Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Fleetway faves return in ALBION ORIGINS
Once again, Titan Books have released another gem in their determination to re-present some of the best British comics of past decades. In the same format as their previous hardbacks Charley's War, King of Crooks (The Spider), and The Steel Claw comes Albion Origins.
As the cover logo makes obvious, Albion Origins is aimed at the readers who bought the Wildstorm Albion graphic novel (published in the UK by Titan). Inside the book are a selection of some of the early adventures of characters that Albion revived: Kelly's Eye and House of Dolmann (from Valiant) and Janus Stark and Cursitor Doom (from Smash!). It's a good choice of stories. The Kelly's Eye strip is a long serial from the early 1960s (before Tim Kelly was joined by the Doctor Who influenced Dr.Diamond and his Time Clock) and House of Dolmann and Janus Stark reprint the very first stories of those characters. Cursitor Doom is also one of the early strips of that character, from 1969.
Albion Origins features just four of the many characters that made British comics unique, but what a bunch! These bizarre and basically unhinged characters may seem unsettling for readers used to American superheroics, but it's their very strangeness that's in their favour. No square-jawed clean cut heroes here. Tim Kelly is probably the closest thing to a superman Valiant had, but he revels in his invincibility a little to much to be sane. Same goes for Dolmann, a ventriloquist who not only talks to his puppets but squabbles with them too, even when he's alone with them! Then there's Janus Stark, a black-eyed angle-faced cross between Houdini and Oscar Wilde, and finally Cursitor Doom, who was a mystic investigator but looked more like a burly nightclub bouncer! (Brian Bolland's new cover for the book captures the darkness and weirdness of the characters perfectly.)
A few slight niggles; Steve Holland's introduction seems to imply that Incredible Hulk, Batman, Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Spider-Man were all running in Smash! at the same time ("swamping British creativity") which wasn't the case. Also, he quite rightly gives credit to the several artists who worked on Janus Stark, but there's no mention of Tom Kerr, who drew the second Janus Stark story reprinted in this very book. (And a great Tom Kerr strip it is too, with plenty of detail and atmosphere, as can be seen from the example below.)
Once again, as with the Albion trade paperback, no humour strips are represented in this collection, despite Grimly Feendish and Bad Penny being major characters in Albion. Whilst I appreciate that space is limited, surely a couple of pages could have accommodated those old single page strips? Perhaps if Albion Origins is the success it deserves to be Titan will hopefully consider a humour collection featuring The Nervs, Eagle Eye Junior Spy, Bad Penny, Dolls of St.Dominics and others who played a part in the Albion saga.
Those small points aside, Albion Origins is an excellent collection. Reproduction of the strips is extremely good considering scans of 40 year old comics were the source material. Thankfully, no attempt has been made to edit out the title logos at the beginning of each episode, and every strip retains the toplines, resumé captions, etc as they did in their original publications. Some may dislike this, thinking they disrupt the flow of story, but in truth they add to the authenticity of those bygone comics, when cliffhangers were described as "spine chilling" and each installment "breath taking". All of which was part of what made British comics of the sixties so compelling and exciting.
Albion Origins, hardback, Titan Books. 112 pages. £14.99 R.R.P. but available for less from Amazon.co.uk here.