Beautiful But Derivative: “A1 #2”

Titan Magazines’ new Titan Comics imprint is looking for its best foothold as it scales the charts, looking for a big win. Most startup comics companies realize early on that they need marquee titles or creator names to draw new readers to the racks (whether owned by larger conglomerates or not).Topps comics, for example licensed The X-Files, Zorro and Jurassic Park. Dark Horse licensed both Alien and Predator and was the first to combine them and that company still enjoys great success with Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer comicbooks. Image was started by a group of comicbook heavyweights who up and defected from Marvel one day and when one of them defected from Image, he made sure he brought the writing talents of comics celebrity Alan Moore with him.

Titan recently inked a deal with Dave Elliott to resurrect, once again, his comics anthology A1 and bring with him new talent and tales as well as older material previously published in A1 by some of Comicdom’s biggest names (thus providing Titan with the marquee names that they require). The upcoming A1 annual, for example, promises contributions by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Ron Marz and Matt Wagner to name a few.

Yes, the Annual is set for release in October, showing how Titan likes to plan ahead, considering the fact that July marks the publication of issue #2. However, A1 is far from a new title. In fact it has an almost 25 year history (albeit not 25 continuous years). Atomeka press launched A1 in 1989, then the title did a short stint at Marvel’s Epic Comics before a resurgent Atomeka briefly relaunched the title.. Some of the characters from different incarnations ended up published by Image Comics and in Heavy Metal Magazine.

The new A1 is ambitious and looks fantastic with an undeniably modern design for the cover, but with the classic influence of featuring the anthology’s supporting stories on an offset ribbon with representative characters’ heads peeking out at the reader.

Both issues #1 and #2 feature three stories, the first of which is “The Weirding Willows”, a beautifully painted fantasy story written by Elliott and illustrated by Barnaby Bagenda and Sakti Yuwono. Willows is something of a fantasy-world variation on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen concept with such characters as Alice (as in “in Wonderland”, but here the daughter of the infamous Doctor Moreau), her white rabbit, Mister Toad, Frankenstein’s Monster, Tom Thumb and Mowgli teamed up to face off with some Oz-inspired characters in Nineteenth Century England.

The Weirding Willows (yes, it does feature characters from The Wind in the Willows) has the most potential of the three sagas here and A1 #2‘s feature deepens the now-adult character of Alice in just a few pages and does so with some stunning art. While the concept of teaming up public domain characters from classic novels (even in this time period) is not new, it has never been done with these characters and between Bagenda’s drawing and Elliott’s nifty story, the potential is there for a greatly engrossing saga.

The second story, “Carpe DIEm”, on the other hand comes off as weird-for-the-sake-of-weird.The story shows us a super-team of sorts featuring a diverse cast of oddball characters named after the days of the week and their Big Boss, called “The 8th Day” (who has an oversized 8 Ball for a head and was apparently born that way). The characters and situations feel like something out of The Tick or The Heckler, but the script by W.H. Rauf focuses solely on the weird and chaotic aspects of the strange tale without quite enough comedy to keep the whole thing afloat.

The third saga, entitled “Odyssey” features an old Elliott character by the name of “Blazing Glory”, a Captain America pastiche that also incorporates aspects of The Fighting American (both created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby). While always a pastiche, A1 marks the first post-Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance of Blazing Glory, and the influence of the redesigned Captain America is written all over this character.

The redesigned Glory’s costume looks like (and is) a direct combination of the padded World War II era costume from Captain America: The First Avenger and the new costume from the upcoming Captain America: Winter Soldier which resembles both the Steve Rogers: Super Soldier costume and The Fighting American’s. Lucky for Elliott, it also bears some resemblance to Blazing Glory’s original uniform, so the argument could be that if Marvel was going to sue, they should have already. However, the redesigned helmet and the fact that he carries guns (although no shield) and that we have a flash-forward from 1942 to 2003 makes the new influence all the more real. Pastiche is pastiche, but Glory borderlines on “rip-off” here.

Considering Marvel’s lawsuit against Rob Liefeld for his hilariously-derivative, shield-wielding knock-off “Agent America” (whom he quickly re-designed into a new version of The Fighting American, after securing those rights to stave off Marvel’s lawyers), Elliott might want to have a care.

That said, whether taken as a story about General Glory (yes, he’s actually called that in A1 #2, in spite of DC’s own Cap pastiche having that name), a Captain America Pastiche story or a Captain America story in its own right, “Odyssey” is off to a promising start with A1 #2 (the first issue’s story reads like a prologue and doesn’t actually feature “Blazing Glory”). This is especially due to the artwork by Garrie Gastonny (again, colored by Yuwono). Gastonny’s realistic and action-packed frames capture both a very modern comicbook style, but also evokes memories of classic Kirby, befitting of a character unstuck in time, like Blazing Glory and Captain America.

A1‘s return is anticipated by many and it is off to a good, if not “triumphant” beginning. Previous incarnations of the anthology series have been strikingly original, but even the non-resurrected sagas presented here feel familiar somehow as if either borrowed or played for safety in sales. In short, we’re looking at a ton of beauty in A1 #2, but just barely enough originality for it to earn the name. That said… there are a couple of cliffhangers Elliott has left me with that will keep me looking for A1 #3.

RATING 5 / 10