When Words Collide

Mon, November 29th, 2010 at 1:58pm PST | Updated: November 29th, 2010 at 3:36pm

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer
6

SHOPPING SPREE: YOUR BUYERS GUIDE FOR LATE 2010

Part of this week's column is a chance to make my own holiday wish list. To figure out what I haven't picked up yet, but wanted to. To clarify what's out there, and what I can write down and say, "Hey kids, I wouldn't hate this stuff, if it were to end up under the tree this year."

That's the greedy part. And, honestly, once I refine this list, I take most of those things out of the running. The list would be too long if I included everything I love (or would love).

But it's also a chance to highlight some books or comics or other geek products that you may have missed. Or to discuss some things that I may not have mentioned in past columns. To ring in the season with an endorsement or two, not because I have anything to gain by recommending these cool cultural artifacts other than to spread the love. I love - or think I might love - all this stuff, and you might too.

And this isn't all necessarily based around recent or coming releases. Some of these suggestions might be a bit dusty. But why do we feel compelled to talk about only the newest stuff when we're looking for gift ideas? Sometimes it makes sense - it often makes sense - to remind ourselves of the good stuff that's been around a but. While it lasts.

Case in point: "Thor: The Mighty Avenger" Volume 1. Collecting the first four issues of the Roger Langridge/Chris Samnee series (a series that, as you all know, has recently been cancelled because of low sales), plus, I think, a couple of Jack Kirby reprints, this is a book that would probably delight anyone who (a) can read, and (b) can look at pictures. It was part of Marvel's all-ages line, but it wasn't marketed as such, and it was more of a clean reboot of the character for a larger audience. Actually, it was more like "All-Star Thor," if you get my meaning. It was a pared down, elegant, iconic version of the character and his world, and though it had some sitcom-like pacing (which was quite entertaining), it was also crisp and exciting and fun.

I was reluctant to pick up the series when it launched, because, as much as I was (and am) a huge, huge, huge admirer of Chris Samnee, I felt like I could skip the monthly issues and pick up the trade at some point. But all the praise from Chad Nevett and friends, and a visit to comics shop while on vacation, conspired to get me to pick up issues #1-3 and I realized how foolish I had been for resisting the series for even a second. It is precisely the kind of comics everyone claims to want - it has action and energy and intelligence and isn't decompressed or mopey or gratuitous - and it really is the kind of comic that anyone could enjoy. Pick up the first collection and see what you missed, or give it to your friends and then tell them: "If you like that, there's another volume coming out, but then that's it because comic book readers don't actually put their wallets where their mouths are." Well, maybe you don't have to say that last part, but you can think it.

Another pick for this holiday season is "The Marshal Law Omnibus". Actually, I'm kidding. That is on my list every year, and every year it fails to come out. So you can ignore me this time. But if it does come out, feel free to read the heck out of it.

The "Wednesday Comics" Hardcover is something you can read the heck out of as well. It works best as an art book, and it would have been even more amazing at the full size of the newsprint series, but then it would have required a crane to lift, and one of those "Aliens" exoskeletons to turn the pages. There's something about this volume that does make it a perfect gift, though, because the stories are self-contained, vibrant, sometimes weird, always slick, and possibly forgettable. That doesn't make the book any less enjoyable. It's a heavy book with a lightweight group of stories inside, and I really do like it a whole lot because of that.

I'm sure the massive $200 Taschen "75 Years of DC Comics" book would be another of those heavy-but-lightweight reads, except even heavier, and possibly more lightweight. But I haven't seen anything beyond a brief preview, though I'm certainly interested in anything written by Paul Levitz that's just about the same weight as he is.

Just as pop-arty good, but far less expensive, is the not-classic-but-should-be "Superman/Madman Hullabaloo" from over a decade ago. There's no new reprint of this Mike Allred volume, but that doesn't mean your friends and family wouldn't like a copy. It's the perfect palate-cleanser for anyone who has inflicted the J. Michael Straczynski "Superman" or "Superman Earth One" books on themselves this season. If you're looking for something that's the complete opposite of the Straczynski approach, Mike Allred's Superman is the way to go. Neither Tyrell nor walking Superman make an appearance.

Another blast from the past, although this time with a new printing this year, is Dark Horse's"Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago..." reprinting the first few years of the Marvel "Star Wars" comics, most notable for the early Howard Chaykin art, the ultra-stylized Carmine Infantino work, and a villain based on the likeness of Sergio Aragones. I've read most of these comics in various forms over the years, but I've never enjoyed them as much as I have in this Omnibus format. The page size feels exactly right, and it's the proper thickness for pulpy space fun. It recalls a time when "Star Wars" didn't take itself so seriously, even if many of the fans did.

I won't bother elaborating on why you'd want to get "The Ghost Rider Omnibus" or "Absolute All-Star Superman" or the soon-in-coming Silver Age "Green Lantern Omnibus," because the names Jason Aaron, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Gil Kane all have the power of a million exploding suns, and I don't want to endanger anyone. If you're like me, you probably own those comics in multiple formats anyway. (But I will still get these. Oh yes, I will.)

Humanoids has a big hardcover volume coming out called The Incal: Classic Collection, and while I haven't seen it, I understand that it uses the original coloring rather than the over-modeled new-style coloring you've seen the last time "The Incal" was printed in America. Humanoids is ramping up its output over the next year, and they are producing books that deserve our support. We have too many years without quality European comics being readily available. Moebius is hard to find in this country. Humanoids is fixing that, and so I'll be picking up whatever I see from Bob Silva and company.

Scott Snyder and Stephen King and Rafael Albuquerque's "American Vampire" Volume 1 is another thing to add to the wish list. It's the anti-"Twilight" for the vampire lovers in your household, and it tells a hard-scrabble story of betrayal and backbiting in the Jazz Age and the American west. Plus, it sets the stage for what is an even-better comic book series now that Snyder is writing the full issues himself. The second arc, not yet reprinted, seems to have changed the setting and cast of characters (like "Northlanders," another top-notch Vertigo comic), but it turns out that Snyder faked us out. It's one big story, with plenty of layers and recursion. And it's good.

All eight volumes of "Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka" are now readily available, and what a great stocking stuffer those books would be! I can't imagine the delight on the faces of everyone receiving that whole run of books for the holidays. I mean, it might be too good for them. Have you ever seen anyone after they've finished the series? It involves weeping. Powerful stuff, with robots, monsters, and the essence of humanity.

For an outside-the-box suggestion, something with a more personal flair, how about a piece of original art from Dan Hipp? Original comic art or sketches are always a great gift, but Mr. Hipp does some amazing work at some extraordinarily low prices ($30 or $40 per drawing), suitable for a rec room in any house. Do people have rec rooms anymore? With bumper pool? If they do, they need something like Dan Hipp's "I Quit" to liven things up.

Oh, there's "Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth" coming out soon? I'll make a note of that as well. Consider it noted. Though it will probably be delayed, like all the other mammoth books I tend to recommend.

Finally, if you have any tabletop gamers in your life, and you really should, then you can go one of two ways. You can splurge (or be so awesome that your loved ones splurge on you) and pick up some Dwarven Forge sets. It's the best terrain for tabletop RPGs imaginable, and it makes even the most bland dungeon crawl come alive in a claustrophobic, panicky intensity. It'll set you back about $600 just to get started, and you'll easily drop $2000 to get what you really want, but, seriously, it's pretty awesome gear for your heavy-duty RPG lifestyle.

Most people don't have a heavy-duty RPG lifestyle, though, and that's fine.

So for everybody, young or old, new gamer or veteran, I'd recommend the newly-revised-and-boxed Gamma World game from Wizards of the Coast. It's based on the 4th edition D&D rules, but you can learn those in about 15 minutes, and start playing Gamma World, even stopping to create characters, in about half an hour. And. It. Is. A. Blast.

Right now, I'm playing it with my two kids - ages 6 and 9 - and the random element of the game (you generate a character by rolling two character types and then mashing them together, so we have a humanoid cat with mind blasts and a giant with gravity control, and the characters mutate with different powers and gain random disposable equipment regularly) plus the anything-goes setting creates a fast-paced, ridiculously imaginative game.

So far, our psychic cat and graviton giant have rammed their pink, spiked pick-up truck into a robot factory, used a hypnosis ray to trick a mutated pigman into jumping into a radioactive crater to look for a missing wallet, and thrown a lethal teddy bear (known as "Mr. Huggins") onto the back of a giant laser moth.

These kids have been bored by the high fantasy of D&D (even with dragons and baby Beholders and cool powers), and they are loving Gamma World every single time we sit down to play it, which is never as often as they want. They literally beg me to set it up.

But with the kind of stories they're making up along the way, who wouldn't want to find out what happens next?

Out of all the "Shopping Spree" recommendations, Gamma World will take you and your friends and your family to the farthest reaches of enjoyment. If you don't have any friends or family members, then the books and comics will have to do. They may be enough.

(Oh, and don't forget to pick up "Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods" on DVD so you can get minutes upon minutes of me talking to you through the television.)

In addition to writing WHEN WORDS COLLIDE 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.

Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan

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