Well, the book I’ve been holding my breath for since I heard about it in the planning stages is finally here. All the best small press people, all in one book! All Bizarro stories, all the time! Little seen talents finally getting a chance to shine on the big stage! And the end result is… mixed.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are moments in here that make it worthwhile, enough so that I can recommend getting it. You could probably wait for the softcover to come out and save $10 or so, because there’s nothing in here that couldn’t wait a few months. If you don’t know the concept, DC apparently decided to give all these “no name” people a chance. If anybody knows the complete story behind this book, let me know. I’m curious as hell to see how this got organized. And whose decision was it to put pairings on all of the stories instead of just letting one person shine? Granted, some of the pairings boggle the mind: Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel, James Kochalka (writing and not drawing!) and Dylan Horrocks, Jef Czekaj and Brian Ralph, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin, Evan Dorkin and Steven Weissman… it’s a hell of a list, don’t get me wrong. But most of these guys spend their time doing their own thing and I think it would have flowed a lot better if they had been allowed to do that here. Granted, you would have to bring in a color guy for most of these people that have never used it, but they do everything else themselves.
The story (such as it is) is this: a creature called A comes to Mxyzptlk’s world to try and take over. He challenges M to a best-of-seven of games, but M is disqualified and has to choose a champion. Remembering his past problems, he chooses Superman but can’t find an appropriate alternate universe substitute after the original one doesn’t believe him, and accidentally chooses Bizarro. Make sense? It doesn’t matter. Bizarro decides to win the contest by drawing a bunch of stories, and these stories are all the ones by the small press folks.Â When it goes back to the “story”, these comics are promptly forgotten about and the challenges begin, but not before they get an insult or two off about the quality of the comics. Which, I’m sure, is just an insult in the story directed at Bizarro and not the creators, but it’s pretty easy to take it the wrong way. The main story takes up about 60 pages of a 236 page book, which wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t mostly suck. It has a few moments, but the thought that this story was expanded upon at the expense of some of these extremely talented guys doesn’t make sense at all to me.
Flipping through this again to write this, I see that I enjoyed almost all of the shorts in this. I didn’t really like Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Tot, Help! Superman!!, Batman, and The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All! Compare that to the 23 other stories that I liked a lot, and it looks like they have a winner here. The Bat-man (by Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire and strangely, the only black and white story in the book) is brilliant. Old school classic Batman here, and he’s ugly as hell. Hawkman (James K. and Dylan Horrocks), while not drawn by James, has the same feel that I’ve come to know and love from all his work. Kamandi (Nick Bertozzi and Tom Hart) takes the cake for me as the best story in the book, but I’m hopelessly biased because Tom Hart drew it. That’s Really Super, Superman (Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin) is a close second, and First Contact (Mark Crilley and Andi Watson), about the Atom, is up there too.
I was expecting a hell of a lot from this book, and I’m not sure that I got it. What I did get, however, is a thoroughly entertaining look at a lot of DC universe told through the eyes of some of the most talented people working in comics today. If I cared at all about the characters this probably would have been a great book, or maybe if they had allowed them to work by themselves, or maybe if DC had given them a little more room (and a lot more people. The names excluded here are too numerous to mention, although I am surprised and gratified by some of the selections) to the creators. All in all, if you like even half the people in this book, get it. If you like Evan Dorkin, Sam Henderson or Dylan Horrocks, they’re all in here a few times writing and drawing but not, as I’ve made pretty clear by now, doing both things at once. The Matt Groening cover makes the book, too. And yes, I did see the Dan Clowes cover in The Comics Journal and I thought it was great, but I think this is a better cover for the tone of the book.
What can I say about Jessica Abel that I haven’t said already? I’ve been wondering what she’s been doing as far as comics go, and it looks like I finally have my answer. This is projected to be a 200 page mystery and it gets off to a good start. For my money she’s the best of the “kind of autobiographical but mostly just stuff I made up” school. There’s probably a better term for that out there too but I summed it up pretty well. It’s the story of Carla, a young woman in her late teens, moving to Mexico more or less for the hell of it. She had a few reasons, sure, but it was more out of not having anyplace better to go than anything else. She meets up with a (sort of) ex-boyfriend and stays with him, which is something that he wasn’t counting on. I’m not really sure what the mystery of this whole thing is. It hasn’t gotten that far along yet. Still, I have yet to see anything bad by Jessica and this is no exception. Everything she has done so far has been a treat and I’m really looking forward to this one. Here’s hoping she can put this out on a consistent basis…
All that being said, I still haven’t gotten this collection yet based on the fact I have all of the comics that are collected in here. I’ll read all of them again sometime soon so I can give a half-assed review of this book, but for now I can tell you that if you liked the first book, you’re sure to love this. Longer stories though, which can be a good or a bad thing, but it’s the same old Jessica Abel.
Christ, where did my afternoon go? This looked like it had mostly fat panels, that it would take me about an hour at the most to finish. Instead I just spent at least the last 2 and a half hours poring over every panel in this magnificent book. I’d seen a few of the stories before, as I’ve been reading Artbabe since the days when it was a mini comic (actually an over-sized comic, but she xeroxed and distributed it herself, so in my book that qualifies as a “mini comic”), but the vast majority of everything in here was new to me. It’s amazing to me that she tried so many different artistic styles… I’m no expert, but most of the people of the time were sticking with a style and kind of trying to make it their “trademark”, but she went all over the place and the book is a lot better for it.
Anyway, it’s broken up into 6 parts. The first part is the short fiction, and all of it works on some level. Even some of the weaker pieces (like Permanent Damage and $64 Question) have at least a line or two that makes the whole page worthwhile. Part 2 is her journalism stuff and I really wish that somebody would have kept on paying her to do this. Who would have thought that so much went on at Godzilla conventions, or that there were such strict guidelines for what constituted a good Godzilla flick? Part 3 is probably the weakest of the bunch, and I say that mostly because there’s not one story that sticks out in my mind as I’m writing this where I can think of a few stories from each other section as exceptional. Not bad though and, as before, there are a few lines in parts of this section that make it impossible to skip over. Part 4 is the funny pages and, while I wasn’t a big fan of the minimalist Kek and Poot, I thought everything else in here worked. Funny and informative, and what more can you ask for? Part 5 is the covers and, well, it shows some of her covers. Part 6 is called The Four Seasons and she saved the best for last. Every story in this part was incredible, with Viva probably being my favorite. It’s the story of a couple of girls at a bar talking about guys and life, with various friends and other people wandering through. Pure goodness.
Granted, it probably helped that I grew up an hour south of Chicago, and that’s where most of this is based. I went to the Fireside Bowl several times when I was younger, I can certainly relate to all the stories of Steve Albini being a prick and I know all about the attitude that people who wander out in below freezing weather get. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid her work up until this point in your life, buy this book. I would have thought before reading it that her regular series (and the collection of it) was better, but I have to say that I enjoy the short pieces in here more.