In recent graphic novels, everything old is new again. The Amazing Spider-Man has been reborn as Superior Spider-Man, while a new Star Wars series invites nostalgia by focusing on old fan favourites.
EC Comics, that beloved ’40s and ’50s publisher of pulp crime and horror comics, is in the midst of a revival thanks to a number of new volumes published by Fantagraphics.
Even in original works, there’s a touch of the strangely familiar. Ron Rege Jr.’s The Cartoon Utopia is visionary, but also unmistakably influenced by ’70s psychedelia.
A colour reprint of Paul Pope’s 1997 The One-Trick Rip-Off includes a short comic set in Toronto. Lilli Carré’s Heads or Tails draws readers into universal questions of fate and chance.
Lilli Carré, Heads or Tails
The talented young creator of 2008’s The Lagoon has returned with a collection of dreamy short stories. Lilli Carré writes and draws her own work, bringing her surreal narratives to life using an alternating palette of soft pastel and stark black-and-white.
Her stories move at the pace of dreams — a character reads a book about bats, and soon she’s chasing the winged creatures around her house; a ceiling leak becomes a flood, with bickering neighbours floating on furniture. In one standout tale, “The Thing about Madeline,” an alcoholic office worker walks into work one morning to find her doppelganger sitting at her desk. The character winds up following herself around all day, becoming a spectator in her own life.
Carré’s work, fittingly titled Heads or Tails, probes choice, ambivalence and fate; in her stories, there’s a flip side to everything, rendered in full and brilliant colour.
Wallace Wood, Came the Dawn and other stories and Harvey Kurtzman, Corpse on the Imjin! And other stories (Fantagraphics, $28.99 each or $46.38 gift set).
EC Comics’s catalogue has been reprinted and sold a number of different ways over the years, but since 2011 Fantagraphics has been inventing unique ways to publish their treasure trove of ’40s and ’50s crime, horror and war comics.
These new collections are a worthy pair. Wallace Wood’s art from Tales of the Crypt, The Haunt Of Fear and other series is pulled together in Came the Dawn and other stories. In dark shadows, bold lines and intense close-ups, he perfectly illustrates the stories — which ran the gamut from B-horror to confronting social issues such as racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.
Corpse on the Imjin! And other stories collects war comics written and, in many cases, drawn by Harvey Kurtzman, an author better known for his satirical work in Mad and Little Annie Fanny. In these violent, blood-spattered pages, he lays bare the devastation of war. Like others in Fantagraphic’s EC line, there are fantastic back-page interviews and essays, but this volume features a special bonus — all 23 of Kurtzman’s vivid war covers, reprinted in full colour.
Ron Regé Jr., The Cartoon Utopia, (Fantagraphics, $24.99).
Ron Regé Jr.’s work has never fit inside the box, but The Cartoon Utopia travels so far outside it as to become something else entirely. Filled with psychedelic artwork that fills the entire frame — in dense block text, squiggles, patterns, spirals and no speech bubbles — the book is more a wild, wandering journey through Regé Jr.’s consciousness.
The eccentric writer/artist says he was inspired by alchemy and hermeticism. The introduction is written by Maja D’Aoust, the ethereal “White Witch of L.A.,” whose so-called magic school provides inspiration for many passages in the book.
For the cynics among us, panels about transmutation or turning light into matter won’t inspire a newfound belief in mysticism. But the thrilling, one-of-a-kind art will stretch your imagination and, at the very least, make you believe in the power of comics to explore the impossible.
Paul Pope, The One-Trick Rip-Off and Deep Cuts, (Image, $29.99).
In this gorgeous new hardcover, Image Comics presents Paul Pope’s 1997 series The One-Trick Rip-Off in full colour, plus 150 pages of new and rare stories. It’s a gem for fans, who are also hoping the first part of his new epic Battle Boy will be released later this year.
Jamie Grant (All-Star Superman) takes the reins on colouring, and his vivid burnt oranges and chlorine-soaked blues elevate this story of an L.A. gangster couple trying to leave town by pulling off one last big heist. It’s not Pope’s strongest work of storytelling, but regardless, it’s an engrossing crime thriller that is enriched by the emotional lives of his characters.
As for the “Deep Cuts,” they are both beautiful and diverse. Between 1993 and 2001, Pope traveled from Columbus to Toronto to Tokyo to New York City, and drew short comics about dreams, relationships, failures and even illustrations of ancient Greek tragedy. The “Toronto” chapter manages to convey the loneliness of a young woman let down by men and features a moody illustration of the CN tower.
Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman, Superior Spider-Man #1, (Marvel, $3.99) Note: This review contains spoilers for both Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Superior Spider-Man #1.
When the ending of Amazing Spider-Man’s 50-year run leaked online in December, writer Dan Slott was pummeled with death threats from outraged fans. Some of that rage also spilled over to the Star, when an article regrettably spoiled the finale in a headline.
As we all now know, Spider-Man dies in the final issue after switching minds with Doctor Octopus. But fans can relax after Superior Spider-Man #1, because it turns out that Octavius — trapped inside Peter Parker’s body — still has all of the web-slinging photographer’s memories and experiences.
It’s an interesting twist that creates a number of storytelling opportunities, while managing to hold onto Parker’s character and set up his eventual return. However, the body switcheroo becomes far more uncomfortable when villain/dirtbag Octavius takes advantage of his new body to hit on Mary Jane.
Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda, Star Wars #1, (Dark Horse, $3.50)
Brian Wood’s new adventure in a galaxy far, far away is the first Star Wars comic in years that would appeal to casual fans — for example, those who know how many parsecs it took Han Solo to do the Kessel run, but couldn’t name his grandchildren without a Google search.
The first issue focuses on the original film characters and takes place in the period between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Leia’s character is the most immediately appealing, as her grief over the destruction of her home planet hardens her resolve to battle the Empire.
Meanwhile, Chewy and Han Solo reminisce about simpler times and Luke wonders if he’ll ever be able to fulfill his Uncle Ben’s expectations. With slick, dynamic art by Carlos D’Anda, Star Wars looks like one of the most promising “new” action series of the year.