Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Bullets: New Velvet Out Today & The New Coward, Examined -- And More!

Velvet #9 Preview Online, in Stores Today.  It has been almost exactly three months today, but Ed Brubaker's other period piece returns today with Velvet #9.  The espionage comic from Brubaker and Steve Epting continues with the heroine breaking out the mysterious figure introduced at the end of the previous issue, and Comic Book Resources posted a three-page preview just a few hours ago.

The New Trade for "Coward," Compared, Contrasted, and Reviewed.  We've had a chance this week to examine Image's new edition of the trade paperback for "Coward," the first volume of Brubaker and Phillips' first creator-owned series, Criminal.  There are some noteworthy similarities and differences with the original trade published by Marvel's Icon imprint.

The most important similarity is the story:  examining a few pages closely, I believe the story's contents are identical in both trades,

[UPDATE:  I originally noted that the contents are identical, "including a possible coloring error and a few typos -- all extremely minor -- that have persisted since the original monthly issues."  A concerned reader asked for clarification, and these sort of things are NOT printing errors that should have fans think twice about purchasing the book:  they're things like an unusual shading choice on a small part of a single panel and an omitted hyphen, the latter of which I ONLY noticed in my umpteenth re-read just this week.  I've seen other books with bad printing errors, such as one of the original Gotham Central trades, with the dialogue missing from almost a full page, and it's quite rare to see a book as professionally presented as "Coward."]

Both trades are also fairly bare-bones releases.  I honestly think that Brubaker and Phillips' short "trailers" would add to the experience, but the story speaks for itself, and the hardcover deluxe volumes are excellent archives for such bonus material.

Obviously the two books have very different covers, with the new edition adding greater emphasis to the Criminal title and dropping the phrase about the book being "A Criminal Edition."  Ironically enough, the new cover art appears to be from the trailer's last panel rather than the actual story.

The cover is a sturdy, matte material rather than the glossy cover for the Icon edition.  Along with a revised synopsis, the back cover describes the title as the "most-acclaimed crime comic of the 21st century," being the winner of six Eisner and Harvey Awards.  There are also new blurbs from Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Hill, and Warren Ellis.

I believe the original trade was designed by Sean Phillips, and on the new edition's copyright page, we see Phillips credited for the publication design -- a new and simple design that draws our attention to the Criminal logo and to the credit for Val Staples as the colorist.

Also on the copyright page, careful readers will notice a slight change from the earlier edition.  Both versions attribute the trademarks to Brubaker and Phillips, but the copyright now belongs to Brubaker's Basement Gang Inc.

The new edition lacks two extras from the original -- the introduction by TV writer Tom Fontana and the concluding acknowledgements by Brubaker and Phillips.  The new edition makes up for this with an appendix of the wrap-around cover art for the original monthly issues, artwork that was noticeably missing from the old edition.

The new trade paperback isn't strictly necessary if you have the original trade or especially the deluxe hardcovers, but its release is a great excuse for re-reading "Coward."

After nearly a decade, the story still amazes me with its intricate plotting, intelligent characters, gut-wrenching tragedy, and moments of surprising comedy.  As with all of Brubaker and Phillips' work, the book rewards close, careful, repeat readings.

For what it's worth, we find that the story packs more of a punch because it focuses on a single character rather than a sprawling ensemble like in The Fade Out, and its naturalistic setting precludes the need for the world-building that we saw in Incognito and Fatale.

Re-reading the book for the first time in a few years, we feel quite justified in our belief that Criminal remains the pinnacle of the pair's career, the closest rivals for "Coward" as their single best work being most of the subsequent stories in this pure crime comic.

[UPDATE:  I noticed a couple things I missed after posting.]

Fatale Month at Comicosity.  Since Criminal isn't their only collaboration worth re-reading, the Comicosity Book Club is declaring this month Fatale February, reading a chapter or two each week and tweeting about the book using the hashtag #FataleClub -- should be worth reading, even if we had our own 30 Days of Fatale in the lead-in to the series' explosive conclusion.

• The Criminal Special Edition, Complete and Forthcoming.  Finally, it's worth noting that we're nearing the end of the long wait for the return of Criminal.  Yesterday Mitch Breitweiser announced that the book has just left the studio that he shares with colorist Bettie Breitweiser, and the British "bricks and mortar comic shop" Page 45 reports that they have read the issue.

The Special Edition and its magazine-sized variant will be in stores by the end of this month, and we can hardly wait.

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