Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review Ragout Two: Part 1, The Comics

I've once again fallen behind in my book reviewing, so here's another big roundup in the next few posts. If you don't want to read 'em all, skip down to the final review to read about my favorite book in quite some time.

Let's start with a few comics collections in this post:

--The Chronicles of Conan, Vol. 18: Isle of the Dead and Other Stories by Bruce Jones, John Buscema, Marc Silvestri, and others ( -- I've been working my way through the Dark Horse reprints of the old Conan the Barbarian comic from Marvel for several years now. They really are beautiful collections with the original artwork -- mostly by Barry Smith and John Buscema -- re-colored with full-color modern colorization in the place of the original four-color coloring used in the comics of that era.

This is the first collection after Roy Thomas left the helm of the comic that he launched and either wrote or oversaw as editor for a decade. Unfortunately, the change really shows in these collections. Under Thomas the Conan comic was ever so slowly re-tracing his career based on the outline of Conan's career from the original Robert E. Howard stories. Afterwards, Conan kind of became a wandering do-gooder, following a chivalric code that seemed further and further removed from the Barbarian's rough-hewn sense of right and wrong. The art is still beautiful, but the story has lost its direction.

If you're interested in reading one of these Chronicles of Conan collections, I'd really recommend the first few volumes with the beautifully detailed Barry Smith drawings or possibly Vol. 12, which ends with the finale of Conan's time as a plundering pirate with his greatest love, BĂ©lit, Queen of the Black Coast.

--Captain America, #1-#50 (2004-2010) by Ed Brubaker and several artists
--Marvel Secret Wars, #1-#12 (1984-1985) by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck

Enticed by a half-price special run in conjunction with the new Iron Man movie, I took the plunge last month and bought a one year subscription to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

Alas, I found to my dismay that some of the older runs that I had hoped to read aren't yet digitized, or only have a few issues digitized, for example the full run of The Thing from the 1980s and John Byrne's 1980s run on The Sensational She-Hulk both of which I really wanted to re-read in their entirety. I also discovered that most of the newer titles don't make it into this format for at least a year, so as not to cannibalize single-issue and trade-paperback collection sales. And a few titles will never make it into this format. (For example, all the old Marvel Conan and Red Sonja comics whose rights are now owned by Dark Horse and Dynamite, respectively.)

But there's still a lot of good stuff in here, either in terms of classic single issues, or good runs on some of the more modern books that I didn't read at $2.99 or $3.99 a pop. I'm pretty determined to get my money's worth, so expect to see me include some of these runs in the "books I'm reading" box and in my sporadic reviews whenever I think I've hit a run long enough to add up to one or more TPB collections. Now on to the two runs I have for us today

--Captain America, #1-#50 (2004-2010) by Ed Brubaker and several artists -- Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America -- in which Bucky returned and Captain America died -- has been the stuff of comic legend and award nominations. But when I picked up a few individual issues, I found that the combination of its immensely complicated plot and the decompressed pacing made each individual issue feel a bit lacking to me. But read in a vast 50-issue swath like this, it's a gripping read and that decompressed style really serves the story and pacing well. And whereas this wasn't a favorite of mine in the single-issue format, this story works great in this online collection format.

--Marvel Secret Wars, #1-#12 (1984-1985) by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck -- The first comics mega-event that I remember, and one of the most influential. Honestly, I remember this as being better than it was when I reread it now, 25 years later, though I rather suspected that would be what I discovered upon rereading. There are still some good bits, but the whole things suffers a bit from a format in which all of these characters seem oddly compelled to engage in huge Good vs. Evil splash-page battles in every issue. Not a bad read ... just not as good as I remembered.

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