100 All-Time Greatest Comics… Improved: Part XI

My schedule’s been thrown out of whack, thanks to a combination of mild illness (not fun) and being in the Lake District (excellent fun). To compensate, you’re getting a double helping tonight!

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn

b&r1

Guess what? Yes, we’re in “actually rather good, but nowhere near a must-read” territory again. It’s not even difficult terrain for me to roam across, rather it’s so well-trodden that it’s hard to know where to start. Morrison’s writing is usually delightful to read, and he doesn’t exactly bore you to tears with Batman & Robin.

And yet…

And yet it’s still not quite Grant’s greatest work. Those has already been included in 100 All-Time Greatest Comics (We3, All-Star Superman, to name but two) and I’m not sure that B&R really qualifies. I’m not saying it isn’t worth reading, but I can’t honestly say that this should be your primer when delving into Morrison’s back catalogue.

There are other little niggles that makes Batman & Robin stumble at the last hurdle; nothing big, but they add to something that’s at least noticeable. Knowing that the dynamic in this comic was always going to be reverted to the status quo, that it relies on a certain amount of continuity to understand what’s going on, and the fact that it’s one of nine (nine!) Batman titles…

But do you know what comic book doesn’t have any of those issues?

The Replacement… Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition

UYSE

Usagi Yojimbo might just be the best ongoing comic book right now. Hell, it’s probably the best ongoing comic book there’s ever been for the past 30 years or so, if only because that’s how long it’s been published. What’s more, Stan Sakai has only had to take a few breaks from this comic, usually for personal reasons.

Logically, the whole concept should’ve just withered on the vine. I mean, a samurai bunny wandering through Japan… played straight? It shouldn’t work, even as a back-and-white 80’s comix back-up, which is what Miyamoto Usagi’s story started off as. It should’ve just been a weird footnote in comics, something for smug comic book bloggers like yours truly to sneer at.

And yet…

And yet, there’s just so much love put into this bizarre little comic, that it’s hard not to see why it’s survived two previous comic book companies. I’ve recommended reprints of the very early stories, but the beauty of Usagi Yojimbo is that aside from a few issues that take place within very involved story arcs, it’s very easy to pick up what’s going on? If a character shows up, or a specific story referenced, Sakai explains it in the simplest possible way. That might not sound like much, but that’s really hard to do well, especially in a comic book.

Perhaps it’s the fact that Usagi Yojimbo shouldn’t work as a story is what gives the title its ineffable charm. A love letter to medieval Japan, told with anthromorphic animals? The whole thing’s absurd… Then again, aren’t most comics?

The Filth

Filth

Why am I picking on Grant this week? Well, I picked on Mark Millar two updates in a row (kind of), so I might as well have a pop at his former friend. After all, I don’t want people think I’m playing favourites…

Anyway… The Filth. To be honest, it’s not that great. Kinda weird, goes just a tad overboard with the edgy bullshit. Art’s pretty damn good, though. Can’t really think of anything else to say, aside from “If you want something with mature themes and good art…

The Replacement… The Savage Sword of Conan Volume 1

SSC1

… start with one of the all-time greats.”

Robert E Howard is one of the best writers from the latter half of the 20th Century, and Conan of Cimmeria is one of the greatest fantasy characters ever. Right, now that we’ve got the blindingly obvious out of the way, let’s talk about how great Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian is.

Freed of the shackles of The Comics Code Authority, Savage Sword was allowed to engage with the more suggestive aspects of Howard’s work. But this was no mere top-shelf naughtiness, but something that respected the intelligence of the reader, eschewing low-hanging fruit for something truly enjoyable to read, especially compared to The Filth‘s gonzo absurdity.

Roy Thomas may not have started out as a fan of literature’s greatest barbarian, but he soon came to understand why other members of The Marvel Bullpen were so fond of his adventures. Under his direction, the lands of Hyboria lived again, enthralling a new generation with all its hypnotically lurid detail.

There’s one scene in all of Howard’s work that has captured the imaginations of anyone who’s read it: the crucifixion scene in “A With Shall Be Born”. Some people think it’s not that great a story, but I respectfully disagree. In any case, everyone loves that scene, and it’s obvious “Big” John Buscema (who drew Marvel’s adaptation of the story) was no exception. Simply put, it’s great.

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