stories from anthologies, the Activity Book, and more, this book will collect everything Scary and Godmotherly that hasn’t already been reprinted! Plus, a 19-page, full-color sketchbook section tops off this already tasty confection. Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother is one of the most absolutely charming series out there. And a true favorite for kids — when they can get it away from their parents! (Some families may require more than one copy!) Published by that creepy Dark Horse.
Yeah!: A much fun, wild, all-ages collaboration between Peter Bagge (words) and Gilbert Hernandez (pictures) about a crazy all-girl rock band (think a hipper, punker Josie and the Pussycats — which was an obvious influence). Originally published as a nine-issue series for DC Comics (under the Wildstorm imprint), it was totally lost among the capes and angst. Krazy (vocals and guitars), Honey (drums), and WooWoo (keyboards) are the members of the pop band Yeah! They’ve achieved intergalactic superstardom on every planet but their own (Earth), where they live in anonymity and suffer indignities in their home of suburban New Jersey. Now collected as a 208-page, black-and-white trade paperback from Fantagraphics. So much fun, it practically sings by itself.
Captain Britain Vol. 1: Birth of a Legend: Important because it features stories originally created by the Marvel UK office (using mostly American talent, including Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, and John Buscema), most of it being offered in America for the very first time. Not always the most stellar of work, but remember that this material acts as prelude to the work of a couple of guys named Alan (Moore and Davis). Collects the Captain Britain stories from Captain Britain (1976) #1-39 and Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain #231-232. A 376-page, full-color hardcover collection from Marvel.
Tales of Batman: Gene Colan Vol. 1: I’m happy to see this for a few reasons: 1) It collects a lot of the moody (and underrated) Batman stories drawn by Gene Colan and scribed by various writers — notably Doug Moench. 2) The stories come from a time when DC was just beginning to experiment with ongoing storylines which bounced back and forth between both Batman and Detective Comics. 3) Hopefully, this will sell well enough that Gene Colan can get some well-deserved reprint money and royalties — and the reprint series can continue.
Finally (and Bizarrely), an Anti-Collection
Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars #1: Written by our pal Beau Smith and illustrated by Enrique Villagran and Manual Vidal, this was first published as an awesome 104-page graphic novel by IDW last year. Now it’s being presented in smaller, easily affordable and easier to digest (but don’t eat it! It’s paper! And you don’t know where its been!) individual issues, also from IDW. Leave it to Beau to come up with such a crazy idea — so crazy that it might just work!
… And a Cliffhanger…!
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Venus Vol. 1: I’m gonna write more about this next time, but for now, here’s a teaser: In its short original run during the Atlas Age of Marvel comics, the Venus comic book was a tour of genres across a rapidly changing comics landscape. In its 17 issues, you will find superheros, romance, horror, science fiction, cheesecake, and even some stories that defy easy identification. The tone veers wildly from lighthearted fun to incredibly dark. It’s one of comics’ most unique series — and most people have never had the chance to read it all. Until now. More in a week or so…
KC CARLSON SEZ: For more on collections this month, check out Bob Greenberger’s previews of Aquaman: Death of a Prince and Emma Frost: The Ultimate Collection. I imagine that Wayne will weigh in on something surprising, as well. (It’s always a surprise to me!) And Josh and I agree on a couple of things. How strange…
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.