Review: A1 Annual – The World’s Greatest Comics / Author: Various / Artist: Various / Publisher: Titan / Release Date: November 26th
Experimental comics anthology A1 was originally launched by Dave Elliott in the 1980s with a remit to give talented creators a platform for personal expression that mainstream publishers wouldn’t allow. Having successfully returned earlier this year, A1 is now coming to bookshelves in an ‘annual’-style format. The World’s Greatest Comics is a 176-page hardcover volume, collecting sixteen short comic stories and miscellaneous pieces from a variety of creators, including reprinted material from old masters (Alan Moore, Jack Kirby) and new stories from the up-and-coming.
The volume opens boldly with a classic five-page strip from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Island in the Sky, a Technicolor sci-fi mystery with exclamation marks at the end of each sentence! The real highlight comes later with a Mr. Monster story from the legendary Alan Moore, imaginatively illustrated by Michael T. Gilbert. It’s a knowingly satirical take on the superhero genre, in which the superhero does more harm than good.
Another classic tale is Bill Sinciewicz’s Emily, Almost, originally printed in A1 back in 1989. It’s a poetic and expressionistic piece that encapsulates the more experimental nature of A1, as does Jim Steranko’s Frogs. Frogs, a visually and structurally unconventional piece from 1971, is accompanied by an essay in which Steranko explains his intent to push the boundaries of the comic medium.
Some stories are parts of existing series. Devil’s Whisper is a noir-esque revenge tale set in the near-future world of Grendel, while an Odyssey story criticises American militarism, as a superhero team act as security at George W. Bush’s inauguration. The world of A1’s Weirding Willows is continued, though this only makes sense as an instalment in the series, as does the Boston Metaphysical Society short story, and The Odd Ball is a prelude to an as-yet unreleased series.
Other comic stories include Sandy Plunkett’s excellently wintry Tales of Old Fennario, surreal superhero adventure Little Star, biblical tale Daniel, violent fantasy Melting Pot, and Batman and Superman spoof Weird’s Finest.
Speaking of weird, there’s also a promotional article about barista art with a very tenuous link to comics. Not sure what that's doing here. The other major non-comic article is the fascinating Image Duplicator, a look at an exhibition for which Dave Gibbons and Rian Hughes asked comic artists to ‘re-reappropriate’ the artwork of Roy Lichtenstein and Art Novick, which they believe was disrespectful to the comic art they took from.
The World’s Greatest Comics is a handy-sized and well-packed, if disjointed, volume full of curiosities. With some great stories and some not-so-great, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t live up to its self-important title, but it is an exciting and interesting volume, sticking to the A1 ethos of personal expression.