Dave Wallace writes for Bleeding Cool;
Welcome to back to Jack of All Trades. This week, I'm choosing to run an entire column of reviews spotlighting a publisher that might not be as familiar to US readers as it is to those of us in the UK: Titan books.
As well as publishing material in their own right, Titan also act as the UK marketer and distributor of a lot of material that's published by other companies in the US – including DC, Dynamite, Avatar, and a lot more besides. (Sometimes, this amounts to little more than slapping a Titan barcode sticker on the book as originally published, whilst other titles get their own dedicated Titan-printed editions).
As such, Titan provides access to a wealth of material for tradewaiters in the UK – even if parallel-importing of the US editions from the original publishers can sometimes lead to confusion over pricing and availability in the run-up to release. Still, that seems to be something that has been tightened up lately, meaning that unless you buy the US imports directly from a comics store, Titan's editions are the only way you can get hold of a lot of this material.
So for the benefit of UK tradewaiters, here's a small taster of the publisher's recent output, as well as my thoughts on whether they're worth your pennies.
The Boys, volume 9: The Big Ride: I don't think I've ever known my opinion of a book to change so much over the course of a series. When The Boys first appeared, I wrote it off as a puerile, mean-spirited mockery of superhero books that relied on shock value and explicit sex/language to make its impact. But as time has passed and the series has continued, it's become something far subtler and more sophisticated.
I love the way that writer Garth Ennis has gradually built up his superheroes and his superhero-haters into two equally unlikeable sides, making both factions so morally compromised that it's impossible to root for either of them. The character arc of Wee Hughie has also been really well-handled, and I'm really keen to see what comes of his increasing antagonism with The Butcher (which moves up to a whole new level in this volume).
But it's the three-issue arc that comes in the middle of this TPB that's probably the best material in the book: a WWII story that feels close to Ennis's heart – with some surprisingly sincere commentary on war and those who fight in it – and which also reveals some very significant chunks of backstory that add new depth to earlier arcs.
Plus, it collects 12 issues for around a tenner, which is indisputably great value.
Crossed, volume 1: Crossed is another Garth Ennis book that turned out to be a lot better than I expected. Whilst it's nominally a zombie/survival-horror story that starts off quite similarly to the likes of The Walking Dead, it quickly establishes its own tone – largely through the extreme violence and explicit sexual elements that it uses to demonstrate just how bloody scary the infected humans of this story can be.
After all, any book that can tell a story in which the second chapter ends with two of the lead characters – a married couple with a young kid – getting captured by zombies, simultaneously anally raped and dismembered, at the same time as their young daughter is ripped to shreds for the amusement of masturbating hordes of infected crazies certainly isn't for the faint-hearted. Jacen Burrows disturbing work on Alan Moore's Neonomicon has nothing on his work here, which treads a fine enough line between realism and exaggeration that readers will be simultaneously horrified and entertained by the sick products of Ennis's imagination.
However, in amongst these more extreme elements, the writer manages to inject some real humanity and passion into the surviving humans – without ever letting things get anywhere near slushy or sentimental. And despite the climbing bodycount (no-one is safe here, not even characters who you'd think would be guaranteed to make it to the end of the story), the story ends on a sober moment of reflection that manages to provide a sliver of hope amongst all the darkness.
I'd be interested to know whether any of the follow-up minis by other creators are any good, because this is another Ennis book that surprised me with its quality. I think I'll have to place his output higher up on my radar from now on.
Given what I've heard about the many writers and artists that scrambled to complete this Batman miniser
The book isn't perfect: there are a couple of plot holes – for example, there doesn't seem to be any indication of why the crimes linked to the founding of Gotham are suddenly happening now – but it's nothing that stops the story from being enjoyable. And the art by Trevor McCarthy is really nice – especially the architecture, which plays a pretty important role in the story.ies before DC's 'New 52' reboot, it's impressive that the finished product turned out to be so cohesive. The central concept – provided by Scott Snyder – of two parallel stories involving a modern-day crime spree linked to the activities of the founding fathers of Gotham is an interesting one, and it ties in thematically with the historical angle Snyder has been exploring in his current Batman run. It's also nice to read another good Dick-Grayson-as-Batman story (although like Snyder;s "Black Mirror", it makes me sad that that era was so truncated), and the characterisation of the supporting characters is pretty solid too, especially Damian.
I also love McCarthy's detailed, steampunk-y design for the diving/protection suit that's central to the plot. It's reminiscent of some of the practical-looking stuff Tony Harris came up with for Ex Machina (and even seems to tip its hat to that series with the use of the cog logo).
Finally, the TPB also collects the Paris-set "Nightrunner" story by Kyle Higgins, which ties into Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated and introduces an interesting character to the Bat-universe. However, I can't help but feel that the story must have been truncated for this reprint, as there's an incredibly clunky transition between two scenes that essentially cuts all of the action out of the middle of the story, and makes you feel as though you've definitely missed something in between. Is there a section of the story that was cut from this reprint, or is it just a really poorly-written story? I'm suspecting the former.
This comprehensive collection collates all nine issues of the cult 1990s Chase series – most notable for being illustrated by JH Williams III – as well as the Batmanissue that introduced the character. Oh, you also get the 'DC One Million' issue and loads of short stories from "secret files" issues and the like, but it's the core miniseries that's the real meat of the book.The book could be considered a forerunner of Brian Bendis's Alias, in the sense that it explores the activities of superheroes in the DCU through a more grounded, adult perspective, and tries to work out how US security agencies would actually handle having super-powered people around. Cameron Chase (lately seen in the pages of Batwoman) is a great character, and in amongst the encounters with high-profile DC superheroes, there's a compelling subplot through which a mystery about her father is gradually teased out over the course of the series.
However, there's a sense that the book was cut short before it could tie up all of the elements it had put in place: Chase's mysterious power is never explored in any great depth, and the subplot about the Department of Extranormal Operations rounding up super-powered kids to place in holding centres – orphanages – feels like a long-term story element that never got to see its payoff.
Still, there are some decent stories in their own right here – including a great two-parter in which Chase is sent to Gotham on the pretext of investigating a drug that mutates its users, when really she's been sent there to try and discover exactly who Batman is. The second part of the story, in particular, handles the idea of trying to crack the mystery really well – with Chase using some pretty intelligent and high-tech methods to try and discover Bruce's secret, only to be met with some equally clever and high-tech responses. And this story also adds a fair amount of depth to what's going on in the pages of Batwoman at the moment.Williams's art is predictably great: although not as fully developed in terms of variety of styles as his more recent work, his skills are still definitely on display, and the few issues that he doesn't illustrate don't quite hold up to his offerings. This collection makes me wonder if there's any chance of a new Chase-based series in future, especially given her recent reintroduction to the DCU.
This collection of the first half of Jack Kirby's Kamandi is lots of fun, providing a great showcase for the artist to cut loose with whatever weird and wonderful ideas he feels like playing with. Talking animals and savage humans are just the tip of the iceberg in the world of Kamandi following Earth's "great disaster" – there's plenty of stuff here that's a lot odder than that. But somehow, as ever, Kirby makes it work.
More than ever, Kirby's figures feel like they're carved out of rock, and he gets to experiment with some interesting designs across the variety of species that populate the book. It's also nice to really get a sense of his artwork kicking into a higher gear when he's drawing something that really inspires him: the final issues collected here (#19 and #20) take place in a facsimilie of 1920s Chicago, which Kirby has clearly only plotted because he feels like drawing old-fashioned gangsters for an issue or two. And when they start fighting armies of gorillas, it just gets better…
Suffice it to say, I look forward to getting my hands on volume 2 whenever it comes out.
Having read this series when it originally came out, it's pleasing to report that in hardcover form it's just as good as it was the first time around. And, at the risk of provoking the ire of his detractors, I'll go further than that: I think that this is Mark Millar's best work since Ultimates.
There's a sincerity here that's been missing from a lot of his more adult and cynical work recently: The likes of Kick-Ass 2 and Ultimate Avengers have been too mean and unpleasant in places for me to really enjoy, but this is a much brighter, more optimistic work that's suitable for all ages (apart from the odd bit of bad language, which has admittedly been toned down from the original issues for this collected edition – in the Titan Books version, at least).
It's a very straightforward story that owes a huge debt to both 'Big' and the first Richard Donner Superman movie, but frankly, I like the fact that it never tries to reach too far beyond its core concept. Instead, it spends a lot of time getting the characters just right, depicting protagonist Simon Pooni in a very affectionate way – pulling no punches in showing how his Multiple Sclerosis has affected his life – and also adding some unexpected depth to the journalist who tries to uncover the truth behind his transformation into the titular Golden Age hero.
The artwork is also wonderful, and is possibly the best of Leinil Yu's career. The big moments are the most obviously impressive: the big superhero smackdowns in the first and last issues; the satellite landing in the middle of New York; or Superior dragging a doomed submarine up onto the beach. But Yu also handles the smaller, more character-oriented moments really well. I love the way that Simon and his best friend are depicted, especially in the scene in which Simon tries out his new powers, which captures the excitement of the kids but also the fact that they're totally out of their depth.
As things draw to a close, Millar provides a conclusion that's suitably climactic, well-paced and unexpectedly clever, signing off with a homage that underlines the book's debt to the Superman mythos with class and panache. All in all, it's a really enjoyable read that's my clear favourite of the 'Millarworld books' released so far.
To Be Continued…
OK, that's the end of my titanic Titan round-up – I'll be back next time with a regular column (including a look at upcoming new releases in the US). I'm planning on taking a look at the economics of tradewaiting: do you really save much money by biding your time and waiting for the trade, and what formats are the best if you're looking to save your pennies? If you have any thoughts on the subject, let me have them in the thread below.