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Comics? Absolutely! October 20, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Comics, Reviews.
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DC Comics’ absolute editions are a collector’s dream come true. The oversized slipcased hardcovers are the comic book equivalent of a DVD with special features, complete with annotations, previously unseen artwork and other bonuses that can make even the most reserved of fans go ga-ga.

Below is a list of five (plus one) absolute edition titles that would be worthy additions to anyone’s shelf. There are others, of course, and conspicuously absent from this list are critically acclaimed titles from Alan Moore (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Warren Ellis (Planetary). But the list does focus on titles that should appeal to a more mainstream audience (with the sole exception of the honorable mention at the end). Be warned though: each retails upwards of $75, but generally sells for much less on Amazon.com.

ABSOLUTE KINGDOM COME
No title is more deserving of an absolute edition than Kingdom Come. Fundamentally a Superman story, Mark Waid weaves an inspired tale where heroes must rise above their petty differences and personal tragedies in order to avert armageddon.

What sets this title apart, however, is the artwork. Simply put, Alex Ross’s painted panels are jaw-dropping. Of all the titles here, this is arguably the most visually stunning. A masterpiece, this one is definitely a must-have.

ABSOLUTE DC: THE NEW FRONTIER
Darwin Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier is probably one of the best-kept open secrets among comics aficionados and well deserves being collected in absolute format.

New Frontier is essentially a re-telling of the origin of the Justice League, albeit one that has little to do with established comics canon. But the appeal of New Frontier lies in the fact that it captures the innocence, spirit and luster of comics’ Silver Age, when stories were perhaps simpler and less dark and cynical. It does so not just in the narrative but in the artwork as well (see sample panel), and the two combined work really well (how can they not?).

No doubt, the reason this title stands out is the respect that Darwin Cooke has for each of the characters he includes in his story. He just gets it, and in the process of weaving his tale he pushes all the right buttons. After reading New Frontier, even readers unfamiliar with the DC Comics universe will understand why Hal Jordan forever will be the iconic Green Lantern, and why Barry Allen is missed by fans of the Flash to this very day.

If ever a comic book exemplified what superhero comics should be about, this would be it. New Frontier is definitely something that will entertain readers of all ages.

ABSOLUTE DARK KNIGHT
When Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns, he set the standard for all Batman stories to follow. The premise is just too good: after years of retirement, a visibly aged Bruce Wayne decides to don the cowl once again. But far from a decrepit man in tights, this older Batman is every bit the caped crusader of old, if not more so.

What makes the book work is Frank Miller’s ability to get into Batman’s head, as well as the way he peppers the story with old things made new (love the Batmobile!). Plus, there’s the gratuitous mano-a-mano with Superman, that ends just as it should.

This two-volume absolute edition also collects the sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which has a hard time coming out of its predecessor’s shadow. Much darker and grittier than most readers may be used to, this may be more suited to an older audience.

ABSOLUTE BATMAN: HUSH
Jim Lee puts together some of the best (and cleanest) artwork around. Jeph Loeb puts together some of the most memorable superhero stories around. Put the two together on a Batman project and the result is Hush.

Hush is a straightforward Batman story: someone is out to get the world’s greatest detective, and it’s up to the caped crusader to figure out exactly who. Admittedly, the story can come across as (very) contrived, and Jeph Loeb’s tried and tested formula of bringing in as many recognizable characters as possible, having those characters duke it out where appropriate, and give the story a bit of an open-ended conclusion is as evident here as it is in his other tales. But the ride is certainly more enjoyable than the destination.

The art is certainly Jim Lee at his best; in fact, his work on Hush is more appropriate to the story than his later work on Superman: For Tomorrow. Overall, this title is probably the most unlikely to rate an absolute edition. At the very least, it is an interesting read, and one that should tide over more dedicated fans until DC decides to collect Jeph Loeb’s Long Halloween and Dark Victory in absolute format as well.

ABSOLUTE CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
Crisis was the much anticipated DC Comics event of the 1980s. Penned by Marv Wolfman and pencilled by George Perez, Crisis was intended to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary. In the process, it aimed to simplify the DC Universe by putting an end to the different parallel worlds that confused many storylines. The story was a smashing success and had the additional novelty (or notoreity) of killing off some popular characters who did in fact remain dead for a long time to come, such as the original Supergirl and Barry Allen (the Flash).

To the uninitiated, Crisis can be a bit much. Drawing from 50 years of comics continuity ultimately rewards die-hard fans of the DC universe and can prove to be inaccessible to the casual reader. But even the most dedicated of collectors might have trouble finding a copy of this absolute edition: it’s sold out in most places and sells at a significant premium on eBay.

HONORABLE MENTION: ABSOLUTE SANDMAN Vol. 1
Finally, it bears mentioning that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman has already been collected in absolute format, with this first installment (of four) collecting the first twenty issues of the series.

Throughout its 70-odd issue run, Sandman helped redefine what comics were capable of, pushing the literary boundaries of the medium. It is anything but a superhero story. Rather, it is the tale of Morpheus – Dream of the Endless, the Lord of the Dreaming and the anthropomorphic personification of Dreams – whose unwavering dedication to his responsibilities is as inspiring as it is tragic, and ultimately proves to be his undoing.

Unlike prior paperback and hardcover releases of the series that collect complete story arcs , it would appear that the Absolute Sandman collects the individual issues in chronological order. Additional bonuses include recolored panels as well as original issue scripts.

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Comments»

1. Jon Z. - October 21, 2006

now that’s what i call “wallet death!”

2. John-D Borra - October 23, 2006

Fantastic entry. Truly, these offerings offer much by way of “wallet death”, but boy, you just can’t beat the sheer sense of wonder these gems bring! Great blog. May I link to Brain Drain? Thanks!


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