ON THE SHELF SPECIAL EDITION
It’s been quite a while since I did one of these so I thought it was about time as several companies have been kind enough to send me a selection of trades over the last few months.

First up is Heroes Volume One (written and drawn by various, Titan Books/ DC Comics), hardcover. When this was announced, there was a big fanfare. After all, Heroes the TV series is a very popular fixture on the box and it was promised that it would feature the best modern comic artists around. But there are two big problems here: apart from Tim Sale’s work which is exceptional as ever and a few stories from creators like Staz Johnson, the rest of the artists in Heroes Volume One are unknowns whose work is bland and generic, and what worked well on the web (five page vignettes filling in the gaps between episodes of Heroes Season One) comes across as slight and throwaway in print, especially in an eighteen quid/ thirty dollar hardcover. The only story that works here is the one that introduces Hana Gitelman, an Israeli soldier with special powers. I know for a fact that there are more substantial stories in the second batch of Heroes web strips but Heroes Volume One smells like an overblown cash-in…

The Art of Matt Wagner’s Grendel (drawn by Matt Wagner with various, Dark Horse Books). Dark Horse do oversized hardbacks celebrating particular series with lots of style and panache: just check out The Art of Sin City or The Art of Hellboy. The Art of Matt Wagner’s Grendel, tying in with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the character, is no exception. While not quite as consistent as Mike Mignola, Wagner’s art possesses a unique elegance to it and his pieces are always well-composed. The addition of the art of creators like Tim Sale, Bernie Mireault and Jacob Pander in this hardback makes it an invaluable historical document of the evolution of a character who has had its role to play in shaping contemporary comics. It also shows how Wagner has matured as an artist over two and a half decades. The art direction for the book is pretty flawless too. Recommended as a last-minute Christmas present or a birthday present for fans of Wagner or modern comic innovators…

Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser
(written by Howard Chaykin, drawn by Mike Mignola & Al Williamson, Dark Horse Books). First published by Marvel’s now-lamented Epic Comics line back in 1990, before Hellboy, this smart adaptation of Lieber’s darkly satirical fantasy novel series holds up well nearly two decades after it was first published. Although Mignola is a less mature artist here than he went on to become with Hellboy, there is no denying the graphic power of his lines, assisted by genius Al Williamson. Chaykin is no slouch in the scripting department either and he manages to bring Lieber’s mismatched pair to life with class and humour. More melancholy and satirical than Conan, Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser is a mustbuy for anyone curious to see Mignola’s path to Hellboy or anyone who enjoys intelligent graphic fantasy…

Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Making of A Sorceror (written by Michael Moorcock, drawn by Walter Simonson, DC Comics). Another fantasy collection, this time of DC’s four-part prestige format series from 2004. But this is no adaptation: Moorcock created this story especially for the comic series, where we see how the pale fantasy icon became a powerful sorceror. Simonson’s work is fabulously baroque and he creates a world that owes much to the mythology of Native Americans and Norse legends. His Elric is majestic but a little more callow than his later comic representations in things like Stormbringer and Elric of Melnibone. The Making of A Sorceror is an indispensable addition to Moorcock’s Elric library…

Finally, we have Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others (written by Mike Mignola, drawn by Mignola, Richard Corben and P. Craig Russell, Dark Horse Books). The seventh Hellboy collection, and the last before we come to Duncan Fegredo’s interpretation of the character, The Troll Witch has much to recommend. The Vampire of Prague, beautifully drawn by P. Craig Russell specifically for this collection is a magnificent evocation of the Eastern European city while Makoma, illustrated by an artist whose work I am not normally a fan of, namely Richard Corben, has a broad mythological feel to it that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. The Ghoul, a Mignola effort, displays the likeable dark humour that Mignola has made a career out of it while showing that there is a definite intelligence at the heart of Hellboy. The Troll Witch is a gothic grab-bag of rare genius but if you’ve read any other Hellboy, this’ll come as no surprise…

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