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Our Retro-Renaissance, Late 1980s to Early 1990s Edition

by  in Comic News Comment
Our Retro-Renaissance, Late 1980s to Early 1990s Edition

Once upon a time, if you wanted to read collected comics in book form, you had to hit your local library and seek out the 740s in the non-fiction section. You could usually find a hardcover Peanuts treasury or two, or maybe if you got lucky, Les Daniels’s Comix! or Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. And that was IT.

No more. Now we are surrounded by reprint editions of great comics from every era. Just this week I came across three collections of my favorite runs that for the most part, I was sure would NEVER be collected… even in a world that’s already given us the complete Creature Commandos.

First of all, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the Max Allan Collins run on Batman has a new collection, Second Chances.

Collins, I always felt, never really got a fair shake on Batman. His artist Chris Warner quit on him after the first issue they did together, and thereafter it was a scramble to find a penciler who’d stay on the damn book. Ross Andru did one, Dave Cockrum stepped in for a couple of months, but the look of the book never quite gelled. There were other editorial missteps as well– captions that got dropped, just dumb little things like that, but little things add up. It’s often cited as a disappointment and a mess.

Nevertheless, I really liked what Collins was doing.

The ‘new origin’ of Jason Todd worked for me because Collins grasped something that many Batman writers have consistently missed since then– the fact that Jason started as a thieving street kid didn’t automatically make him a criminal for the rest of his life.

The whole point of Jason becoming Robin was that he was a redemption project for Batman– and in turn, he’d create redemption for Batman himself. Batman’s coaching of Jason was a way to keep himself from going over the edge…. and it was also a nice device to get readers inside Batman’s world.

Additionally, Collins was not afraid to have some fun with what he was doing. The Two-Face story that set the new Robin in direct opposition to Harvey Dent was probably the best of the lot but they were all solidly entertaining Batman stories.

There were other problems too. The biggest one apart from the inconsistency of the art was that he was also following Frank Miller’s four-issue Year One story, which immediately became the DC template…. but apparently Collins didn’t get the memo that Batman was Deadly Serious Business.

There are some of the early Starlin stories in the book as well but it ends on a nice note– that is, before Starlin set out on his campaign to make Jason Todd so unlikeable that it eventually resulted in 1-800-KILL ROBIN. At any rate, this is a fun book at a decent price and it’s nice to see these in print again.

Another pleasant surprise for me is that Dark Horse apparently is committed to reprinting the entire run of Savage Sword. They’re getting close to the end now, meaning they’re hitting the second Roy Thomas run.

Honestly? I was sure that they’d have given up somewhere around the middle of the Michael Fleisher issues. But by God, here they are at volume nineteen, and it looks like they’re going the distance. I’m delighted to see these stories in print again. I have been hunting these comics for years at conventions– they’re damnably difficult to find, even at gouger’s prices.

In the run-up to Thomas’s return to the book, Don Kraar and Chuck Dixon had both done some really nice work, and there had been some great artwork from Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan as well; but for an old-school guy like me, seeing Roy Thomas and John Buscema back on Conan is like coming home.

The bonus is that many of these stories are new to me; I completely missed these the first time around, and in the years since then I’ve only managed a few of them as back-issue finds. I do wish Dark Horse were reprinting the entire magazines instead of just the stories, but that’s my only caveat. Of course the Kull and Solomon Kane stories got their own reprint books and the rights to Red Sonja are elsewhere, but there are lots of text pieces over the run of Savage Sword I’d like to see as well. But then I’m a huge nerd. Certainly, MOSTLY reprinting these comics is better than NOT reprinting them, which is what I’d figured on when this paperback program started. I didn’t think they’d ever get to these.

The nice thing is that Thomas 2.0 wasn’t just playing the hits– he was not afraid to try some new things, which became especially apparent in #200’s “Barbarians at the Border,” starring Conan and….Robert E. Howard.

Probably only two or three more after these; volumes twenty and twenty-one are already listed on Amazon. I’m hoping they’ll throw in the ten-issue run of Conan the Savage as well, since they did the Savage Tales Conan on the front end.

That would probably take us up to volume twenty-three. Anyway, I’m delighted these books exist and I’m in for all of them. (Yes, even the Fleischer ones back around volumes eight through ten.)

I hated them at the time and in fact quit buying Savage Sword over them… but in the years since they’ve kinda grown on me.

And finally, the one I’m MOST excited about, featuring the art of Norm Breyfogle, hasn’t actually come out yet.

No, not the giant Bat hardcover, though I’m very pleased about that one too.

We pre-ordered that one way back when Julie and I still had disposable income, and we are looking forward to seeing it arrive in the mail some time soon. I own all the single issues, but they’re buried deep in the longboxes and I would much rather have this nice hardcover that sits on the shelf where I can easily get to it. Especially since it’s got the epic four-parter “The Mud Pack” included.

And I certainly hope that the book will include the ‘mini-posters’ that were bound in to those issues as well.

We’re thrilled that DC is doing the book especially since with Mr. Breyfogle’s medical bills, he needs all the help he can get. But that’ll take a while to get to him and there’s ANOTHER book project that I think is even cooler than this one, and it benefits Norm Breyfogle directly.

Glenn Hauman brought this to your attention last week in this space but it was buried in the comments and I wanted to give it the attention it deserves. Steven Grant has agreed to do a special reprint edition of Whisper specifically to benefit Norm Breyfogle. Details are here.

The reason I’m delighted about this is because Whisper is AWESOME. I’m WAY more excited about that coming back into print than Breyfogle’s Batman. Because that’s another one I’ve been hunting in back issues and those are elusive too.

Really, in the 1980s with Sable and Nexus and Badger and American Flagg! it felt like First Comics could do no wrong. But I always thought Whisper was just as good and it often got overshadowed.

If you don’t know the book, I guess the through-line would be something like Young woman with ninja skills puts on a mask and fights crime and that decision really fucks up her life. But it was so much more.

My hope is that they sell a zillion of these. Not only because Breyfogle deserves not to be buried under his medical bills, but because Whisper is so cool. Steven Grant is a master of the nasty crime story and Breyfogle was just hitting his stride as an artist, learning that angular action-noir style that served him so well with Alan Grant later on the Batman stuff.

The Whisper paperback collects issues #3 to 11, the Breyfogle stuff. $10 for an e-book, $50 for a hard copy. Really you should get this AND the Batman collection, but if you could only pick one, I’d pick Whisper. Of course now our household is broke so it’s too late for us to get the paper edition, but even at that we kicked in $10 for the e-version. Just too good to pass up. I hope you’ll check it out too. Here’s the link again— they’re about halfway to the $10,000 goal with 19 days to go. Let’s make this happen.

Swear to God, if I’d tried to explain about the current bounty of paperback comics collections to young me back in 1974, he’d have laughed me out of the room. When it comes to easily-available reprints, the Golden Age is right now. With all of this to wallow in, I just can’t get worked up about current superhero comics no matter how wrongheaded I think they might be. Because I’m still never going to run out of cool things to read at this rate.

See you next week.

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