Titan Trio: Wallace & Gromit Strips, Tomorrowland, Marada the She-Wolf

Catching up for a new year, here are three books released from Titan Comics over the past few months. I didn’t care for all of them, but this trio certainly demonstrates the diversity of their line. (The publisher provided review copies.)

Wallace and Gromit: The Complete Newspaper Comic Strip Collection

Volume 1, 2010-2011
by Aardman, $14.99 US, publisher preview

A brief forward by Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit, explains that this full-color daily strip originally appeared in The Sun tabloid, running Monday through Saturday. The comics are very true to the characters, with Wallace’s voice authentic, even though done by a rotating group of writers and artists (all credited in the back).

Sometimes too much so, as a knowledge of British culture and language can be necessary for the punchline. (For example, an early tale involves the phrases “slap-up meal” and “all clapped out”.) I found that aspect charming, though, and part of what makes the duo so entertaining. Each week usually has Wallace coming up with some crazy new invention, which then goes berserk. Each strip has its own punchline, and the six add up to one story.

It was a pleasure seeing new adventures with these beloved characters, even if they were so short. I recommend pacing yourself, reading just a few weeks’ worth at a time, to extend the enjoyment. That way the puns won’t drive you crazy, either, with “The Restaurant”, about Wallace opening a Cheesy Way Diner, particularly full of them, all with cheese names.

The book also has double-page photos of the characters interspersed among the comics. The strip ended at the end of October this year, so there could be more volumes coming. If I’ve done the math right, at a year’s content per book, there’d be at least three total.

Marada the She-Wolf

by Chris Claremont and John Bolton, $24.99 US, publisher preview, reprints material from Epic Illustrated #10-12, 22-23 (indicia erroneously says 23-24)

Originally based on Red Sonja, the warrior woman Marada is lovingly illustrated in remastered full color and presented with new background material: an introduction by original editor Jo Duffy and an uncredited explanation of the character’s genesis and background on Bolton’s creative process.

Set in ancient Rome, these stories feature a babe with a sword who’s shown naked or scantily clad to keep the attention of the still mostly-male readers who’d be buying this comic in 1982. Epic was Marvel’s creator-owned anthology, a magazine dedicated to fantasy and science fiction meant to compete with the European Heavy Metal.

If you like fantasy epic comics, these are well-drawn, with plenty of creature battles, although the text is very Claremont-ian, full of florid description and characters thinking long expositional monologues to themselves. When we first meet Marada, she’s been broken, captured by a sorcerer and raped by a demon lord (the kind of background typical of Strong Female Characters from the era). It’s only the love of a good man (later sacrificed) that brings her back to herself. The remaining stories in this volume feature her journeys with her adopted magic-casting daughter, trying to return her home.

Tomorrowland

by Paul Jenkins and Stellar Labs, $19.99 US, publisher preview

Perhaps this book means more to those who already knew that Tomorrowland is “the biggest DJ festival in Europe” or that lead characters Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike are two real people. I found it alternately boring, predictable, and confusing. The story is overly familiar, with a tale of mystical monsters who are going to overtake earth from a portal in the sky unless they’re stopped by a creative champion. Here, the two DJs are the newly selected Keepers.

I’m leery of any title where the art is attributed to a company, not a person or people, although specific artists are credited inside. I also kept wondering why, if music was the key to battle, the boys’ guide was Shakespeare. Maybe you need to be on rave drugs to follow the storytelling; I found it jumpy and incoherent.

Moreover, I didn’t care about any of it. The people weren’t full characters, but interchangeable paper dolls. The threat never seemed real, and I’d seen this kind of story SO many times before. The setting wasn’t relevant, since the battle could have taken place anywhere, and there was no strong sense of this particular location. It’s a waste of time and paper, a chore to get through, created just to exploit those who want an odd momento of the festival or can’t go themselves.

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