Friday, April 10, 2009

Update on Indiana Jones

In 1981, Marvel Comics got the license to release a three-issue adaptation of the hit film Raiders of the Lost Ark. The comic turned out to be pretty terrible, even if goodwill and curiosity turned the three-parter into a commerical hit. You know how Indy figures things out silently in the movies, and acts without telling people what he's up to? That's not how Indy works in that comic. Anyway, Marvel continued their license and released a pretty successful series of follow-up stories under the title The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones from 1983-86. This was a pretty uneven title, but it was occasionally very entertaining. The book seemed to suffer from the lack of a consistent creative team, but even if some of the contributions were a little underwhelming, you can tell from rereading the stories that veterans like John Byrne, Denny O'Neil, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin and David Michelinie all enjoyed working with the character, and doing something a little different than the typical Marvel title.

Dark Horse has been Indy's comic home for several years now, and last year, they landed the rights to the old Marvel series, which had lapsed. The publisher has a really interesting reprint line, principally used for their licensed properties like this, Aliens or Buffy, which repackages about 350 pages in color for $25 in a format a little smaller than a standard American comic. Dark Horse had already released two of these Omnibus editions for their own Indiana Jones miniseries in 2008. This is the first Omnibus to reprint the Marvel series, and it collects the three-part Raiders adaptation and the first 12 issues of the ongoing series. Despite some genuinely awful coloring (as noted with examples in February at my LiveJournal), the comic has aged pretty well for something with so many thought balloons on the page, and the creators put Indiana through some pretty thrilling and fun paces. It's certainly worth checking out!

I have not seen any substantive reviews of this book. If you see any or have written any, drop me a line and I will list them here.

In other reprinting news, Yen Press has announced the release dates for the next three volumes of Yotsuba&!, the addictive family comedy series by Kiyohiko Azuma which had previously been published by ADV Manga. Volume six is due out in September, with the next two following in December and in April 2010.

There have been rumors for ages that DC Comics will one day be releasing a complete collection of the 1940s Captain Marvel storyline "The Monster Society of Evil," a much-loved serial that ran for several months and was recently revisited by writer/artist Jeff Smith in a very fun new version. Looks like we'll finally be seeing this classic in December. The Amazon listing is right here if you'd like to pre-order it.

In other DC news, looks like they've finalized plans for their Showcase Presents volumes through the end of the year, in a mix of $17 regular 500-page books along with ten buck 300-page "Skinny Showcases" in the summer, although it does appear they are slowing the number of titles released to allow people to actually catch up to them. Titles include Super Friends in May, The Creeper in June, the long-awaited Western adventure Bat Lash and the fourth collection of 1960s Batman in July; Eclipso in August; Warlord in September; House of Secrets volume two in October; DC Comics Presents the Superman Team-Ups in November; and the third volume of Wonder Woman in December.

News of some other new releases from the good fellows over at Titan have crept out. October should see a sixth collection of Charley's War along with new sets of stories from Dan Dare ("Safari in Space") and Modesty Blaise ("Death in Slow Motion," with the previously-announced October collection, "Scarlet Maiden," moved forward to August). No announcements yet about a third set of Jeff Hawke adventures - the second collection was reviewed last month over at my bookshelf.

Viz has not formally announced it yet, but it looks like they've got a plan for Rumiko Takahashi's InuYasha that I can get behind. The series, her longest-running but, to my mind, the least compelling, recently concluded and the 56th digest collection was issued in Japan in February. I picked up a few of these cheaply, but the prospect of having 56 of the darn things on my shelf was a little unappealing. Fortunately, it looks like they're going to begin issuing the series in their "VizBig" line, which collects three digests in a thick package priced about the same as two of the smaller ones, starting in November. They've already had some success with Dragon Ball, Rurouni Kenshin and Fushugi Yugi in this format, and I'm much more likely to follow InuYasha to its conclusion if I can spend less money on it, and not have to devote shelf space to 56 little books.

Finally this time, Rebellion looks to have settled on October for release of the fifth Sinister Dexter collection - the fourth volume was just issued in England - and the first proper collection of the excellent Judge Dredd epic "Mechanismo." This should include the first two arcs, with artwork by Colin MacNeil and Peter Doherty, which were once compiled by the previous book publisher Hamlyn in an incomplete package, but ideally this one will also include the never-before-reprinted third arc, with art by Manuel Benet.

See you next month! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reprint This! Tales from Beyond Science: The Rian Hughes Collection

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One reason that Rian Hughes is not on enough bookshelves is that the guy didn't - for some mad reason - spend very many years working in comics. He's found greater flexibility and reward working in design than in sequential art, and that's great if you collect XTC albums and want them to look good, but it's a real downer if you like great-looking comics. Fortunately, most of Hughes' comic work was compiled by Knockout in their fine 2007 collection Yesterday's Tomorrows, which I reviewed last month over at the Bookshelf. That volume does include one of his pieces for 2000 AD, the Grant Morrison-scripted Really and Truly, but that's only about a third of his otherwise unreprinted strips from that comic. If you're sitting comfortably, I'll tell you exactly how Rebellion needs to put together a simply excellent volume that will put all of Hughes's 2000 AD work in a single tome.

Tales from Beyond Science was Hughes' first series in the venerable British weekly. It was a little anthology series in which strange fortean tales are related by some elderly gentleman from the comfort of his club, and all the stories are very fun. Six episodes appeared in the spring of 1992, and were followed by two others in special editions. Half of these were scripted by Mark Millar, and while I'm generally no fan of his work, it would be churlish to suggest there's anything wrong with these early efforts, which are remarkably creepy and effective. You can certainly catch the lingering fumes from Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol influencing Millar, who told stories about strange government agencies, radios to the dead and missing chunks of time, but with Hughes bringing his own unique sensibility to the presentation, the stories feel very unique and unlike anything else in comics. Alan McKenzie and John Smith each also contributed two stories apiece. McKenzie's are a little whimsical, Smith's more grounded in modern horror, but they're all winners, and it's a genuine travesty that the series wasn't continued after this wonderful beginning.

Really and Truly arrived in the summer of 1993. This eight-part story is a psychedelic rollercoaster about drug smuggling, only it features a fabulous car, a dust-covered Russian cosmonaut, sumo gangsters and giant flying houses. It's like a sixties Saturday morning cartoon blown up to widescreen. Morrison boasted that he wrote the whole shebang in a single night while tripping on E. If we're brutally honest, it sort of shows, but Hughes makes the script's deficiencies look like brilliant ideas. The experience of reading Really & Truly is spiced up with its very clever lettering and unconventional design choices. It's certainly a very nineties strip, and unquestionably dated, but the same can't be said of Hughes' next, and thus far, last contribution to 2000 AD...

I've talked about Hughes' time on Robo-Hunter at pretty good length before, including an article at my Thrillpowered Thursday blog. To recap, the writer Peter Hogan was brought in to salvage the John Wagner / Ian Gibson classic after it had fallen into some disrepair at the hands of some other, lesser, talents. Hogan wrote five stories of varying lengths, four of which - thirteen episodes - were illustrated by Hughes.

Friends, I'm telling you, comics just don't come better than Ian Gibson Robo-Hunter. But Hughes, he's up there, too. Peter Hogan really knocked these stories completely out of the park. They're whimsical, silly, incredibly inventive and clever, and Rian Hughes was absolutely the best man in England not named Gibson to illustrate them. He created a wonderful world for Sam Slade and his nutty associates to run around in. It's a slightly decaying technopolis populated by bubble-headed droids who've walked straight out of 1950s advertising calendars, armed with space-age zap guns, widgets and gizmos. For lighthearted, unexpected, whimsical detective adventures, this strip is the business, and if you have never seen it, you are missing out.

So that's the story: Hughes' work for the prog comes to 29 episodes, plus six cover illustrations and a star scan on the back of issue 842. Rebellion typically issues collections based on the many ongoing series from their titles, but there are a few precedents for a creator-centered work. Both Alan Moore and Frazer Irving have had releases devoted to their work, and I suggest to you that Rian Hughes certainly deserves similar consideration. They should also see what he'd charge to draw "La Revolution Robotique," but that's another pet obsession of mine. So how about it, Rebellion? Feel like making the world beyond science a glorious reality?