Top Ten Comic Book Reissues of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: David Fairbanks, Danny Djeljosevic, Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks, Nick Hanover, Nick Boisson

Our Best of 2012 coverage continues!

This time we're doing the Best Reissues of 2012, taking a look at ten previously published comics that stood out this year. It's a nice mix of old stuff, (relatively) new stuff, collections, remasters, reprints of previously out-of-print material and forgotten classics. We love us some underdogs.

You probably won't get too mad about this one.

- Danny Djeljosevic



Scott Pilgrim Color Edition Vol. 1 & 2

(Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn; Oni -- originally published 2004-2005)




I've already written about the color editions of Scott Pilgrim before (twice, in fact). They're good, and you should really have them on your shelf if you even vaguely like the series. The fact that these volumes are a) oversized, b) hardcover, and c) loaded with bonus material makes them worth the money, even for those of us who are double dipping.

And that's not even mentioning the most obvious thing that sets these apart from the original volumes: they're in color. There's really only so much I can say about Nathan Fairbairn's coloring. It's top-notch, and comparing the pages side by side makes it easy to see just what it is a great colorist can bring to a comic.



I don't know if Oni plans to keep printing the black and white versions or not. They are certainly more affordable, but I would say that the color editions are the definitive Scott Pilgrim. Messy pages have been cleaned up, they're built to last thanks to a good hardcover binding, and they are at a price point that, while a bit high, is certainly accessible (and it's clear you are getting your money's worth).

Best of all, they make for a great way to get fans of the film into comics. Not that the black and white versions were poor at it or anything, but the larger panels and coloring make it much easier to distinguish between some similar looking characters.

- David Fairbanks


Alien: The Illustrated Story

(Archie Goodwin, Walter Simonson; Titan -- originally published 1979)




Why in tarnation did we spend valuable year-end list real estate on reprint of a 33-year-old movie tie-in adaptation? Aren't those the bull-est of shit? Often, yeah, they tend to be glorified advertisements where all creativity is strangled to in the crib by the needs of the movie people as hacks are hired to hack out hacky, artless comics and nobody can be happy ever -- least of all the reader.

Alien: The Illustrated Story is different -- it never feels subordinate to the source material, and sometimes evens threatens to rival the classic movie it's based on. Part of that comes from the actual creative process, where beloved, legitimate creators Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson were given more creative control than is normal for these kinds of projects and produced a version of Alien that not only fit in 60-something pages, but also felt like a comic book.



As a result, Alien: The Illustrated Story feels like something only Goodwin and Simonson could make as they take the story of Alien and produce something that's distinct from Ridley Scott's film. Cinema is limited by its unchanging rectangular frame, while in the comic adaptation the pair tell the story their way, through varying panel sequences and tricks that Scott could never pull off in cinema, making for an adaptation as essential as the source. And, as an added bonus for Alien fans, the comic has at least one pretty notable scene that was cut out of the final film.

For the truly hardcore, there's also an "original art edition" where every page was scanned from Simonson's original black and white art boards -- a worthy endeavor, because Simonson drew the shit out of this thing. So you know Alien: The Illustrated Story is a big deal.

- Danny Djeljosevic


The Essential Black Panther Volume 1

(Don McGregor, Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard; Marvel -- originally published 1972, 1977)




"...all I wanted to do was write stories. And I wanted to write stories that meant something to me. All I wanted to do was write my books and be left alone." This is what Don McGregor told us when Essential Black Panther Volume 1 was released, and he ain't talkin' no platitudes. McGregor writes from his heart. It's just what he does. Love him or hate him, it's hard to be indifferent to his work and if you don't have a reaction to the two storylines that make up  Essential Black Panther Volume 1 then I don't want to know you, you are dead to me.

Because back there in the 70's, when these stories were originally published, Marvel was trying to find something for McGregor to do. They thought they would just throw him a bone, toss him this "Jungle book" and tell him when he failed that, hey, they gave him a shot. By trying to bury Don, though, they helped unearth his genius. And that's what the work in Essential Black Panther Volume 1 is -- genius. These pages are a Master Class in story telling, and they're not just that (which is so much) -- they're also groundbreaking on so many levels.



As Don said in our conversation about this book,


"With this series, they set up the fact that it was going to be the Black Panther in Wakanda. But then it was an all black cast of characters and I would get called into the office all the time and told, 'You need to get white people in here, where's the white people?' And I said, 'This is a hidden African nation, you guys set up the idea of it, where are all these white people supposed to come from?' When I did Panther vs. the Klan all hell broke loose. I was actually in the office one time and very upset, I said, 'For two years you people have been bugging me for white people. Finally I added some. There's no satisfying you people.'" 


That's McGregor in a nutshell. Incredulous, passionate, willing to piss people off -- all in the name of the story he wants to tell. The fact that Marvel finally got around to publishing Don's run on Black Panther in the Essentials format is something of a miracle. Back then, McGregor was as much of an iconoclast as a true pioneer, having to slice through swaths of bullshit moralistic and racist impediments to bring a new type of storytelling to comics; he cut the road that the modern graphic novel travels upon today.



As Don said in our interview, "There are certain human elements that are timeless. Whether it's the relationship between couples or the relationship of what you owe society in terms of your personal life. Those elements are eternal." We can always learn more about human potential, compassion, and acceptance. Having Essential Black Panther Volume 1 on the retail shelves and, more importantly for me, on my bookshelf, reminds me of that.

- Daniel Elkin


King City

(Brandon Graham; Image -- originally published 2007, 2009-2010)




It took a while for King City to finish its story -- after a brief stint at TokyoPop, a couple years later Image comics put out the complete series in single issues before collecting all 12 issues in one big, affordable $20 trade paperback this year. Now it's everybody's favorite thing -- and rightfully so, because it's awesome.

For one thing, Brandon Graham is one of the most distinct voices in comics, with his background in graffiti and comic porn and his collection of influences that seemingly differ from everyone else's in the world of sequential art, not to mention his love of incessant and often incredibly funny puns, which litter the streets of King City.



The comic itself offers a world more full of imagination and playfulness than most of its contemporaries -- a world where drugs turn veterans of zombie wars into chalk, a boy uses a cat as a weapon/toolbox and even people standing around at a bar all have their own exciting, fantastic stories. And despite all that, King City is surprisingly grounded, eschewing tight plotting in favor of the more loosey-goosey experience of living, hanging out and seeing where stuff takes you.

If there's any comic that can rewire your brain and shake up your perception of what comics can be, it's King City.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Dal Tokyo

(Gary Panter; Fantagraphics -- originally published 1983 until the 1990s)




The reissue of Gary Panter's Dal Tokyo was a freaking godsend from the reprint editors at Fantagraphics because it unearthed an amazing, surreal, brilliant lost classic that's like an artifact from some amazing parallel dimension.

The world of Dal Tokyo is the closest equivalent that I as a reader can get to living in a strange alien world, just outside of our dimensions and slightly oblique to our way of doing things. It's an artifact from a place that's not just some sort of bizarre amalgam of Tokyo and Texas on Mars; the world in this book is a world where our perceptions of reality are skewed. It's a world where we see inside the heads of others, where our views of the world change continually, from page to page, where the very way that we see the world changes from week to week.



This is narrative. It's narrative in the literal way that we all learned in high school that narrative is created. Characters move and change in a fictional world, moving from place to place and interacting with each other. But it's also a different kind of narrative. Dal Tokyo is a deeper sort of narrative, the kind of narrative that echoes our id and superego and bubbles up from our subconscious and allows us to see things not as they are or how they should be but how they just kind of might be if we squint out one eye in just the right way.



It’s a strangely empowering, exciting, oddly interactive way that the reader is asked to work his or her way through this book. It's not interactive in the way that one might read an Agatha Christie novel trying to figure out the killer or even a Bill Sienkiewicz comic trying to figure out what the artist means with his complex symbolic iconography. No, this is different. This is a deeper sort of interactivity that we need to bring. Readers are asked to bring our perceptions to these pages, to bring our intelligence and passion and appreciation for abstraction and love for everything that feels different and yet the same as everyday life.

- Jason Sacks


Manara Library Vol. 2 & 3; Manara Erotica Vol. 1 & 2

(Milo Manara, Hugo Pratt, Federico Fellini, Silverio Pisu, Mino Milani; Dark Horse -- 1970s to present, please don't make me figure out the exact years)




The 21st century has been an especially incredible time for comic fans eager to explore lesser known masters and international scenes, a fact perhaps best exemplified this year by Dark Horse's ongoing efforts to make Milo Manara a household name in North American comic book households. That effort began at the end of last year with the debut of the Manara Library, the first volume of which collected Manara's seminal collaboration with Hugo Pratt, "Indian Summer," as well as "The Paper Man," both from the early '80s. But 2012 brought a glut of Manara material, including the second and third volumes of the main Manara library as well as the expansion of the library with volumes dedicated to Manara's erotic work.

The second volume of the Manara library functions as a bridge between those worlds, featuring Manara's other Pratt collaboration "El Gaucho," a gorgeously detailed erotic tragedy that's a bit like Bernardo Bertolucci directing a pirate film. It's a story full of sweeping romantic vistas and high seas adventure, but it's also a story of sexual frankness and brutal violence, of immense emotional depth and startling clarity. Dark Horse wisely followed it not with another main library volume but with the first of the collections devoted to Manara's more erotically focused work. And the reason why is easy to discern, as that first volume is devoted to "Click!" arguably one of the greatest erotic satires in history and a masterpiece of Manara's.



What makes "Click!" so interesting is that it's a work of meta-eroticism, where a woman is only able to achieve true pleasure when she is tricked into believing that a remote control is causing her to flip from being a naive, innocent woman to a sexually charge, uninhibited woman who acts out in public. Manara uses the work to comment on the way we often hide our true desires and only feel comfortable acting on them when we're "tricked," or when some device -- alcohol, usually -- allows us to behave differently from the norm. It helps that Manara's art is, as usual, beautiful beyond words, deliciously detailed and imbued with Manara's trademark grasp of human behavior, even as he's satirizing it.

Had those two volumes been the full extent of Dark Horse's Manara archival efforts this year, they'd be worth singling out, but they continued, releasing another main library volume and another erotica volume, with another library volume planned for next year. If you've avoided exploring the world of Manara, you've got a lot of exploring to do, but at least Dark Horse has made the path that much easier and more beautiful.

- Nick Hanover


Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery Deluxe Edition

(Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Pete Doherty; Vertigo/DC -- originally published 1996)




Originally published in 1996, for years it seemed like the seminal Morrison/Quitely collaboration Flex Mentallo would never have its four issues collected into a single-volume edition. It was never clear why DC Comics sat on it for years -- they won the infringement lawsuit that the Charles Atlas company filed against them and the character's appearances in Morrison's Doom Patrol weren't hidden away. Strange that a hotly demanded project like Flex wouldn't see the light of day for 16 years.



But now it's here, and it was totally worth the wait. Flex Mentallo is like All-Star Superman reconfigured into four hyperdense, psychedelic issues -- an experience that's doubly a deconstruction of the superhero comic and a rebirth of the form into something more exciting and inspiring than what once was. It's Watchmen for a new age of comics -- an age that celebrates the form of the cape comic instead of embarassingly stuffing the goofier elements into a drawer.



The hardcover itself is fairly modest compared to a lot of the other work on this list -- it's printed on nice paper with some fun extra material. Pete Doherty's new coloring job has been a point of contention for many fans, but it works for what the book's conveying, it makes it look more "modern" (for whatever that's worth) and, moreover, it's a small price to pay to finally get to have a real physical copy of a previously lost work.

- Danny Djeljosevic


The Creativity of Ditko

(Steve Ditko, Craig Yoe; IDW -- containing material originally published 1957-1976)




I've been a fan of Steve Ditko's work for many years, consuming most of the new collections that come out that feature the great creator's masterful work and help me as a reader understand his work in a deeper way. But The Creativity of Ditko allows me deeper insights into Ditko's work than I'd ever experienced before -- a remarkable achievement for a Ditko geek like me.

There are a few things that make The Creativity of Ditko special. There are some wonderful and intriguing essays that give readers interesting insights into who Steve Ditko really was -- not the legend of Ditko but actual facts about the man, reported by people who actually know the man (who chooses to never talk in public about himself). There are stacks of pages of original Ditko art pages reprinted in this book, which offer the opportunity to really appreciate Ditko's linework and virtuosity. But most of all, there are twenty never-before-reprinted stories presented in The Creativity of Ditko that span the master cartoonist's time working at Charlton Comics, the notoriously low-paying alternative to Marvel and DC. 



Because this material spans a couple of decade's worth of material, the reader is able to find his or her favorite era of the material. We can see Ditko's style evolve over time; see his line work and his figure work become looser, more confident, even happier over time. And the essays in this book give readers a better portrait of Ditko the man -- an elusive topic since the master cartoonist famously never sits for interviews.

We get essays that present Ditko as a happy man, giggling and playing table tennis -- a far cry from the quiet introvert that Steve is also portrayed as. We also get an idea of the bondage comics that Ditko did in collaboration with his studio partner Eric Stanton -- and even a roundabout attempt to give Stanton some credit for the creation of Spider-Man.

The Creativity of Ditko presents a wonderfully human portrait of comics' greatest enigma, and also presents a bunch of great comics as well.

- Jason Sacks


NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind: Deluxe Edition Boxed Set

(Hayao Miyazaki; Viz Media -- originally published 1982-1994)




Better known as the Studio Ghibli animated film (which only tells part of the story), Hayao Miyazaki's original seven-part manga NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind is a fantasy story in line with the nature vs. Technology themes of Miyazaki's more recent film Princess Mononoke, but one far more post-apocalyptic, as a war has destroyed industrialized society, leaving the last vestiges of humanity to contend not only with internal conflict, but also a deadly forest called "The Sea of Corruption." It's serious business, but it's also a huge fantasy adventure full of action, strange creatures and a strong female protagonist who rides a glider thing.



Miyazaki's art style on paper is the same as the style of his animated features and he rarely wastes a page with needless splash pages, so reading the nearly 1,000-page NausicaƤ is like watching a very long Studio Ghibli movie. Moreover, Viz Media's deluxe edition of the master's major comics work is perfect for such a sprawling, epic story, as the series is split up in two oversized hardcovers that show off Miyazaki's intricate, detailed linework far better than the previous tankobon editions. 

- Danny Djeljosevic


Anything Published by Fantagraphics that Involved Donald Duck and Carl Barks

(Carl Barks; Fantagraphics -- originally published 700 years ago)




Late last year, Fantagraphics released the first in their new republication series -- The Carl Barks Library -- Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: "Lost in the Andes" -- and 2012 brought in two new collection from the Great Duck Artist, Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man" and Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: "A Christmas for Shacktown." I would not hesitate to say that Fantagraphics’ reprints of Barks’ Duck comics may very well be the best collection series that any comic company is doing today!



In Only a Poor Old Man, we get a collection of stories about the richest duck in Duckberg, Scrooge McDuck, and his efforts to make every cent count and keep them far away from the dastardly Beagle Boys. In A Christmas for Shacktown, Barks uses Donald to speak to the everyman while also telling grand adventure stories with his three mischievous nephews -- Huey, Dewey and Louie. Each story is funny, smart and just plain fun and Fantagraphics treat each and every panel on the page with care and detail. Not to mention the wonderful essays and introductions from the likes of George Lucas and Carl Barks biographer Donald Ault, all placed in beautiful hardcover binding. The Carl Barks Library has something for everyone and I am hard-pressed to find someone that would not be able to pick these up and find something to marvel at within. It's great for the 99% and the one-percenters that you most likely do not know! Can't we all just get along?

- Nick Boisson



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