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The Quality Companion

A book review article by: Jason Sacks

One of the great comics publishing houses of the Golden Age was Quality Comics. They presented two of the greatest comics of their era, Jack Cole's brilliantly madcap Plastic Man and Will Eisner's wonderful engine for great storytelling, The Spirit. The Quality line featured art by a slew of outstanding cartoonists such as Reed Crandall, Lou Fine, Fred Guardineer and Nick Cardy, along with the legendary Cole and Eisner. And they created characters that have endured for decades, characters like the Blackhawks, the Ray, the Black Condor and dozens of others.

Finally Quality Comics have received a Companion of their own from comics' premier historical press, TwoMorrows. Editors Mike Kooiman and Jim Amash have presented a book that really lives up to the material that it presents. The Quality Companion is an encyclopedic compilation of information that will stand as the definitive book on Quality Comics. 

And they don't just give readers a history of the comics line. The editors also give us 64 big pages of classic comics to show us what we're reading about. Yes, The Quality Companion has an opening section that presents the editors' favorite stories from the Quality Comics line. There are nine "smashing stories", as the editors describe them, including "The Ray" and "Black Condor" by the amazing Lou Fine, "Midnight" by the sublime Jack Cole, "Uncle Sam" by the astonishing Reed Crandall, and an eyepopping story about "Madam Fatal", the young man who dresses as an old woman in order to fight crime. (yes, you read that right!)

As expected, Fine's art is cool and fascinating and hyperkinetic. It also betrays a bit of a young man's attention span, as Fine seems to be fascinated with the idea of having each panel present a completely different annge of scene than the one before it. We get a close-up next to a medium-space acction shit next yo a silhouette next to a character falling out of a panel. It's all really wonderfully done -- Fine's figure work is immaculate -- but his storytelling is a bit exhausting and sometimes seems to trip over its own passion.

Much more exciting is the story by Jack Cole, full of wonderfully funny exaggeration and genuinely interesting character designs. It's a bit loose at times -- there's a main character whose name is literally Doc Wackey -- but I was really surprised by how much I loved this strip.

I'd never seen much work by Paul Gustavson, but his art on the "Human Bomb" strip at the front of this book is very impressive work. Gustavson draws fantastic people, expecially the breathtaking beautiful women he draws.

These 64 pages provide something that few other Companions books provide: context. We get a feeling for the comics that will be discussed in the remaining 220 or so pages of the book and make a strong case for why Quaity Comics deserved its name. Even the worst of the stories at the front of the book are solid and interesting stories that are much better than a lot of the mediocre comics of the Golden Age. We're given a reason why we should care about Quality Comics, and that momentum carries through the rest of the book. Even for readers who already are passionate about Quality Comics -- and let's be honest, most of the people who buy this book will already be passionate about Quality Comics -- the comics at the front will contain at least a few stories that they haven't seen before.

The back half of this book is an exhaustive look at the output of Quality Comics. Kooiman and Amash present a detailed history of the company, charaters and creators both from Quality's Golden Age and more modern storylines. They present a detailed look at the history of the company as "Busy" Arnold created and managed it. The editors don't miss an incident, talking about the company's origins and its popularity during World War II all the way up to its bizarre resurrection as IW/Super Comics and the characters' subsequent DC Comics revival.

Readers are given copious samples of art from each era, from Reed Crandall in 1941 to Jerry Ordway in 1981 to a screenshot from the Batman: the Brave and the Bold cartoon from 2010. We get interviews with such notables as Roy Thomas, James Robinson and John Arcudi about the Quality characters, as well as bios of almost everyone who worked on the Golden Age books.

The Quality Companion delivers readers exactly what they want from a book like this. It's an extremely thorough and detailed celebration of one of the great comics lines in history. With the 64 pages of comics it presents, and the 220 or so pages of text that follow, The Quality Companion makes a strong case that the Quality Comics line truly lived up to its name.

 


 

Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.

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