Dave Wallace writes,
As we head into the final stretch of 2015, I thought I’d take a moment to pick out some of my favourite collected editions of the past year. If you end up with a few quid to spend in the January sales then keep an eye out for some of these.
TPBs – Modern:
While both DC and Marvel are both pretty quick to get their monthly comics collected in TPB these days, it’s been the non-Big-Two books that have really caught my eye this year. Of course, Image always does well with its budget-priced “volume one” collections, and although there are far too many to name here, I will say that Scott Snyder and Jock‘s Wytches really captured my imagination with its genuinely unsettling tale of a family’s life being completely and utterly disrupted by the sinister creatures of the title. Mark Millar and Frank Quitely‘s Jupiter’s Legacy also impressed with its epic, inter-generational story that mixes politics and social commentary with super-powers and capes, drawn to perfection by the peerless artist. Both of these have sequel series coming in the new year, so it’s well worth getting in on the ground floor with them here.
Away from Image, my attention was drawn to Alan Moore‘s latest Avatar outing, Crossed + 100 (available from Titan in the UK), which used its future-setting to pull off some fantastically creative tricks revolving around the evolution of language, at the same time as setting out a genuinely engaging and disturbing story about humanity trying to piece itself back together in the ruins of a zombie apocalypse. While the series has continued past Moore’s original six issues with Si Spurrier at the helm, this first TPB nevertheless functions as a very self-contained story that can be enjoyed as much as an original graphic novel as it is the start of a brand new series in the Crossed universe.
TPBs – Classic:
When it comes to collecting classic material, I think Dark Horse always deserve a mention. This year they’ve continued their omnibus collections of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima‘s Lone Wolf and Cub series in a format that does the work justice while also being very affordable, and it looks like they’re onto a similar winner with their recently-inaugurated omnibus collections of Osamu Tezuka‘s Astro Boy.
Some credit also has to be given to Marvel for continuing to put a huge amount of effort into their “Epic” line of TPBs, which applies the philosophy of their “Masterworks” hardcover collections to the paperback arena: collecting full runs of classic Marvel titles in full colour. My only complaint with the Epic line is that the out-of-order release schedule makes it very difficult to plan your collection (as you never know which particular chunk of a series you’re going to get next), but with so many issues packed into these well-put-together volumes it seems churlish to moan. At a time when DC has been letting a lot of its ‘classic’ lines die on the vine (like the Showcase and Chronicles books), it’s nice to see Marvel recognising the value of its extensive back catalogue.
Hardcovers and Omnibuses – Modern:
I’m a big fan of the deluxe and oversized collections that seem to be dominating the market for collected editions these days, and this year has seen such a lot of great releases that it’s difficult to narrow them down to my favourites. But of DC’s modern offerings, two stand out: the deluxe hardcovers of Grant Morrison‘s Multiversity and of Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III’s Sandman Overture. The former is a wild ride through DC’s multiverse with a host of fantastic artists – with Morrison and Quitely’s Pax Americana riff on Watchmen possibly standing as my favourite single issue of recent years – and the latter is the pairing of one of the best-loved writers in comics with one of its most accomplished and elaborate current artists. Sandman Overture has apparently achieved the seemingly impossible task of living up to the original Sandman while also succeeding as a story in its own right, and the oversized deluxe edition is by far the best way to experience JHW3’s sumptuous double-page-spreads in all their glory.
Marvel has had a fair amount of my money this year too, not least for its beautiful Hawkeye omnibus that collects the entire series by Matt Fraction and David Aja, as well as a few other artistic collaborators (when one of your fill-in artists is Francesco Francavilla, you know you’re onto a good thing). My other favourite Marvel book of the last few years, Mark Waid‘s Daredevil, also continues to be well-served by the oversized hardcover collections that the publisher is putting out (with volume four due early in the new year and the concluding fifth volume not long after).
Dark Horse produced possibly the heaviest book of the year with its bumper collection of Frank Miller‘s Big Damn Sin City, which is a must for any fan of the series, with gigantic dimensions that make Miller’s stark artwork look better than ever. And Image showed off several of the recent jewels in its crown with very smart-looking oversized hardcover editions for books like BKV & Fiona Staples‘ Saga, Rucka & Lark‘s Lazarus, and Brubaker & Phillips‘ Fatale, a trinity that encapsulates both the high quality and the tonal diversity of the publisher’s current output.
Hardcovers and Omnibuses – Classic:
Given DC’s oft-cited tendency to muck up its collections – especially the big and expensive ones – I was surprised to find that one of my favourite books of the year was their Wonder Woman by George Perez omnibus. A beautifully-designed and well-built book, it collects the entire run of the series during which Perez was providing both writing and art, and even if there is one slightly irritating omission (a story involving Wonder Woman from Action Comics #600 that ties into several of the plot points of this era), it’s still a fantastic package that shows off one of the character’s most defining runs very well indeed.
Marvel didn’t do too badly either, wasting no time in kicking off a series of Star Wars omnibuses at the start of the year to commemorate the property’s licence migrating to them from Dark Horse. There were plenty more classic omnibuses too, including a third collection of Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four and a second silver-age Avengers volume to tie in with the Age of Ultron movie hitting theatres. But for me, I think the most exciting release was the recent S.H.I.E.L.D. Complete Collection omnibus, combining some more classic Kirby material with Jim Steranko‘s defining run on the book.
Coffee-table art book:
This is a special category for a few odds and ends that don’t really fit anywhere else – and one of them isn’t even a comic.
First up are a couple of original-art books that have helped me to get truly addicted to the format over the past year. If you’re not familiar with them, they reproduce the original black-and-white linework of classic comics at the same scale as the original art, making them the closest that most people will get to seeing the work of industry legends in the flesh. Scott Dunbier of IDW really pioneered this format, and the company put out a few very decent offerings this year, my favourite of which was the Frank Miller’s Daredevil Artifact Edition. This offered the chance to see a smattering of pages from one of the most defining and influential superhero runs of all time, with such crystal clear reproduction on most of the pages that you could see even the finest details of Miller’s work (including, in one memorable panel, the artist’s own fingerprints used as an art tool). Unfortunately the limited availability of the original pages meant that the book was limited to a selection of largely isolated single pages or short sequences, rather than the full-length stories that we saw in books like the Born Again Artist Edition. But still, that’s better than nothing.
However, even better than the Daredevil book – for my money, anyway – was the Ronin Gallery Edition by Graphitti Designs and DC. The book does a great job presenting the original art of what I think is still one of the industry’s most underrated comics, Ronin: a true breakthrough for Miller and for comics in general. Presenting the art for the entire full-length story (with only a handful of pages not being scanned directly from the original art boards), the book is a chance to get a close-up look at Miller in his creative prime, with dimensions so large that it feels like you could fall into his story at any moment.
Finally, I have to give some attention to a book that I think is going to quickly be beloved by geeks the world over, even if it isn’t a comic. That book is Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, an extensive oversized hardcover making-of book published by Harper Designs in the US and Titan in the UK, which covers the making of the BTTF trilogy in more extensive detail than you ever thought possible. Far from being one of those party-line, sanitised looks at the behind-the-scenes process, there’s a huge amount of detail here covering even the more controversial aspects of the series’ production: including the casting and replacement of Eric Stoltz as Marty, the decision by Crispin Glover to walk away from the series, and the rushed and difficult production of both of the movie’s sequels at the same time. That, combined with a wealth of details that (even as a huge BTTF fan) I’d never heard before, some beautiful storyboards and production art, plus a number of fantastically-produced extras (including facsimiles of props from the movie such as Marty’s photograph, Doc Brown’s letter from the 1880s and a poster for Jaws 19), makes it unmissable for anyone who loves these classic movies.