Friday, March 10, 2017

Single Issue Voter - All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1

By Josh Bayer and Herb Trimpe, et al.
From Fantagraphics
$4.99 USD

I am not usually one to speak in memes, and have been known to knee-jerk a sigh as soon as someone responds to any kind of online conversation with a meme. However when I saw an article announcing that Fantagraphics was going to feature its own cooperative super-hero narrative, that it would fuse the work of contemporary indy creators with that of old school pros, that the very first issue of this new comic book line would posthumously publish the final professional comics work of the late Herb Trimpe, and that the first hero to get the spotlight would be a dude with f---in' giant purple fists sticking out of his shoulders, I suddenly understood all you meme-happy trolls because there was really only one reasonable way to respond:

So far, this All Time Comics is pretty great. As expected, it's a love letter back to the Silver Age of comics; to the days of letters pages and goofy ads, back when we heard super-heroes saying "Sweet Christmas" and still thought they were gritty. Every page looks like an old Doctor Strange blacklight poster with vibrant, unreal colors. Alessandro Echevarria's colors are spectacular, and have the seemingly impossible effect of rendering the comic both startlingly new and wonderfully set in yesteryear.

Thankfully, in other ways, it isn't what I expected. When indy guys do super-heroes, they tend to rev up the snark. Not just in indy books like Project: Superior, but even in the majors' own comics, like the Strange Tales anthology series Marvel released with indy creators handling their blu-ray selling headliners. And snark is good, snark is great, but eventually it just gets douchey. Eventually you just get tired of all the hipster-happy bullshit with the super-heroes with funny names and the incredibly poignant revelations. You feel like Tyler Durden on the airplane, asking his weaker half how being clever has worked for him so far.

Or they go the other route. They forget the snark and get very serious. They let us know that what they're about to show us are the true guts and bones of that thing we call "super-hero." That they will cleverly show us in ways we could never have imagined on our own exactly what super-heroes say about the creators of super-heroes, about the consumers of comics, about America, about the world, and ultimately, about the Human Condition.

All Time Comics, thus far, is neither of these. Which is not say it doesn't have it's funny moments or its own tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn't wallow in it. Josh Bayer and Herb Trimpe want to give you a good, fun comic book story with Crime Destroyer.  That's it.  They want to let the super-heroes be as ridiculous as they should be as well as being as psycho-crazy and brutal as they would be. They don't want to give you slick science fiction explanations to make you think what clearly could never happen could maybe happen. They aren't trying to endlessly lampoon or to redefine anything. Crime Destroyer seems like nothing more than an honest attempt to create a fun and colorful comic book with the soul of the Silver Age couple with the wonderful lack of boundaries today's comics enjoy, and it goddamn succeeds.

Even though this is clearly not a Hulk comic, Crime Destroyer fills me with more Hulk-fan pride than anything I've read from Marvel in years. 

Herb Trimpe was best known for his work on Incredible Hulk, including drawing the first couple of issues that introduced Wolverine. I recall years ago reading an issue of Fantastic Four Unlimited which was the last Marvel series Trimpe worked on. The book was downright ugly and I thought age had been unkind to Trimpe's talent, though having finished reading The Incredible Herb Trimpe a few months ago, I now know Trimpe was experimenting with a new Trimpe-cum-Liefield style that, while producing unfortunate results, was admittedly brave.

But Crime Destroyer, man.  Crime Destroyer is gorgeous. If I had never read the interview book mentioned above, Crime Destroyer would have set me straight regardless. Maybe I'm seeing it through rose-tinted, crazy Hulk-fan glasses, but Trimpe's work on All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1 is as good as, if not leagues beyond, any of the work he did on Incredible Hulk or Godzilla: King of Monsters back in the heyday. And Trimpe was 75 when he passed; 75 when he drew Crime Destroyer. Show me how many other comic book artists' work have evolved this well with age.

I am understandably skeptical about whether or not All Time Comics will get the financial support it needs from a market much more bonered up for watching Batman fight Rorschach, but I know it deserves it. If you like comics, you should buy this one. And if they keep being this good, you should keep buying them.

P.S. By the way, All Times Comics team: asking Johnny Ryan to do a variant cover and then letting Al Milgrom trash Prison Pit on the back page? That's, well. That's kind of awesome. Not because I love Milgrom or hate Prison Pit, but, I guess, just because it's allowed. Because an artist was allowed to state an honest opinion about another artist's work. I don't know. I like that it was allowed.

Though if I were Johnny Ryan, I might be pissed.

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