Because brevity is the soul of wit and, this way, there's less of a chance that there will be a terrible proofreading error on my part. Also, keep in mind that I will most likely completely ignore my own rules and talk up a storm here. Like right now, for instance. Before I really undermine this thing, might as well jump!
Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus vol. 1- Works extremely well, both as a gripping thriller and a big chunk of a larger story, despite some reservations I had about where Brubaker went with it (Bucky as a cyborg assassin?). Brubaker takes the best elements of Sleeper (well, the elements I remember being the best parts of Sleeper, if not everyone else) and makes a great Cap story out of them. The art, by series regulars Steve Epting, Michael Lark, and Mike Perkins, as well as fill in artist John Paul Leon on the excellent (if literally and figuratively character destroying) Jack Rider single issue story, follows a similar path; outside the W.W.II flashback issue with the vibrant work of Marcos Martin and Javier Pullido and the issues Lee Weeks drew, it's all as realistic and shadow drenched as you can make a Cap story. It verges on not working with our red, white, and blue hero, but pulls it off through skillful execution.
This book is also commendable for its sheer volume of supplemental material, and offering a good mix of it pre and post Cap assassination, while giving you a good amount of process material from that landmark issue (including the script).
I know I'm pretty damn late jumping on the Brubaker Cap bandwagon (especially now that it's apparently now starring Captain Puerto Rico), but I still think it's worth talking about for any other late adopters who might be in the crowd.
Speaking of being late to the party:
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus vol. 1- Kirby's hippie slang dialogue straddles a line between corny and mind numbingly insane that I am shocked by the lack of blogs devoted to playfully mocking it, but never mind that; it's the least important part of the package. These stories have retained their power because Kirby tosses out manic, enduring ideas at a rate that makes the creative zenith on Fantastic Four with Stan look staid by comparison, and that comes through beautifully in this collection (especially because Mark Evanier's around in the afterward to explain why the issues are so jam packed).
Part of the fun in reading Kirby comics at this point is seeing all of the wonderful ideas he brought to life that people are still wringing life out of to this day and seeing how they read back then compared to what's been done with them since. I'll do that briefly (because that's the order of the day), through the magic of bullet points!
*The Jimmy Olsen issues are probably the most packed with ideas; to the brim, in fact. Which is shocking for two reasons:
1. I've never had much use for the guy outside Chris Sims' posts about him
2. Kirby didn't even want the book.
If nothing else, it's interesting for someone who read a fair amount of Karl Kesel's run on Superman and
Superboy Teenage Kryptonian Superhero Character as a youngster to see how many concepts he used in those comics came from these; I'm not sure if that makes them cooler or not.
* Mr. Miracle, my favorite Fourth World character in concept, is also my favorite of the original creations in the issues contained here. Partially because of the stories, but mostly because I'll always prefer the adventures of a super escape artist based on Jim Steranko to any other character, I enjoyed his story the most, even if the character synonymous with him, Barda has yet to appear.
* Orion is interesting; partially because I already know where the story is going but it's fun seeing it get there and partially because I can finally see why Kirby purists hate foreword writer Grant Morrison's portrayal of him in JLA. It's also where Darkseid and his lackeys popped up the most; the Big D made appearances in all of the Fourth World books, but this is where we saw him the most.
* The Forever People are a concept I have very little love for, and as far as interest in the characters, that pretty much carries over to there first appearances. The fact that Kirby's hippie speak can grate on my nerves doesn't help, since this a whole group of superhippies. That said, I do like these stories, because hey, it's Kirby. The fact that the cliffhanger at the end of their run in this volume had me wanting to see what was next, despite (and not because) of the fact that things looked very bad indeed for our heroes speaks well of his ability to make me care about a bunch of characters I don't generally have a lot of affection for. His portrayal of Glorious Godfrey in that issue is also pretty damned chilling when you peel away the gloss and spectacle on the surface; as a hate mongering evangelist, he's practically a Vertigo villain, given how genuinely creepy he is. He's right up there with Purple Man as far as Silver Age villains with a lot of terrifying potential (although, from what I hear of the Alias comics I haven't read yet, Bendis went a long way to realizing that potential for PM).
* I have some quibbles here and there; I would have liked more process stuff, like sketches, but I guess it's probably bad karma to talk about original art in conjunction with Jack. It's a nice package, and I think the newsprint actually adds to it. It's high quality, not essential phone book kind of stuff, and while glossy pages would have been nice, I just like the feel (and hell, the smell) of it. I guess I'm more of a tactile reader than I thought, which could be why I can't warm up to comics on the computer.
Shit! I said this was going to be brief! Better move on!
Planet Hulk- This is the kind of story that curmudgeonly old men (and John Seavey) will say would have been done in one issue back in the good old days. They'd have a point, but I think the story Pak told with the year and change he had mitigates the fact that Roy Thomas and Gary Groth's Nemesis told a similar story in the course of an issue back in the good old days.
By putting him on an alien planet and taking him out of his comfort zone, he built up a lot of the things that are missing in Hulk stories (outside of Peter David's legendary run); a solid supporting cast outside of Rick Jones, Doc Samson and the army; a love interest on an equal footing; and, most importantly, a cause to fight for beyond being left alone of wrecking shit (although he did do a lot of that). Also, by using one of my favorite incarnations of the character (the surly, belligerent Hulk, who does the right thing for the wrong reason), his story actually had an arc.
The only real problem I had with it* was that Pak blew up his interesting set up to make way for World War Hulk. It's not that I didn't expect it; I did this read this after World War Hulk was finished, so it wasn't a surpass. It was more that I wanted to see more of the story Pak had spent so much time building up before it went on to the big event, which I happened to like for the most part. But hey, that's superhero comics for you days (and pretty much forever, really); the best you can hope for is to enjoy the ride before that ravenous beast called plot comes calling for supper, most of the time, and I definitely did here, enough to not feel too bad about spending $40 on what wound up being a year's worth of set up.
Yeah, so, that's me being brief.
Bonus brief reviews of two literary/alternative comics masterpieces, for the sake of being eclectic:
Jimmy Corrigan- Extremely well crafted, and heartbreakingly evocative, but it pretty much peaked with the World's Fair chapter, didn't it?**
Locas- Characters that change and grow! Serious themes! A glimpse in to a culture outside of the mainstream! Mastery of the form! I was mostly in it for the drawings of pretty women and luchadors, but all of those other things were certainly a plus!***
*Beyond the LadrÃ¶nn covers that make think of how awesome the book would have looked had he done it, which ignores both the solid work the book's regular artists did Aaron Lopresti and Carlo Pagulyan did and the fact that the series never would have finished had he done it; or they would have just brought in guys like Lopresti or Pagulyan as fill in artists anyway.
**I may have missed this by not reading any real critical appraisals of it ever outside of Harvey Jerkwater's "No, it's really not as good as you think it is" piece on the old blog, but other people think this too, right? Harvey sort of says as much if you squint at it sideways, mind you.
***I haven't read this in years, and I remember very little outside of the pretty girls and luchadors, so I hope I was able to capture all of the nuance of it in my own extremely superficial way.