Saturday, March 19, 2011

Four!

America's Best Comics, written by Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Steve Moore and Rick Veitch; illustrated by Art Adams, Sergio Aragones, Jim Baikie, Kyle Baker, Hilary Barta, J. Scott Campbell, Zander Cannon, John Cassaday, Claudio Castellini, Frank Cho, Dame Darcy, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Melinda Gebbie, Michael Golden, Adam Hughes, Phil Noto, Kevin Nowlan, Kevin O'Neill, Jason Trent Pearson, Humberto Ramos, Alex Ross, Eric Shanower, Rick Veitch, Al Gordon, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story and John Totleben (2001-2003; collected 2004): This collection is essentially a portmanteau of stuff that doesn't fit into any of the other collections of Alan Moore's America's Best Comics universe, anchored by a lengthy dimension-hopping adventure of Tom Strong's daughter Tesla. The shorter stories are all pretty solid; of greatest interest, probably, is the bizarre but appropriate League of Extraordinary Gentlemen board game. Sketches and early design work fill out the volume. It's all good, mostly clean fun. Recommended.




The Helmet of Fate, written by Steve Gerber, Steve Niles, Gail Simone, Tad Williams and Bill Willingham; illustrated by Scott Hampton, Shawn McManus, Duncan Rouleau, Peter Snejberg, Phil Winslade and others (2007): One of those odd non-miniseries miniseries that DC occasionally plays around with -- as originally published, this was five one-shots with different writer/artist teams, and really worked best as an adjunct to the Day of Vengeance miniseries and the subsequent ongoing supernatural team series Shadowpact.

Having been pummelled by the Spectre in a suicidal (and successful) gambit to get that loony, near-omnipotent supernatural avenger back under control, longtime DC mystical hero Doctor Fate has been reduced to its essence -- a magical helmet without a human partner/host -- and flung into space by Captain Marvel to let fate find it a new, um, Fate. It meets up with a handful of DC's supernatural heroes, some of them newly rebooted 'legacy' heroes (Ibis the Invincible and Sargon the Sorcerer), some of them just new (Black Alice), some their old loveable selves (Detective Chimp and angel-on-assignment Zauriel).

And that's about it. The helmet and the heroes have an adventure; the helmet moves on. Nothing is really resolved, as Steve Gerber's subsequent Fate stories in the Countdown to Mystery miniseries would reveal who the new Doctor Fate would be. Still, the writing and art are for the most part top-notch; it's a shame that none of these spun off into at least a miniseries (so far as I know). Recommended.



Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walt Simonson Volume 2, written by Walt Simonson and Danny Fingeroth; illustrated by Walt Simonson and Rex Valve (1990-91; collected 2008): Marvel pushes the acceptable lower page limits of comic-book collections here with a volume that collects just five of writer/artist Walt Simonson's early 1990's run on the Fantastic Four. And one of those is a fill-in issue that basically reiterates the point of an earlier John Byrne FF, complete with a reference to that earlier, better story.

We do, however, get the FF's loopy adventures in an alternate reality in which Stalin is still running the Soviet Union in 1990 (shades of Command and Conquer!). Simonson does shine here doing the fast-paced science-fantasy stuff that's been his strongest suit as a writer/artist ever since he did Thor in the mid-1980's. The reconstituted FF takes a bit of getting used to (at this point in their history, Ben Grimm isn't the Thing, but his girlfriend Ms. Marvel is the (a) Thing. But she's not the original Ms. Marvel. And female Things look pretty much identical to male Things, though she wears a top for modesty's sake so we don't really know how anatomically correct she is). Short but fun. Recommended.



Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walt Simonson Volume 3, written by Walt Simonson; illustrated by Walt Simonson, Art Adams and others (1991; collected 2009): Walt Simonson's FF run continues, or possibly ends...Marvel really isn't big on supplying context in its reprint volumes. Marvel's first family of superheroing battles Doctor Doom and a time-controlling adjustment bureau angered by the FF's meddling in history.

Cosmic shenanigans proliferate, Reed Richards shows once again why he's the most dangerous member of the Fantastic Four, and Ben Grimm goes through yet more mutations and permutations of his rocky, orange self. Hopefully there's a timeline out there somewhere in which Simonson wrote and drew a Superman comic for several years -- the combination of lightheartedness and the cosmic is pretty refreshing, much like a Junior Mint. Recommended.

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