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Comic Book Review: A1 Annual

A1: The World’s Best Comics
Written and drawn by a host of talented creators
Edited by Dave Elliott
Published by Atomeka/Titan Comics

I have fond memories of the original A1 – I still have the books somewhere in my collection – so it was a delightful nostalgia rush to receive the A1 Annual to review. It’s an anthology that contains a mixture of material already reprinted in previous A1 volumes and completely new work by new creators. As such, it is an unusual assortment of varied works, but there is an interesting selection that whets the appetite for more and satisfies with some excellent short stories.

After a two-page dedication to the great comic book creators of the past and the comics and characters that have inspired the volume, the annual starts with ‘Island In The Sky’ by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, a five-page sci-fi tale set in orbit around Jupiter (where every narrative box and piece of dialogue has only a question mark or exclamation point as punctuation for the end of sentences: ‘It was hours later, when I called on Doctor Johnson! He commanded Med Section and we were pretty friendly!’), followed by a small biography for both creators (all work in the book has a biography page afterwards). Next is five pages of ‘The Odd Ball: Prologue’, by Alex Sheikman and Norman Felchle, which is a brief taster of the story with lovely art by Sheikman.

The next story is the longest piece in the book: 33 pages of black and white art of ‘Tales of Old Fennario’ by Sandy Plunkett. The art is impressive stuff, lovely and rich and expressive, which makes up for some of the odd choices in the dialogue, which mixes references to the Old Bailey and talking about ‘a New York minute’ and characters saying ‘Capisce’ but also dropping aitches in what looks like a nineteenth-century world (and which manages to spell weasel as both ‘weasel’ and ‘weasle’), and has a character who makes a drug from his own blood.

‘Odyssey’, by Dave Elliott and Toby Cypress, is a 12-page story about a Captain America-like character who is trying to help people in a modern America, with all the attendant problems that come with such a complex world, until such time as when the government requires him to return to service. In this case, it’s in 2001 and a possible attempt on George W Bush, which turns out to be something different. It’s a low-key tale, which doesn’t entirely work, but it does give a flavour to the type of stories being told.

After this, there is a fascinating few pages about Image Duplicator, which is a collection of pieces of art from a variety of comic book creators (including Dave Gibbons, Howard Chaykin, Garry Leach, Dean Motter and Rian Hughes, whose idea it was) that reclaims the artwork that was ‘appropriated’ (without credit) by Roy Lichtenstein when he created his famous pop art (and made a lot of money from, while the original artists were left uncompensated). It’s a great idea and all proceeds from selling the artwork went to the Hero Initiative to help veteran comic book artists.

There follows a four-page strip analysing the characters of Zuberman and Batguy, by Bambos Georgiou, which is interesting, although marred by spelling calendar as ‘calender’. Next up is a six-page strip by Dom Reagan, which is vibrantly coloured and rather oddball. Then there is a four-page reprint of a Bill Sienkiewicz piece from 1989, with his usual moody and evocative expressionistic artwork. Scott Hampton writes and paints a 10-page retelling of the biblical story of Daniel, which has an interesting point of view and gorgeous art. Jim Steranko provides a story called ‘Frogs’, in which he uses six wordless panels per page over eight pages, before explaining the artistic process behind this use of the medium of comic books, before then condensing the story into a double-page spread after the explanation to provide a different way of reading the same tale.

Madelein Holly-Rosing provides an illustrated prose short story about her webcomic, ‘The Boston Metaphysical Society’, before a reprint of a Mr Monster 16-page story, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Michael T Gilbert, which is an enjoyable little piece. The next story is for new material: 10 pages of ‘The Weirding Willows’ by Barnaby Bagenda and Jessica Kholine, which is about the town of Willow Weir and the inhabitants, mostly talking animals (the cast of The Wind in the Willows and the Cheshire Cat) as well as some humans, such as Alice (visiting via Wonderland) and Mowgli and Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s a great concept (the ongoing series has the worlds of Oz, Mars, Neverland and Pellucidar also included in the mix) and the art from Bagenda is really good, with a rich, distinct style and good storytelling.

There is an eight-page reprint of a Grendel short story by James Robinson and D’israeli, which is one of the most accomplished uses of the short story format in the annual. Then there are four pages of an article that explains the single pages about coffee art that are dotted throughout the book up until this point. The book concludes with a nine-page story called ‘The Melting Pot: In The Beginning’ by Kevin Eastman and Simon Bisley, which is about two hyper-muscled individuals trying to kill each other with axes, perhaps the most ideal Bisley story, with typically lurid and hyper-real Bisley art.

This is a compelling and eclectic collection of comic book work, an engrossing mix of the old and the new, which comes close to approaching the cheeky subtitle of the annual. I can’t think of another volume that collects work by Moore, Kirby, Steranko and Sienkiewicz in the same book as newer creators, and it succeeds in its aim to be a diverse anthology.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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