Comic book anthologies make a comeback

It’s great to see so many anthologies on comic store shelves recently.

With this month’s launch of Creator-Owned Heroes (Image), three of the four top-selling comic companies are currently publishing a regular anthology series – only Marvel is the outlier. With so many titles, the range of talent and content is staggering.

I’ll admit, I haven’t always been a fan of anthologies. I can probably trace my interest to 2009 and the release of Marvel’s Strange Tales three-issue miniseries and DC’s 12-issue weekly anthology project Wednesday Comics. I was mostly turned on by the use of established-yet-non-mainstream talent. It was a gateway to the indie scene for me. Since then, I’ve gone out of my way to find anthology series. I’ve even been picking up runs of Marvel’s Epic Illustrated on eBay in the hopes of digging up diamonds.

Back to the here-and-now, here are a few current books I’ve been reading:

Dark Horse Presents

Only one year old for the newly-revived print edition (following 36 digital issues on MySpace), DHP is proving to be a powerhouse for comic talent and new properties. Harlan Ellison, Fiona Staples, Steve Niles, Neal Adams, John Layman, Sam Keith, Francesco Francavilla, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian Wood…the list goes on and on and on. This monthly series edited by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson is great value for the money at $8 for a minimum of 80 pages. It features a mix of serialized and singles stories, established characters and franchises – such as Concrete, Hellboy, and Criminal Macabre – as well as new stories and characters.

Each issue of this title covers a range of genres. It’s been a great testing ground for new ideas such as Resident Alien and Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder: Third World, as well as serving as the launch pad for new DH series, like Brian Wood’s new eco-thriller, The Massive. You’ll even find the occasional prose story.

While some of the serialized stories are being collected into one-shots worth picking up for those of you who aren’t reading this series regularly (*ahem* Resident Alien and Skeleton Key), much of the material can only be found within these covers. Plus Richardson’s introductions (often insightful, always interesting) are one of the reasons I like picking up this book.

Mystery in Space (Vertigo)

This one-shot anthology is loaded with unsettling short stories that will hijack your imagination and take you to strange, mysterious places. Journey to the edge of the abyss with Michael Allred! Plus: Broken hearts will be cryogenically frozen, a zero-gravity menage á trois will be compromised by aliens, and solar systems will spiral out of control when top comics talents and exciting newcomers collide!

Eighty pages of solid sci-fi, this is Vertigo’s latest instalment to their recently launched bi-annual anthology series. Last year, they published one sci-fi and one horror book – Strange Adventures and The Unexpected respectively – both excellent. When Strange Adventures was released, there were many reviews comparing it to Dark Horse Presents, but they are two entirely different beasts in my opinion. Vertigo’s are one-shot issues packed with standalone stories that play within one of the two genres. Each entry so far has proven its worth both in content and talent. Mike Allred, Kyle Baker, Andy Diggle, Ann Nocenti, Robert Rodi, Ming Doyle, Duane Swierczynski, Davide Gianfelice, Michael Wm. Kaluta are just a few of the top caliber names you’ll find in this issue of Mystery in Space.

Creator-Owned Heroes (Image)

“AMERICAN MUSCLE, Part One by STEVE NILES & KEVIN MELLON

The world ended a long time ago. How it happened exactly and what exists in the wasteland have always been a mystery. Now Chloe, Gil and a gang of rebels have escaped the last human stronghold and are blazing across Post-Apocalypse America in search of paradise.

TRIGGERGIRL 6, Part One, by JIMMY PALMIOTTI, JUSTIN GRAY & PHIL NOTO
In this sci-fi thriller, the sixth in a series of genetically modified assassins born in a secret laboratory sets her sights on the ultimate target. But what happens when the perfect killing machine takes a personal interest in her target only to uncover a conspiracy that may change the fate of the entire human race?

PLUS! An interview with NEIL GAIMAN! Triggergirl cosplay! Con photos! And original articles all celebrating the creator-owned spirit of independence!

So that’s the promo blurb.

One part comic, book one part magazine. Jimmy Palmiotti’s editorial pretty much nails part of the problem with comics today: “These days, some comics can be read in a few minutes and without letters page, they’re a quick read for your money.”

Tell me about it. Nothing frustrates me more than putting down $4 for 5 minutes of entertainment. I might as well pay for a lap dance if that’s going to be the case. So Jimmy, Justin and Steve have embarked on a mission to provide readers with a more value-for-your-money comic experience.

This is not something new. In addition to Marvel reintroducing letters pages to some books, the Ed Brubaker/Steve Phillips Criminal and Incognito series have included essays and long editorials that provided many additional minutes of reading pleasure.

It’s too early for me to have an opinion on the two strips. But after taking in most of the first issue, including the non-strip material in the back half of the book, I must say it’s a fascinating read. I’ll be curious to see how long Jimmy and Justin can keep it up.

The first issue also includes interviews with Neil Gaiman, rambling columns by Palmiotti, Gray and Niles, backstage information on the cover design, and even some convention and cosplay photos. Everything a comic geek could ask for.

Cover to cover fun.

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