All Time Comics (#1 – 6) – Josh Bayer, Benjamin Marra

4 out of 5

covers Crime Destroyer #1-2 (ATC #1, #5), Bullwhip #1 (ATC #2), Atlas #1 (ATC #3), Blind Justice #1-2 (ATC #4, #6)

In this same vein as silver-age genre celebrations like Copra or Revenger – and wouldn’t ya’ know, those books are reviewed by none other than Al Milgrom within the pages of All Time Comics – Josh Bayer, with some assists from Ben Marra, does the heretofore unthinkable by creating a superhero universe for Fantagraphics, home of all sorts of indie but not really your Marvel / DC pastiches.  ATC’s loosely connected six issue “first season” may have sneaked in to Fanta’s roster by coming tongue-in-cheek, though: poor coloring; fake ads; and a general underground comix gung-ho are all part of the package, although this isn’t straight satire, which is why it works.  I mean, don’t get me wrong: a dude named Crime Destroyer who has two giant fist shoulderpads ain’t exactly serious, but amidst the general ribald events and setups – mostly gregarious science villains or future vampires having their plans foiled in violent and / or silly fashion – there’s an undeniable straight-shooting love for this format and old-school comics’ worlds.  It’s not a mistake that Herb Trimpe illustrates the first issue, and I wonder how much we have to thank Trimpe for setting some stylistic limitations that would guide the issues thereafter (he unfortunately passed away while the issues were being published).  Ben Marra does a fantastic job as a followup, but again, the formal Kirby-ness of Trimpe’s designs set a standard from the get-go.

If there’s anything that kept pulling me out of the world, it’s the deep dives into a type of indie that bemarked by notebook-scribble style illustrations and phantasmagoric coloring that has nothing to do with drawing the eye toward any point of attention.  The book itself is colored in particularly oddball set of colors, but that’s fine; it’s the extras – some of the ads, some pin-ups, some of the stuff with the lettercols – that’s done up in the aforementioned format, and I know some people dig this stuff but it’s really unpleasant to my eye.  On the one hand, I’ll admit it adds to the seat-of-the-pants flavor of ATC, but I feel that’s mostly generated by the main content.

Anyhow, I don’t know if I was expecting to enjoy this – I think I was more curious than anything else – but once you’re a few books in and realize that they’re not just taking the piss out of super heroes but that ATC is actually out to make its own legit (admittedly over-the-top) characters, you’re won over by each issue’s exuberance.