Friday, December 11, 2009

Marvel Unbound - Captain Britain Omnibus

I am a huge fan of the oversized collections comic book publishers produce, including DC’s Absolute Edition line, Marvel’s Omnibus series and their general oversized hardcovers, and Dark Horse’s Library Edition collections. There is a certain prestige to the format.

Whether you shop DCBS or conventions or even Amazon, there is really no reason to pay full cover price for one of these books. But if you’re going to publish a book in one of these formats and put a $100 price tag on it, I expect some care to be put into the final product. Marvel’s Captain Britain Omnibus has been a bit of a let down from a packaging perspective.

Of the material collected here, I don't think I'd previously read any of it, so it’s fair to say I didn’t bring any prior character knowledge to the table. From a content perspective, it’s great to have these stories collected and the window into the Marvel UK format is fascinating. Unfortunately,
the presentation is marred by stripped-down credits and incorrect table of contents on the opening pages.

I have a fair number of omnibuses on my shelf, and to be fair, there are others besides the Captain Britain book that sport the boring opening page format (Devil Dinosaur and Secret Wars for starters), but the errors in the Captain Britain Omnibus compounds the problem. The original publishing date of Captain America #306, June 1985, is incorrectly cited as June 1986. This oversight is more glaring by the fact that Captain America #305 is also in this collection and the covers of both are reprinted here, so the correct date is easy to divine.

Also, there are introductions by Alan Davis and Alan Moore, both from 2001, then a character recap that is completely uncredited. As far as the actual reprinted content, I’m torn. The storylines are enjoyable and an interesting glimpse at Marvel’s earl
y 1980s presence in Britain, but there are words missing from dialog boxes throughout... sometimes there is white space in a sentence where it’s obvious there was a printing error, and other places words were just plain left out of the original published material.

Maybe I’m making too big of a deal out of this, and maybe I’m overly sensitive to it for a number of reasons: First, I have edited a book and articles and have an eye for simple errors like these. So I know these things should be caught, and when they’re not it just feels sloppy. Also, I am a writer who has published my own book and agonized over finding the right price-point for it in the hopes that my readers feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth out of it and the value was inherent (including a lack of typos and the facts correct). Finally, I am a consumer who, although I didn’t pay cover price for the omnibus, spent my hard-earned money on it. And when there are issues like this from a book at this price from a company of Marvel’s stature, it’s disappointing and feels a little like they didn’t really care about the product they were putting out there. But the contents of the book are enough to recommend it.

The first half of the omnibus (23 issues of Marvel Super-Heroes and The Daredevils) weaves a wonderful story of alternate universes that affect one another and contains the first mention anywhere in Marvel comics of the Earth 616 designation. It’s pretty cool to see the way the story is handed off between Dave Thorpe and Paul Neary to Alan Moore to Jamie Delano. Threads are never left unresolved, each chapter in the story has meaning and future implications. The Marvel UK model of six- to ten-page stories per book are a study in efficient recaps, wasting not a moment beyond what is necessary to bring the reader up to speed.

The second half of the book, comprised of 25 issues of The Mighty World of Marvel and Captain Britain, along with a handful of US Marvel comics appearances (New Mutants and X-Men annuals, the previously mentioned Captain America issues), remains pretty consistent even when the writing duties jump around a bit.

I believe there is just one thing missing from the collection: There is a reference in Captain America #305 where Cap thinks, “That doesn’t look like the Captain Britain I’ve met before – ” and it references ROM #65. I know there are rights issues to the ROM property, so it makes sense that issue isn’t included.

The bonus material is an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach that befits an omnibus. Alan Davis’ character and costume designs, scripts, pin-ups and posters, back-up stories, all the covers of all the issues and previous collections that contained any of these stories, a Grant Morrison story and a Chris Claremont essay, and even reproductions of both covers offered for this omnibus are presented here.

Despite the nuts and bolts of the packaging falling well short of the expectations set by the collection’s label and price tag, the Captain Britain Omnibus is an incredibly entertaining read and can be recommended on the strength Marvel UK model it exhibits.

Monday, December 7, 2009

An Embarrassing Confession

I love Jeff Parker’s work. Perusing his comic book resume is a venerable list of comics that pepper my personal collection. But I think I am the only comic fan I know who isn’t completely smitten with Agents of Atlas. I want to like it – hell, I want to love it! – but it just hasn’t clicked with me.

As someone who has flirted with music journalism, I would say a negative review is one of the toughest things to write. It’s easy to gush about stuff you enjoy, but to put together a thoughtful negative review is always challenging. First, you don’t want to come off like you’re just piling on or being vindictive or just ranting to hear your own voice. Second, you don’t want to be disrespectful to the artist or creator.

Chris Marshall recently praised the Agents of Atlas hardcover collections on Collected Comics Library. All of my comic book fan friends gush over the book. I had dinner with Dave Wachter the other night, and as you would expect to happen when two comic fans get together, the conversation eventually turned to what we have enjoyed reading lately. And what title was Dave quick to say: Agents of Atlas. So still I remain, the only person I know with whom that book and team hasn’t connected.

But the conversation with Dave may have finally helped me realize why I'm not digging the book. Dave raved that he loved how it combined noir with super heroes with espionage with ’50s style sensibilities, and I think that might be it... for me, the book suffers from an identity crisis. And maybe it’s because I love Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s Immortal Iron Fist so much, but Agents of Atlas also feels like, at its heart, it treads a little too close to that same Eastern mysticism territory.

My favorite issues of the series have been the ones where folks like the Hulk and Captain America and Namor have guested. I genuinely feel horrible that I don’t like this book, like there is something wrong with my comic tastes that this creation by a writer I admire and an artist I enjoy, that this team of eclectic characters who seem right up my alley, that this mix of genres I love is somehow not clicking for me.

Obviously my opinion is firmly in the minority, and that’s ok. I’m not trying to sway anyone from enjoying Agents of Atlas. And I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to the creator because I love most everything of Parker’s I read, I love the work of the artists that bring his writing to life, and every interaction I’ve had with Parker via Twitter has been great. Heck, in spite of never really falling in love with the book, I purchased all 11 issues of the second volume along with the X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas two-issue mini. I just have found that – machinegun wielding, kick-ass Gorilla-Man aside – Agents of Atlas just isn’t my thing. Sorry.