Hardcover and omnibus compilations for your COVID-19 comics binge reading

You know that mental list of comic book titles that you’ve been pining to read? Well, I’ve got a few meaty hardcover and omnibus compilation suggestions you can add to it, because, in this new day and age of challenges, I think we all need something to occupy the abundance of at-home time we have.

My basement study is crammed full of hardcovers and omnibuses that, quite frankly, I love and couldn’t bear to part with because they’re a binge-worthy celebration for times just like these. In fact, my basement den is my favourite place in the world (Well, next to the island of Zanzibar, but that’s a subject for a travel article) and asking me to socially isolate myself from people as part of my civic duty is basically like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.

So, when I’m free, this is where I spend my time; writing, reading, and storing the various accoutrements that comprise my collection and worship of geek and comic culture. Allow me to share a few titles with you and on your next Amazon order, you might want to consider adding a few of them.

Saga: Books 1 – 3 / Saga: Compendium One  (Image Comics)

(Image Comics)

You know, at first glance, I initially thought that this story wouldn’t be for me. The aliens were so bizarrely exotic; the themes were so explicit and the setting of two alien races, one based in science and the other a magic-based species at war with each other just seemed a bit too much. However, it was a Brian K. Vaughn story so I had to give it a go. After all, Vaughn was responsible for so many of my favourite stories: Ex Machina, Runaways, and others, so, in all fairness, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is definitely a binge-worthy series. As you can see from my shelf photo, I have the first three volumes of it, with the fourth definitely in my file for future orders titled: “anticipating”!

For me, the appeal is that this is a story told from the perspective of Hazel, the bi-racial daughter of Alana and Marko, two representative soldiers of each of these races, fugitives from their conflict. Committed to their love, their daughter and their desire to simply get the hell away from this fight, Hazel tells us of their exploits from the days of her birth, their escape and life on the run from the armies that still pursue them as they make their way through various planetary systems. They meet all sorts of lifeforms, live in the strangest of places and yet throughout all of it, Hazel lives and grows in a nurturing environment, surrounded by people who love her.

Despite the alien themes in this story, the one theme that manages to resonate strongly with me is how human it is.

The characters really stand out for me because of this notion. They’re either with or against the family, so they’re very easy to relate to. If you can relate to them, it makes appreciating their foreign nature easier to and when a reader can accept the characters, that’s half the battle in grasping the other various elements of the story. The plot is easier to understand and then the reader has the mental effort to also facilitate the settings and other creative aspects that Vaughn’s imagination can present. Oh – my favourite character? The Will.

Of course, speaking about presentation, it would be remiss to ignore Fiona Staples’ artwork in this book. The cover for Book One is a stark and explicit image of Hazel being breast-fed with the two warring planets in the background. It’s an image that not only speaks to the blatancy of the story’s subject material but also its bravery in confronting some notions that cause a great deal of social anxiety and discomfort.

Sexuality is an uncomfortable topic to present either in text or graphically, but how I would describe the way in which Staples manages to present it in her artwork is respectfully, yet emotionally explicit, if that makes any sense. While she isn’t hiding the various acts, she uses it as a means of presenting how the characters are feeling so that we overlook the sexual nature of the imagery and instead, focus on what the characters are doing. It’s a demonstration of the efficacy of visual storytelling.

If there’s anything that Staples knows how to draw, it’s emotion. Her award-winning art definitely makes this a must to add to your reading list during this time of social isolation.

East of West: The Apocalypse Years One & Two (Image Comics)

(Image Comics)

This alternate history. Post-apocalyptic story should be an automatic requisite to add to anyone’s comic compilation reading list. I’ve reported on this book ever since it first came out and am steadily waiting for the Year Three collection.

Jonathan Hickman’s gift at world-building has been the feature that I’ve usually heralded in the many times I’ve selected this comic as the pick of the week. However, as this series will be three-edition hardcover compilation it’s clear that Hickman also has imbued this story with a longevity that sets it apart from others. There are a few reasons for this.

First, there’s the level of detail. Alternate histories have to have some grain of truth and in this case the complete rewriting of the American Civil War and the new America that emerged after cataclysmic events is not only creative but highly-engaging. As an amateur historian, I like looking at the pillars of the past the story is built on and seeing how the writer crafts them. In this story, America is divided into distinct factions, all with some claim to being a foundational part of the country’s history. A nation of former slaves, one of indigenous people, the Lone Republic of Texas, the North, the South and a nation of Asian Communists whose teachings have found root on the Western shores. These are all described in incredible detail and set an authentic foundation for the story.

But I’m also drawn to the mystical, prophetical dimension of this story. America already has a strong underlayer of messianic prophecy in its history – thought to be the “city on the hill” or “the New Jerusalem”, there is a near-cultish fervor in its history that takes form in so many ways. If it’s not Freemasonry, it’s occult history or it’s simply extreme religious that seeks to propel the mythology of America into new prophetic heights. Can anyone say ‘Manifest Destiny’?

Johnson has crafted a brand-new mythology for America that taps into this vein and includes Christian elements like the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse along with mystical allegiances to dark, powerful entities that have a stake in the future of this America, known as The Word. It’s this conflux of themes that Hickman has so intricately mixed that should entice and keep any reader in a world of escapism. In fact, readers of Hickman’s work on The X-Men will recognize some of these hallmark techniques as he currently is reinventing the mythology of Marvel’s mutant super-team.

Nick Dragotta’s art is stylistically striking. It has a unique sharpness to it that conveys the imperative nature of the objectives of the different factions. Minimalist and direct, it’s the perfect art to visually communicate this story. Of course, if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in. then definitely consider picking up the first two collections while you wait for the third to arrive.

Judge Dredd – The Complete Series (IDW)

(IDW Publishing)

This collection betrays my British heritage. I still remember holding the very first issue in my seven-year old hand of Judge Dredd’s first home: the British sci-fi comic, 2000 AD. I loved this comic, though the subject material in British comics was free from the editorial oversight of something like the America Comics Code Authority and ideas of authoritarian police officers like Judge Dredd passing instant sentences on a Post-Apocalyptic Mega City One, should have scared the snot out of me.

Dredd has been drawn and written by a variety of British masters – Pat Mills, Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy but of course, no collection would be complete without the work of the original Dredd creator, Carlos Ezquerra.

(IDW Publishing)

This particular collection of mine has been lovingly compiled by the good folks at IDW Publishing, a favourite publisher of mine for a number of reasons, the first, of course, is that they manage to acquire the licenses for all my favourite properties! The fact that they out them together in a hardcover format means that they’ll also last a lot longer.

The format for British comics sees short five or six page stories published on a weekly cycle as opposed to the monthly cycle we are used to in North America. Occasionally a story will be serialized for a month, which would make that about the same length of a story we would normally see in a North American comic. However, this means that there are more complete stories in these compilations put together in an anthology, and if you’ve ever read any of my weekly comic reviews, you’ll know that I love a good anthology. More bang for your buck – and your book, and when it comes to Dredd, that’s saying a lot.

Absolute Planetary Books 1 & 2 / Planetary Omnibus (DC/Wildstorm)

(DC/Wildstorm)

Probably one of the best comic series to ever come out of the nineties, running from 1999 to 2009, this is a book that set comic history on its end by creatively and shamelessly taking properties from comic or pop culture history and turning them into a narrative that blew readers’ minds.

Warren Ellis is an unparalleled storyteller and his influence has been felt across virtually all of the comic publishing domains. It’s no oversight that I’ll be talking about his work in the next section, but this guy has worked on some of the most recognized properties in comics, but it’s his original stuff that really takes you by storm.

Art by John Cassaday is an almost spiritual experience to behold. Crisp, clean pencilling with a precision that borders on the insanely detailed, it’s work that ranks in my top ten favourites in my pantheon of art. I’d probably do things I’d be ashamed of to have some of his original work in my collection.

If you haven’t read Planetary, then this is an excellent chance for you to become acquainted with this title. Ellis shows us that there’s a hidden history behind the world that the Planetary Society is supposed to investigate and how its pervasive influence needs to be defended. Ellis warps the perception of the way we have traditionally seen the figures he parodies. These are well-recognized figures from pulp-era publishing, comics, monster movies, golden age science fiction and weaves them into a story about this hidden history. While there is this greater fictional historical narrative being told, he also includes origin stories about the protagonist characters as well that makes for a Russian nesting doll effect. There are so many layers of interest and entertainment in this story that will keep a reader entertained for hours.

Again, if you’re looking for something to occupy your time, then you can’t get any better than this.

Absolute Transmetropolitan – Books 1, 2, & 3 (Vertigo)

(DC/Vertigo)

Again – more work from Ellis. Immense in size, this story ran from about 1997 to 2001, so it overlaps the previous title I just mentioned. This is a dystopian future sci-fi in which every sort of corruption possible could be seen in this American society. Of course, given the current government, it doesn’t seem so shocking especially given that the protagonist is an amoral journalist called Spider Jerusalem and how he gets brought back in mainstream society after living in a hermited seclusion away from his life. Throwing him back into the fray brings out all his worst as he seeks to bring down the corrupted on-high from their lofty perches into the mud where they belong.

For me, it’s the character that matters in this story. I like a character who has little fear and more resolve to make a change in the world. In this book, the world has already gone to hell but Spider takes on two corrupt presidents reducing them and their administrations to ruin. While the world is already messed up, there is still something inside Jerusalem that drives him to keep it from totally going over the edge. He’s a warrior of futility with only the hard edge of truth on his side.

Darick Robertson is also a gifted artist. His work on this series and on The Boys is probably his most recognized, in my humble opinion. But the way he manages to convey Spider Jerusalem’s biting and satirical attitude is a real feat to be witnessed. Naked emotion is truly difficult to bring to life but Robertson does it and sustains it throughout three volumes of collected work. Amazing.

Like I said, forcing me to stay in my office and read comics is hardly a challenge. These volumes are some of my most treasured collections and, in writing this piece, I had to re-read and re-discover their detail, complexity and more important, the talent that went into them. If these won’t keep you occupied, then I have an entire collection to continue making recommendations.

In any event, those are just a few titles for you to consider reading. Stay apart, stay healthy and stay entertained!

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About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.