Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest – A1 Big Issue Zero

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2004
By: Craig Johnson

Writer/Artists: Various
Publisher: Atomeka

Average Rating: 6.5/10

Kelvin Green:
Craig Johnson:
Shaun Manning:

Kelvin Green

Anthologies, by their very nature, are tricky to review as a whole. Just one story might be worth shelling out for the whole package, or conversely, one story might ruin the whole deal for you. So I’m going to tackle each story individually, as it seems the fairest way to do things.

The Bojeffries Saga is your average Beano or Dandy story, if it was written by…well, Alan Moore, actually (or Grant Morrison, I suppose, but when this strip was first produced, Morrison would have been doing Zoids and Action Force comics…). It is an excellent example of how to do an “adult” Beano story (compare Viz). Actually, beyond the dialogue (which is probably too complex for kids) there’s only a couple of bits that would be inappropriate in a title for younger readers. It’s of course exceptionally well-written, but as with Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, don’t expect anything particularly deep or ground-breaking. This is just for fun, kids. Steve Parkhouse’s art is superb, effectively conveying the humour but not lacking on detail, again like the best of the Beano or Dandy strips. Quite what the average US comic reader drawn by Moore’s name will think of it, I don’t know, as while humour comics are known in the US, they’re quite different from the British style, and The Bojeffries Saga is quite definitely in the British style. Did I say it was a bit like a Beano or Dandy strip yet?

Steve Dillon gives us a tale of tragic romance in “Kathleen’s House”. It’s a solid piece, showing that Dillon is adept at the writing part of comics production, and it of course looks wonderful, but I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for it. I can tell that it’s a good piece of work, but I don’t really have much more to say about it.

I know that the Flaming Carrot has fans, but the story printed here is, to be frank, a waste of space. Perhaps it’s because there are so few pages and as such little happens, but I really couldn’t see what the point of including the story was, beyond bringing in Flaming Carrot/Bob Burden fans. There’s nothing wrong with the writing or the art, but it just seems like a pointless inclusion.

The Shark-Man story, on the other hand, is simply brilliant. There’s a greater sense of fun to this than I’ve seen in years in US superhero comics, the art is superb, and the pacing is hectic (perhaps a bit too hectic in places), making a nice change from the slow-moving comics of today’s superhero publishers. The setting is derivative of Batman in many ways, but is also the cleverest “Elseworlds” treatment of Batman I’ve ever seen. I also adore Shark-Man’s design, which is wonderfully reminiscent of the look of Japanese television-based superheroes, to the point that I kept expecting his submarine to transform into a giant robot. I’d read volumes of stuff about this character, as long as it was as well done as these pages.

“Survivor” will be familiar stuff to anyone who’s seen Superman II, or read any Superman-gives-up-his-powers stories, although the darker, more cynical edge might come as a surprise (actually, that’s doing the story a disservice; it’s dark and cynical on the surface, but I think that a more accurate term would be “realistic” as it’s quite conceivable that Superman would feel this way). Dark as it is though, the story comes to a happy climax, with a very simple image, and a neat change of perspective, that wonderfully convey the utter overwhelming joy felt by the protagonist. I didn’t like this story at all at first. I’m no fan of Superman, and deconstructing the character hardly fills me with excitement. In fact, the very exercise seems rather obvious and trite to my eyes, but this story is so well done, and conveys emotion so well, that I can’t help but like it. Perhaps if DC let people write the real thing like this, the character wouldn’t be stuck in the doldrums like he has been for my entire lifetime.

Three out of the five stories here were very enjoyable, although I’m almost embarrassed that two of those were superhero tales. Of the other two stories, one was okay but pointless, and the other was well done but just didn’t engage me. That’s actually pretty good for an anthology title (I remember times when 2000ad couldn’t muster a single decent strip in five), and so I’m quite pleased to recommend this. I’m a little concerned about the wisdom of releasing an anthology title into the US market, as Americans Don’t Read Anthologies, but diversity and variety are to be praised, and if anyone who comes to this comic as a fan of one particular genre goes away from it with at least a passing interest in something a bit different (and by “different” I don’t mean “horror” comics by Steve Niles), then A1 will be a success. Well worth reading.

Craig Johnson

I read the first set of A1 books back when they came out, still have my copies on the shelf (and yes, the Bikini Confidential special is not as good as it sounds), so my take on this is a little different – I’ve seen most of this stuff before.

By far and away the best strip in the book is Moore and Parkhouse’s BoJeffries Saga, but even that pales after a half-dozen pages, the joke is too restricted (there are better episodes out there) and you can see it had a huge influence on Rich J’s Holed Up series. Hasn’t stood the test of time very well.

Another story is a very familiar Steve Dillon piece, reading like a reprise of his Heartland special (that one written by Garth Ennis) (I think this one pre-dated that, and may even have influenced it?). Suffers in comparison to the longer work.

Sharkman takes up a lot of space. It’s awful. Sorry. Hated it completely.

Flaming Carrot has just a few short pages, and by the end of it you’ll probably wonder what the hell happened. Yeah, that’s Flaming Carrot for you. It’s fun, lightweight, and fine.

Dave Gibbons and Ted McKeever team up for “Survivor” – copyright reasons mean it’s not about Superman…but it is really. How would it be to really be an alien on the planet earth – except, of course, it’s not about Superman because he’s not an alien really, his environment and upbringing at the hands of Ma and Pa Kent gave him all the home-boy grounding he needed to relate to “normal” humans. It’s an interesting curio – although has been surpassed in the intervening years since I first read it – although not much more.

Frankly, the anthology disappoints. There’s not enough new, quality material – the watchword of A1 in its original incarnation – to draw in old familiar readers. Nice set of covers, though.

Shaun Manning

A return to greatness for the classic anthology series A1! This preview issue contains a solid collection of serialized works by the likes of Alan Moore, Steve Dillon, Gary Leach, Dave Gibbons, and others. Given that much of this is reprint material, though, a bit of background as to the history of the publication and the stories within would be appreciated. A reader viewing these for the first time, however, with no prior knowledge of A1, shouldn’t have trouble working out what’s going on. But then, it’s not entirely likely that such a person would pick up this book.

The first story, a prelude to the Bojeffries Saga by Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse, is the highlight of the book. Like a sophisticated, extended Mad magazine sketch set within the realm of Fawlty Towers, the freakishly cartoony Bojeffries family and the persecuting rentman keep a smile on the reader’s face. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it might be the kind of thing to pass around for a good sight gag, or because Ginda reminds you of so-and-so.

Waving good-bye (“You can stop waving now!”) to the Bojeffries family, we turn the page and find… John Constantine? No, couldn’t be him–he looks nothing like Keanu Reeves. Former Hellblazer artist Steve Dillon writes and draws a brief sentimental tale of love lost through emigration. Bit of a downer after the previous yarn, but well done.

Then, we wander into the much-trod superhero genre, and sorry to say, Sharkman is the weak link in this anthology. Dressed like the Rocketeer with a toothy vagina, Sharkman specializes in blowing stuff up and being arrested. Moving on.

Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot is a bit of a legend, and it’s easy to see why–but much more difficult to explain. See, Carrot is an adventurer with a carrot for a head, that’s on fire, and… well, in this episode, he’s attacked by kidnapping meteors that abscond with his spongy friend. Um. Right. Looking forward to the next installment, though.

Dave Gibbons writes and Ted McKeever draws Big Issue Zero’s final story, and yes, it is the other “really good one.” The Death of Superman done right, Gibbons examines the psyche of a Man of Steel and comes to the conclusion that, for such a being, suicide is the only logical and ethical choice. Believe it or not, this one has a happy ending.

Scheduling is a bit of a tricky matter for this series, as it seems issue one isn’t due out until January. Worth the wait, certainly, but a strange little project like this, in a market unkind to anthologies, might do better to take advantage of any momentum it can generate. The interim will see several other Atomeka projects, notably this week’s Bricktop by Glen Fabry, but continuity within a single series is nevertheless quite desirable. Still, the work is strong, there are some big-name creators attached and some classic characters returning the ether, so perhaps A1 has a chance after all. Have to say, though, that it deserves much more.

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