War Against Crime! Volume 2: Issues 6-11: written by Al Feldstein, William Gaines, and others; illustrated by Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, and others (1949-1950; collected 2001): Beginning in 1950, EC’s New Directions comic-book line would represent a brief high point in American comic books. But it didn’t spring full-blown from the forehead of publisher William Gaines. A couple of years of experimentation preceded it as Gaines acclimated to the comic-book business and the talents began to assemble at EC.
War Against Crime! ran for eleven issues. It fed off the post-WWII crime comics boom. But by the end of the run collected here, it was clearly showing the way to the artistic and writerly excellence of the approaching New Directions line. And it didn’t really die after 11 issues — it was retitled The Vault of Horror with issue 12 and became one of EC’s great horror comics. The stories and art in this volume aren’t up to the standards of the approaching EC books, but they’re still well-crafted, occasionally gonzo tales of suspense and horror. Recommended.
The Incal: Orphan of the City Shaft: written by Alexandro Jodorowsky; illustrated by Zoran Janjetov (1988-1991; collected 2001): Part of the prequel series to Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’s Incal series of the 1970’s, The Incal: Orphan of the City Shaft features sharp, detailed, and often grotesquely imaginative artwork from Zoran Janjetov. Jodorowsky’s story is bananas, as one would expect. It’s all Euro-Comics-SciFi in the tradition of Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant, a dystopian adventure story explaining the origins of Incal anti-hero John DiFool.
Weird, occasionally unpleasant, occasionally poetic, visually and narratively imaginative, it’s also compulsively readable and extraordinarily dense compared to most American comic books. The whole thing pays homage to Metropolis and The Time Machine with its stratified society, a literalized hierarchy oriented around a vast shaft sinking deep into a planet. But there’s a lot more sex, drugs, and fetishes than in either of those estimable forebears. This is the sort of European comic book that the TV series Lexx tried and mostly failed to emulate. Highly recommended.
Just a Pilgrim: Garden of Eden: written by Garth Ennis; illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra (2002): Ennis and Ezquerra’s brutal post-apocalyptic Western continues here, as the gun-slinging religious fanatic known only as the Pilgrim encounters a team of scientists attempting to flee the devastated Earth to the stars. Terrible monsters and events abound, and Ennis and Ezquerra flinch neither in the grimy, bloody writing nor the grimy, bloody art. Recommended, but not for the squeamish.
Hypothetical Lizard: written by Alan Moore and Antony Johnston; illustrated by Lorenzo Orente and Sebastian Fiumara (1987 – 2004/2005): Alan Moore’s World Fantasy Award-nominated novella from the 1980’s gets the graphic treatment from Avatar Press. Antony Johnson preserves much of Moore’s prose (the album includes the novella) while doing an able job of turning it into a sequential comics narrative.
The art by Orente and Fiumara is competent, though perhaps somewhat too prosaic (haha) for the fantastic goings-on. The novella appeared in a shared-universe anthology with its roots in the weird, magical cities of writers that include Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance, and M. John Harrison. Moore’s tale focuses on one tragic relationship in the city of Llaiven, all of it playing out in the weird and sinister brothel known as The House Without Clocks. Recommended.