Saturday, March 24, 2012

The ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume 01

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume 01 (Rebellion, 2011).

Here's a book that I like a lot, but not quite in the format I would prefer. Explaining the situation requires a little backstory. Since British writer Pat Mills found success working in the French comic industry, which is based around annual "album" releases of a 64- or 80-page story, or, if you will, a yearly episode of a much larger story, he's exported the form to 2000 AD, the comic that he created in 1977. As 2000 AD programs strips in weekly six-page chunks, Mills' annual story is further subdivided into, say, ten or so weekly episodes.

Working in this format, Mills is able to tell incredibly long stories across several years, and Rebellion, the publisher of 2000 AD, has two prospective revenue streams for the reprints. Working in conjunction with artist Clint Langley, Mills first used the experiment to craft six 48-page episodes of Slaine. These were paired together and reprinted in three large, oversized, but thin hardbacks with an eye on the European market, where this sort of material could safely be expected to sell by the bucketload in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In these countries, the hardback "album" has long been the default format for the comic medium, much in the way that monthly "floppy" superhero funnybooks from Marvel and DC are the default in the United States.

Mills and Langley's next project was revisiting the writer's classic ABC Warriors, which has appeared off and on since 1979. It's a far-future tale of squabbling robots built for war, with programmed personalities that bring them into conflict with each other as much as the enemy. Some of their adventures are far better than others, but even at Mills' most self-indulgent, the series has always been readable and entertaining.

The project is called "The Volgan War" and it appeared as four annual stories from 2006-2009. In it, the characters reminisce about their original days of combat before uniting, only to find some common threads in their stories, including the strange, classified appearances of a top-secret special forces flamethrower robot. As the series unfolds - and it sags a bit in the third chunk before roaring to a colossal, incredible finish - the events of the old Volgan War come back to haunt the Warriors on Mars in very unexpected ways, leaving the team permanently fragmented and new, dangerous enemies waiting for them.

Overall, I think it's a masterpiece, and easily the best Warriors adventure since 1988's classic "Black Hole," even with some of the head-scratching events of the third volume. It works extremely well in hardback form as well. Following the precedent of the oversized Slaine books assembled with Europe in mind, Rebellion collected the four 80-page stories, beefed them up with some additional artwork by Langley and some extra design work, and released a quartet of 96-page hardbacks.

But there was already an existing line of ABC Warriors paperbacks, all nice and uniform, in Rebellion's attractive "rainbow spine" trim that reprinted all of the characters' previous adventures. To accommodate fans of that line, the publisher has reissued the first two of the four hardbacks in matching design. They look very nice, and indeed the story is a real treat... but why in the sam hill have they gone the route of four separate 96-page books instead of a single 384-page collection under one set of covers? Wouldn't that have been something amazing to see? Recommended, but with the understanding that we would have liked to see something a little more of a knockout when the story came to paperback.

1 comment:

h88mans said...

Still trying to get hold of a hardcover copy of the volgan war 1, I was out of pocket when the first one was around. Got the other 2-4 in hard but not the first.
Also fantastic books!