Edited by Dave Elliott
Atomeka / Titan
A1 has a long history since its initial publication in 89. I remember being very, very excited by the whole thing, as it hit me at just the right time, something a little bit unusual, a little bit different from the Marvel and DC Comics I’d long left behind. In many ways I felt the same buzz around it as I did around Warrior a few years earlier.
The initial 6 book Volume 1 was full of star names, and acted partly as a showcase for existing characters (Mr X, Flaming Carrot, Grendel) and partly as a place for artistic experimentation, somewhere big name artists could come to create something different. The 6 books debuted with much fanfare, but rather petered out, a second 4-issue series from Marvel’s Epic Comics merely illustrating the law of diminishing returns. At its best it was wonderful, a place for great artists to present something different and original, but all too often it felt like a collection of vanity projects, material just too weak to sustain interest.
And once the fun of the new issue wore off, I can remember feeling it was a little of a lame duck, being disappointed by the lack of real depth in much of the work. I don’t think I’d have had the balls back then at 18 to say that though, as I’d probably been bigging it up to lots of people by then.
Okay, with that little reminiscence and admission, can you all guess where I’m going with this as regards this new A1 Annual thing….?
Yep, spot on.
This new A1 Annual contains new and old work, some newly coloured from that initial A1, and as before features some very big names. And although there’s some really attractive artwork in this new Annual, it does feel rather a case of (as my mother used to say) fur coat and no knickers, too much in here looks very nice but doesn’t say anything worthwhile. There are just too many stories here that read as exercises in storytelling from the artists, or things done on a whim.
Sure, there are lovely pieces, some beautiful artwork, but all too often it’s got nothing to back it up, stories that just don’t have much to say at all, and after the fourth or fifth ‘pretty picture’ comic I just felt a little letdown. Something in a package this good should deliver more.
The bizarre inclusion of interlude pages of coffee artwork makes little sense either, until you get to the article on Barista art at the end and realise it’s got to be some sort of sponsorship deal. Likewise the 5-page Simon and Kirby tale “Islands In The Sky” that opens A1 Annual seems somewhat out of place amongst the more modern pieces, sure it’s a quirky and classic, but it’s pretty vacuous and pointless, and a more suspicious mind than mine would merely suggest it’s included as Titan have a deal to publish the Simon & Kirby library.
In the end, this feels just a little pointless and a missed opportunity, but in many ways that’s just continuing a tradition for A1 of nearly but not quite getting there. I wish it were otherwise, I really do, but this Annual just doesn’t deliver what it promises right there on the cover, despite some really attractive comics inside.
The Odd Ball: Prologue – Art by Alex Sheikman, words and rough layout Norman Felchle. Very pretty. But it’s just a 5-page mood piece.
Tales of Old Fennario – Sandy Plunkett. A longer tale, but not a particularly interesting one. Having said that, just staring at Plunkett’s quite beautiful artwork may well be enough.
Bill Sienkiewicz – Emily, Almost. This is one from that original A1 in ’89, newly recoloured for this annual. It still feels like 4-pages of badly written 6th Form poetry. Looks great, reads awful.
Steranko – Frogs. Presented both as above, with 8-pages of the 2×3 grid, and as a double page spread of all 48 panels, Frogs is enough of a creative exercise to warrant a double page explaining it all. Essentially Frogs was Steranko playing and experimenting with what comics could be. The double page spread is the preferred way to read it, although it’s more something you experience, as Steranko has designed a real immersive experience, something that the reader controls, choosing a path, creating a story. It’s still a work in progress, with Steranko promising he’ll return to it soon to create something even more experimental delivering it online as a random comic generator style thing.
Mr Monster by Alan Moore and Michael T Gilbert – I used to love Mr Monster, seeing it at various times here, there, and seemingly everywhere, loved Gilbert’s somewhat unusual line. This is one of those Moore stories he did a while back in the 80s and 90s, little things, loaded with fun stuff, the sort of throwaway clever tale he’d do more of with Tomorrow Stories. So yes, good to read, but essential? Oh no, not at all.
Well, what do you know? I put up the original of this James Robinson and D’Israeli Grendel tale a while back, thinking it was never going to see the light of day. Yet here it is.
Lovely D’Israeli art, but once more, a story that’s pure filler, an interlude in a book of interludes.