When you buy a collected edition of a comic, you kind of assume you’re buying, if not the definitive version of the material, at least a superior version than the original monthly issues. That’s not an unfair assumption, right? Just like you’d expect a DVD boxset of your favourite TV show to be of better quality than your aging off-air VHS recordings, a comic book tpb should be better than back issues.
DC Comics don’t quite seem to have grasped this notion.
When the New 52 was announced, its surprise inclusion of a new Resurrection Man series made me very pleased. I love Resurrection Man. An under-rated gem of the 90s, it’s the only ongoing comic series I’ve ever owned entirely in floppies. And given that I greatly dislike monthly comics (and now no longer even buy anything in that format) that’s saying a lot.
With the (ultimately disappointing) new series of Resurrection Man came the news that the original series would be reprinted in tpb form. Thrilled, I quickly eBayed my complete run while it still held some value and then just a mere three years* after it was released, I bought this trade, collecting #1-14.
*I’m terrible at buying things promptly when they come out, even if I love them. I’ve still got barely any of Community on DVD.
This, it turns out, was a mistake.
This collection of Resurrection Man does have better paper than the original comics. And true, there are no ads inside (although part of me is a little disappointed by the lack of pages trying to flog Mortal Kombat 4 and Sprite during its adolescent anti-authority period), but in many respects, it’s completely inferior.
For a start, the covers to each issue have been stripped from their stories and shoved at the back. This really bothers me here, more so than it has elsewhere perhaps. It’s such a pointless endeavour. Resurrection Man is generally an episodic series; even when doing a multi-part story, each issue is paced individually. If it was a series where issue breaks are simply where the writer has run out of pages for that month (like say a Brian Bendis comic) or more of an anthology series (like Usagi Yojimbo) I can maybe see the point in removing the covers, but here it’s simply like removing all the opening titles from a TV series, or chapter headings from a novel. There’s no breathing space between issues, which ruins the reading experience much like Charlie Brooker posits in this old Screenwipe video.
Worse than this is that the book clearly hasn’t been proof-read before going to press. An early page in issue 2 is of such low resolution that the text is rendered near unreadable. This would have been immediately apparent to anyone who had bothered to check before signing off on the book to print it. There’s also a double-page spread that’s broken across a page break, which is perhaps even damning of the proof-reader’s quick flick through this volume. This collection has been put together with all the care and attention of a Maths teacher forced to cover a PE lesson but more worried about getting his shoes muddy than whether anyone’s actually following the rules of rugby.
This is all hugely disappointing, as the series itself holds up pretty well. It’s certainly better than the very disappointing (and short-lived) revival.
Here we follow the adventures of Mitch Shelley, an amnesiac tramp who, in the middle of a drive-by shooting, discovers he can fly. Unfortunately, he’s not bullet-proof and is killed in the fracas. Luckily for Mitch it turns out he can’t stay dead and he quickly comes back to life, albeit with a different super-power. He also gets a blast of fragments from his missing memory, setting him on a journey of self-discovery and low-key super-vigilantism.
Aesthetically, this comic is very 90s, although thankfully not in the awful, Image house style way. The computer colouring is bold and garish, in a not entirely unpleasant way. The fashion is very of the time as well, with artist Butch Guice managing to make his characters feel like real people. One place the art does fall down though is the inconsistent inking. Guice inks his own work mostly, which still somehow manages to be quite variable, but there’s a rotating set of inkers that pitch in at various times. At its best, it’s scratchy and textured, give a rough feel to the street-level stories (and looks beautiful when uninked for Mitch’s memory bursts). At its worst, the series can seem a bit simple and clean, but still appealing. I do think the book would have benefited from a regular inker being assigned from the off though.
The biggest problem art wise though is that the page lay-outs can often be somewhat confusing, resulting in poor panel flow. This was endemic in comics of the 90s, purged only when the Bryan Hitch cinematic style took prominence around the Millennium, so we can’t fault Resurrection Man for it entirely, but it is a drawback.
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s stories are solid stuff, though. Mitch is likeable lead character, whose life intersects with an interesting array of supporting types. Recurring villain Hooker is just the right side of the quirky-annoying border, while the glamorous bounty hunting duo the Body Doubles similarly manage to avoid the potential pitfalls open to a pair of sexy bad girl characters. Ok, so the series hinges on Mitch being unusually, well, mortal for a comic book character, dying almost at the drop of a hat. This feels a little incongruous with a world where Batman can get over being crippled with some herbs and stuff, but once you accept it, it’s not a big deal.
What’s particularly impressive is the way Resurrection Man interacts with the rest of the DC universe. The Justice League appear in #2, but Mitch stays in the background, as the book shows the collateral damage usually left unconsidered by a typical bit super-hero battle. The Batman issue gives a nice street level look at Gotham, while the issues starring Garth Ennis’ Hitman are an anarchic take on the typical super-hero team-up formula.
Unfortunately, the positives of the actual comics are largely rendered moot by two things. The production problems in this volume are the most obvious, but the other is the complete lack of a volume 2. As mentioned, this isn’t a particularly prompt review. This collection has been out for a couple of years now and there’s no sign of a second. If you buy this volume, you’ll only be getting half a series. Half a good series, admittedly (and this is probably the better of the two halves) but still only half. One that ends on a cliff-hanger even. It’s been long enough now that it seems likely DC won’t bother with volume 2 (the revived series having been cancelled doesn’t help). Strong sales would have encouraged that, but it also would have suggested the unforgivable production problems are ok, which they aren’t. So really you’re kind of damned if you do and, well, just damned if you do.
Maybe get the back issues?