Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Vintage Collections

Another day, another year end “Top 10” list! This time around we look at my favorite collected editions of vintage material published in the past year, “vintage” in this case being work originally produced prior to the year 2000. Eurocomics and Manga are both eligible here, as well, as long as they first saw print prior to all our computers failing, the electrical grid going dark, the food supply collapsing, and civilization falling apart on December 31st, 1999. Remember those crazy times?

10. Brat Pack By Rick Veitch (IDW) – Arguably the last great work of super-hero revisionism prior to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, Veitch’s bleak and unforgiving look at the teen sidekicks of Slumburg is as shocking, ugly, and mean-spirited as ever — not to mention gorgeously illustrated. IDW pulled out all the stops with this one, loading it up with “behind-the-scenes” bonus material that all crusty aficionados of this rank, but spot-on, unpleasantness will surely find illuminating and engrossing. I still feel like I need to take a shower after reading this book to get the stain off — and yes, I mean that as a compliment.

9. Death Stand And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 22) By Jack Davis And Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) – The harrowing reality of combat stress has arguably never been rendered in comics with more authenticity than in these classic EC strips illustrated by Davis and (largely) written by Kurtzman. Even people who think they probably don’t like war comics owe it to themselves to give this collection a shot and see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

8. New Gods By Jack Kirby (DC) – This one probably deserves to be ranked higher purely on its merits, as many of the very best of Kirby’s Fourth World stories are in here, but considering that all of it was included in last year’s Fourth World Omnibus, this really just represents an essential purchase for absolute completists, or anyone who took a pass on the omnibus for budgetary or storage space (hey, it really is a beast!) reasons. Some of the finest comics ever made by anyone are found on these pages, though, so it earns a spot on the list even though it comes hot on the heels of a larger, more comprehensive collection.

7. Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Underground) – Far and away the most disturbing book on this list, Osborne was probably the most grotesque and unsavory of the “first wave” of underground cartoonists — as well as one of the most talented, producing work so rich in detail and meticulous in its execution that it still literally boggles the mind. Editor Rosenkranz deserves tremendous credit for collecting all of this less-than-prolific artist’s work between two covers, and Dennis Dread’s detailed biographical sketch of Osborne’s troubled life is a terrific piece of comics scholarship. Not for all tastes and sensibilities to be sure — but if your “wiring” is as off-kilter as mine, this is an essential purchase.

6. Corto Maltese : The Golden House Of Samarkand By Hugo Pratt (IDW/Euro Comics) – One of Pratt’s finest and most ambitious Corto stories finally gets the deluxe treatment that has been lavished on the character’s previous adventures. If you’re a fan, that’s cause for celebration, and if you’re not — well, now’s the perfect time to become one! European genre comics simply don’t get any better than this.

5. best of witzend Edited By Bill Pearson And J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics) – Anyone who couldn’t fork over the cash for the complete witzend slipcase collection a few years back will be overjoyed to find this well-curated collection of the finest strips to appear in Wally Wood’s legendary “pro-‘zine,” as editors Pearson and Catron present groundbreaking cartooning from artists that truly “run the gamut,” including Bernie Wrightson, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Jim Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Art Spiegelman, Steve Ditko, Vaughn Bode — and, of course, Wood himself. A superb selection that will leave your head spinning and that, crucially, “ports over” the exhaustive historical essay work presented in the earlier, larger publication.

4. Master Race And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 21) By Bernard Krigstein (Fantagraphics) – The premier visual innovator in comics history, Krigstein’s astonishing work finally gets a truly deluxe presentation in this painstakingly-restored collection. The scope and grandeur of Krigstein’s imagination still positively boggles the mind, and its fruits have never looked better than they do in this sumptuous volume.

3. Love That Bunch By Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Drawn+Quarterly) – Okay, yeah, some of the material in this comprehensive retrospective came along after the year 2000, but the vast majority predates it, and it would be absolutely criminal not to find a list to include this on. I’ve always preferred Aline’s work to that of her more-famous husband, and these largely-autobiographical strips will probably go some way toward winning over even the most understandably reactionary fans who reflexively eschew anything with the “Crumb” name attached to it. I’m not here to judge how and why she can survive a marriage to one of the most talented-but-unsavory people in comics, only to state that her own work stands on its own merits and communicates a positive, empowering message in endearingly neurotic and self-deprecating fashion. I do, indeed, love that — meh, too obvious, right? Just buy the book, you’ll never regret it.

2. Kamandi Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – Finally! The amazing adventures of the last boy on earth get the “omnibus treatment,” and the result — while hefty both physically and financially — is nothing less than magic. One of Kirby’s absolute best comics ever, this is also one of the most imaginative, rip-roaring, and just plain fun works in the entire history of the medium. Nothing short of comic book perfection.

1. Dirty Plotte : The Complete Julie Doucet By Julie Doucet (Drawn+Quarterly) – Pioneering feminist auteur Doucet finally gets her due with this beautiful, two-volume hardcover slipcase collection that features all of her work from her legendary Dirty Plotte series, as well as a good chunk of material that was published before and since, a wide-ranging interview with the artist, and essays of appreciation from top cartooning talents. This was one of the formative works of the 1990s that helped blaze a trail for any number of women cartoonists, and is every bit as powerful, authentic, idiosyncratic, and funny now as it ever was. Doucet is, simply put, one of the most outstanding talents to ever draw breath. Here’s all the evidence would could possibly need to buttress that assertion.

And that’s four lists down, with two yet to come! Next up : the top 10 “special mentions” of the year, an eclectic category of “comics-adjacent” work that includes no actual comics per se, but narrative works (illustrated or otherwise) either by cartoonists, or about comics. It’ll make much more sense when I post it (probably tomorrow), I promise!

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/25/2018 – 03/03/2018

Looming nuclear war with North Korea! Looming cold war with Russia! Looming trade war with every other country on the planet! What have we got to take our minds off all this potential conflict? Why, comics, of course! And this week offered plenty of distraction — some good, some decidedly less so.

The Beef #1 is the opening salvo in a four-parter from Image that has apparently been in the works for quite some time. Co-writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline, of Elephantmen and Liberty Justice, respectively, join forces with living legend (as far as I’m concerned) Shaky Kane to serve up this story that appears to be part character-study of a lonely middle-aged “nobody,” part examination of small-town generational entrapment, part super-hero parody, and part polemic on the merits of vegetarianism. Kane’s art and colors are, needless to say, absolutely magnificent — larger than life and twice as bold, he’s the nearest thing in style and spirit to Kirby these days — and I’ll be damned if the narrative isn’t instantly involving, as well. It’s all done up in OTT broad strokes — alienated protagonist trapped in the same cattle-slaughtering gig as his old man before him, still tormented by the same bullies (one of whom is the Mayberry equivalent of Donald Trump Jr., given that his daddy owns the meat-processing plant and the fast food joynt while he plays “dudebro” at age 40) that have been making his life hell since high school — and laced with plenty of entirely un-subtle commentary on the evils of anti-immigrant prejudice and carnivorous eating. Yes, they really did make a label out of Kane’s cover art and stick it on a can of SPAM-type meat “product;” yes, our ostensible “hero” appears to turn into a freaky super-human “meat man” at the end; yes, the asshole bad guys really do set a charging bull on a shapely young lady who wisely won’t give either of them the time of day; and yes, this book is every kind of awesomely deranged fun you can imagine. Highest possible recommendation ain’t high enough — buy this comic and remind yourself why you still, stubbornly, love this beleaguered medium.

The One #1 kicks off IDW’s year-long run of Rick Veitch reprints (Brat Pack will be following suit), and offers prima facie evidence that, once upon a time, super-hero deconstructionism wasn’t such a bad thing at all. Originally published under Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, this has been (correctly, in my view) heralded as a thematic precursor of sorts to later, more-celebrated works such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight returns, but without the self-seriousness of either/both. Veitch is positively brimming over with ideas here, the comic is lavishly illustrated and beautifully colored, and consumer excess comes in for just as much scrutiny within its pages as does the notion of the super-powered vigilante. It’s been a hell of a long time since I read my B&W trade collection of this series, but I’m more than pleasantly surprised by how utterly relevant it remains — shit, I won’t even say that it’s “aged well,” as it’s more a case that the capes n’ tights scene is even more desperately in need of Veitch’s thorough-going, critical examination than it was 30-plus years ago. All the tropes that he wryly dissects are more entrenched — and frankly more nauseating — now than they were in the early 1980s, and even though “revisionism” has been done to death over the past few decades, this book still feels like a breath of unbelievably fresh air. $4.99 may be a little steep for what is essentially a standard-length comic, but for material this smart, incisive, and respectful of its own targets? Shit, it’s an absolute bargain. We’ve seen the problems inherent in this genre laid bare by any number of folks who have disdain for it — Veitch’s deconstruction comes from a place of, dare I say it, love, and he’s much more concerned with elevating costumed crime-fighters to where he thinks they should be rather than taking them down another peg or two. If you’re looking for a story with heart and humor that examines super-hero comics without making you feel like an asshole for still reading them, this is (insert audible groan here) the one.

Doom Patrol/Justice League Of America Special #1 wraps up Steve Orlando and Gerard Way’s “Milk Wars” DCU/Young Animal cross-over series in confusing and faux-“transgressive” fashion by turning the DP’s Rita Farr/Elasti-Girl into a kind of Christ-like figure who died for comics fans’ sins, only to be resurrected here as the very same sort of living plot device that the narrative ostensibly takes aim at. Orlando and Way more-than-imply that she’s a character who’s always deserved better than what she got — then cynically use her “rebirth” as a sort of deckchair-shuffling device to set the stage for the various soon-to-be-relaunched (just over a year into their existence) Young Animal titles. Some forced caption-box narration about the inherent value of being “weird” and “different” is apparently meant to make us forget what a naked cash-grab this entire venture was (seriously, the three “specials” in the middle of this series weren’t necessary to the proceedings at all — if you want to know what “Milk Wars” is all about, the first and final books are, strictly speaking, all you need) because we’ll all be too busy patting ourselves on our backs for our supposed “coolness.” I guess Dale Eaglesham’s art on the main story is okay if the standard “super-hero look” is your thing, and certainly Nick Derington’s work on the epilogue is every bit as fun and fantastic as his illustration in the main Doom Patrol series, but this whole friggin’ thing left me feeling decidedly unimpressed by the time it was over. Cliff Steele/Robotman is human again, Mother Panic has been thrust into the future, Shade’s got a new body, Cave Carson and crew are now in outer space, a character called Eternity Girl has something to do with something or other (we’ll find out in her own book, I guess) and Elasti-Girl is back. That’s where things stand now. Did it take five comics, each costing five bucks, to get us to this point? Not really, since all the events just mentioned take place on the final five or six pages of this one. Young Animal may pride itself on being some sort of “alternative” DC imprint, but the hustle is exactly the same. Oh, and is it just me, or is the stylized lettering on the Rita Farr “cosmic crucifixion” pages way too small? Mind you, I say this as a guy with 20/20 vision — I can only imagine the strain bespectacled readers went through trying to read that shit.

The Terrifics #1 is the latest book to launch as part of the self-described “New Age Of DC Heroes,” and it occcurs to me that, in addition to these titles being constructed according to the “Marvel Method” (writer hacks out a quick synopsis, artist then turns it into a 20-page story, writer comes back and fills in the word balloons and caption boxes), these are all Marvel comics. Which is fine, I suppose, since Marvel itself doesn’t seem interested in publishing them anymore, but seriously — Damage is pretty clearly DC’s take on the Hulk, The Silencer is a Punisher analogue, Sideways is Spider-Man with a different name and set of powers, and this new team consisting of Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, Metamorpho, and Phantom Girl doing the dimension-hopping bears more than a passing similarity, premise-wise, to the Fantastic Four. Jeff Lemire is scripting this one with Ivan Reis on art, and I was having a reasonably fun enough time shutting my brain off and going with the flow — until the last page, when Tom Strong shows up for the cliffhanger and DC proves, once again, that they’re more than happy to keep strip-mining Alan Moore’s imagination for all its (apostrophe omitted with specific intent) worth just to piss the guy off. Come on, any number of dormant space-faring adventurers would have worked just as well in Strong’s place — Adam Strange, anyone? — but it seems like the Dan DiDio/Jim Lee regime simply can’t resist rubbing The Bearded One’s face in their excrement. At first it was just sad and pathetic that they’d actually prove Moore’s points about how creatively and ethically bankrupt they are for him, but between this and Promethea’s recent appearance in Justice League Of America, it’s actually starting to feel more than a bit mean-spirited. I refuse to play along, and you should to. Drop this title from your pull now or suffer through the V/Batman and Top 10/Titans team-ups to follow. You’ve been warned.

And so we arrive at the end of yet another weekly wrap column, and reluctantly turn our attention back to the real world. At least until Wednesday, when a new batch of floppy, four-color escape valves arrives to take us away from the madness once again—