When Words Collide

Mon, March 15th, 2010 at 1:58pm PDT | Updated: March 15th, 2010 at 4:18pm

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

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GODS, DEVILS, AND KURTZMAN:
UPCOMING COLLECTIONS THAT MATTER

Every few months, I like to take a look at what's coming out on the collected edition front. I'm a fiend for a nice-looking collected edition -- something strong and solid for the old bookshelf (or the new bookshelf, because I'm always adding new shelves to keep up with the ridiculous amount of comics, books, and books about comics I'm always picking up). And, yes, I did take advantage of the Amazon glitch last weekend, stocking up on Dark Horse Archives that I would have normally ignored. It turns out that my son would become an enormous "Herbie, the Fat Fury" fan a few hours after that Archive edition arrived. Who knew?

But whether you played along with the Amazon glitchiness or not, I'm sure you're always on the lookout for good collected editions. I know, I am. (Even as I type this, sitting on a pile of "Turok, Son of Stone" hardcovers.)

This upcoming crop looks particularly interesting, largely because -- unlike many collected editions I buy these days -- most of these books feature work I don't already own. I'm a notorious sucker for the double or triple-dip (I own Frank Miller's "Daredevil" in at least three different formats, if not more, if you include the greatest hits compilation of "The Elektra Saga" trade paperback), and at least one of my recommendations this week falls into that category, but it's nice to see so many handsome volumes full of pages I haven't yet read.

So consider this a Top 15 Upcoming Collected Editions List. These are the things I'm interested in over the next couple of months, and I think you might be as well (but as with my previous lists like this, note that the release dates may be wildly inaccurate -- I'm still waiting for that "Marshal Law Omnibus," too:

1. Grendel: Behold The Devil HC (3/17/10)

Matt Wagner's "Grendel" features one of my favorite comic book universes. Whether it's his raw early work, his shortly-later Hunter Rose reconfiguration in the art deco graphic novel, the Pander Brothers' sleek and sinewy style, or the later work by such distinctive artists voices as Bernie Mireault, J. K. Snyder, and Tim Sale, I've adored the aesthetic world of "Grendel." But those are comics from 20 years ago, and other than a little Grendel here and there, we haven't seen much of the character since the "Grendel: Black, White, and Red" series from the 1990s.

This volume collects the only new Matt Wagner Grendel series of the past decade -- a series began in 2007, when I said to myself, "you know what? I'll wait for the trade on this one." Well, three year later, here we are, with the first collected edition of the series. And I'm eager to see if the recent Matt Wagner lives up to my expectations. Even if it doesn't, it will still be Matt Wagner doing "Grendel," and that's always a good thing.

2. Thor: Tales Of Asgard (3/24/10)

Let's be honest: as great as the early Stan Lee/Jack Kirby "Thor" stories were, the real quality was found in their work on the "Tales of Asgard" backup strips, when Kirby's imagination could run wild as he portrayed the strange and beautiful world beyond the Bifrost Bridge. This was an otherworldly realm of gods and monsters, great warriors and Falstaffian follies. And that's what we get here. This edition reprints the recent six-issue series that recolored the Lee and Kirby classics. Though I'm not a fan of the recoloring at all, I am a fan of the Kirby illustrations. I am a fan of this portrayal of Asgard, gussied-up though it may be. This is the good stuff. The stuff of pure imagination.

3. Playboy's Trump! The Complete Collection TP (3/24/10)

Harvey Kurtzman's short-lived humor magazine gets a Dark Horse reprint this month, and it features quite a line-up. The 1957 comic book all-stars, with some top notch talents from other media featured in the two issues reprinted here. This is the magazine that fits between Kurtzman's work at EC Comics and his slightly-longer-lived-than-Trump "Humbug" magazine. Hugh Hefner funded it -- he was a bidding cartoonist himself in the old days -- but it couldn't sustain itself. It was too ambitious, and never had time to develop a readership that could keep it alive.

But inside these pages? Kurtzman. Wood. Elder. Davis. And even Mel Brooks.

4. The Creeper By Steve Ditko HC (3/31/10)

I have never read a single one of these stories. I've been delving deeper and deeper into Ditko's work with every new release that comes out during this Ditko-reprint-renaissance that we're currently in, but I've never seen an entire Ditko Creeper story. It's pretty clear to anyone who's read any NON-Ditko Creeper stories (as great as Cliff Chiang's artwork looked on the Vertigo revamp), that Jack Ryder is a nearly-impossible character to get right. Whether it's his Sean Hannity-like rantings or his manic street-level hopping around in his yellow and green outfit, cackling with gleeful menace, the Creeper is someone who, I would assume, can only be brought to life from the pen and ink of Steve Ditko.

5. Absolute Green Lantern: Rebirth HC (4-21-10)

Yeah, this will be a triple-dip for me. But I can't resist an Absolute Edition. They are too pretty. And when comics are printed at this size -- with this heft -- it makes the spectacle all the more spectacular. That's what Geoff Johns's Green Lantern stories are all about: awesome spectacle and big moments of drama. Now, they'll be even bigger.

6. Blacksad HC (3-24-10)

A hardboiled noir comic with anthropomorphic animals? From France? Yes, and it's pretty amazing-looking. Blacksad has trickled over to America in the past, but now Dark Horse seems dedicated to bring it over here in a more durable form. I've only had limited exposure to this comic, but I have been longing for a committed reprint program so we can see the cool stories of Juan Diaz Canales and the lush and muscular artistry of Juanjo Guarnido on a more regular basis. This volume collects the first three "Blacksad" tales and the most recent graphic album. I don't know how much more "Blacksad" is left to arrive after that, but this is surely a great way to expose the American audience to P.I. John Blacksad and his weird world of crime.

7. BodyWorld HC by Dash Shaw (4/7/10)

Dash Shaw, the wonderboy of American indie comics right now (he talked with Mazzucchelli for "The Comics Journal" #300! He created "Bottomless Belly Button!" He directed the animated "Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D." for IFC! He, uh, drew Dr. Strange for "Strange Tales" last year!) has this monster of a book coming out from Pantheon. "BodyWorld" is still available in its webcomic incarnation -- you can see the Maps here and beginning reading with the Prelude here, but this Pantheon edition is a bit different from the online version, and I'd rather hold it in my hands. Shaw takes some getting used to, and on the surface, his art looks amateurish or even ugly, but there's a haunting beauty to his work once you let yourself embrace it for what it is. Out of everything on this list, "BodyWorld" is probably the comic that's furthest from the mainstream comics most CBR readers enjoy. But that doesn't mean it should be ignored. I'll be picking up my copy as soon as it's released.

8. The Newsboy Legion By Joe Simon And Jack Kirby Vol. 1 HC (3/24/10)

It's Joe Simon and Jack Kirby from the Golden Age of DC. I love this stuff. And I'm glad to see more of it. On the Kirby front, though, let's see a three-volume "Absolute Kamandi" hey, DC?

9. Viking Vol. 1: The Long Cold Fire HC (3/24/10)

Show up for the Vikings, stay for the magnificent Nic Klein art. Like "Northlanders" this is a Viking saga with a modern sensibility, but Ivan Brandon's story has a more traditional base in its exploration of group dynamics and local politics. It's a struggle for leadership, for survival, in a world in which no one can be trusted. If you saw the oversized individual issues, you know how beautiful this series looks, and if you didn't see the singles, then be prepared to fall in love with the work Nic Klein does here. It's a mixed media wonderland. A dark, brutal, terrible one, indeed.

10. Night Owls Vol.1 (3/24/10)

Zuda is the "St. Elmo's Fire" or "Dazed and Confused" of the comic book marketplace. It may not be great (though it has its devoted fans), but it's the breeding ground for a generation of talent that will take over the industry within the next decade. Zuda has a terrible interface, and it makes reading comics on that site a chore, but there are some fascinating comics being produced over there, and "The Night Owls," by the Timony brothers is just the latest example.

This is a jazz-age supernatural detective story with a sense of humor about itself and a jaunty attitude toward life. If this comic were produced for Top Shelf, it would be critically-acclaimed. Now, it's slightly-acclaimed and mostly overlooked because no one really likes to read comics via a ridiculous Flash player. In book form, this series will radiate with its undeniable charm.

11. Hellboy Volume 9: The Wild Hunt TPB (3/24/10)

So Mike Mignola sticks to the writing and someone else comes in on the art and "Hellboy" looks better than ever? Well, not exactly, but it's close. And, yes, Duncan Fegredo worked on Hellboy in "Darkness Calls," but "The Wild Hunt" looks even better than that good-looking series. "Hellboy" has always been a book where the art has surpassed the story, but Mignola's either getting a lot better as a writer (which is more than possible, since he's become quite experienced behind the keyboard) or he's become so comfortable with the world in which his stories are set that he can actually focus on telling the story, rather than giving us overwhelming exposition to explain it all (which is certainly an improvement).

"The Wild Hunt" has some twists and turns -- as early as the first chapter -- but it's mostly about the character of Hellboy. About how he interacts with the world around him. And, man, does it look great? That's a rhetorical question, but I'll answer it: "yes it does."

12. Northlanders Vol. 3: Blood In The Snow (3/24/10)

In this collection of Brian Wood's Viking tales, we get the two-part look at the famous events at "Lindisfarne," mostly from the point of view of a child, the single-issue fight scene drawn by Vasilis Lolos in which wood annotates the context of Viking combat, the short saga of the "Shield Maidens," and, my favorite, the return of Sven. Honestly, Sven is still the best character Wood has created in these pages, and I know he's done telling Sven's story, but it's nice to see his little epilogue included here. And that Lolos issue is fascinating. It's like that Discovery Channel show, "Time Warp," but with Vikings smashing each other in the face.

13. Batman And Robin Deluxe Edition Vol. 1: Batman Reborn HC (4/7/10)

I can't believe their still going with "Batman Reborn" as a title for this stuff, but that's just a minor quibble. A major quibble would be that half of the stories in this issue are almost unreadable thanks to Philip Tan's muddy artwork and sloppy storytelling choices. But this is Grant Morrison doing Dick Grayson in his "acid trip-pop day-glo adventure" phase or whatever he's calling it. And it has three amazing chapters of Frank Quitely art. And it's not like the Tan issues are a complete waste -- we get a dark spin on the Red Hood which comments on the Batman Family legacy and we get Scarlet, a kid sidekick unlike any we've ever seen before. No matter my complaints about some of the issues reprinted in this collection, this is still one of DC's best series of the last year.

14. Captain America: Reborn Premiere HC (3/24/10)

The real "Reborn" takes place here, even if it did suffer from a bit of a delay in its serialization and the event hype than never really matched what it was: a continuation of the Ed Brubaker "Captain America" series, spun off onto its own for no good reason. But what was lost in the unfolding of "Captain America: Reborn," or what was easy to overlook, was how much fun the story was. It's a slam-bang superhero adventure, pulling in Cap's friends and foes and spinning them all together in a time travel, mind-swap plot that you might see in the Jack Kirby days. But done with the Brubaker style, with the Brubaker voice. Captain America's return may have been undermined by the events of the Marvel Universe proper, but as a story about one of Steve Rogers's greatest challenges, this one's pretty darn good.

15. DC Comics Classics Library: The Justice League Of America By George Perez Vol. 2 HC (4/28/10)

The first volume of George Perez "JLA" stories -- that's a pretty disappointing collection. First of all, it jumps right in to the middle of a crossover, which doesn't help the readability of its stories, such as they are. And Perez's artwork looks a little rough, and it's not completely due to the terrible inking (although that is a problem on some stories in Volume 1). So why highlight Volume 2, then? Because this edition reprints a more sustained run of issues #193-197 -- short though that run may be -- and it's in these issues that George Perez looks like George Perez. Perhaps there's some nostalgia on my part, because this is where I was first introduced to his art when I picked up some of these JLA issues at the corner store as a kid. But this is "DC Comics Classics Library," so nostalgia is the name of the game. Most importantly, though, this volume collects "Justice League of America" #200, a.k.a. the greatest JLA story of that era. In that milestone issue, you get George Perez, but you also get Brian Bolland, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert. It's DC superhero history, condensed into a single issue. And I really just want that in a hardcover form. The other, Perez-drawn stuff, is just finely-rendered gravy.

Thanks to Chris Marshall and Collected Comics Library for his ever-helpful list of CE release dates!

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Listen to his weekly words of wisdom on The Splash Page Podcast.

Follow Tim on Twitter: gbfiremelon

TAGS:  when words collide, grendel, blacksad, batman and robin, green lantern

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