Comic Books from an Alterna Universe – Review

Last week, I wandered into a different universe. In the back of my local newsstand, an anachronism itself, I found a spinner rack. On that spinner rack, along with prepackaged collections of Marvel comics, I found a miracle.

Amazing Age 4.jpg
The Amazing Age issue 4, by Matthew David Smith, Jeremy Massie and Christine Brunson.

While the content is laudable, it’s not the content that surprised me. This comic book is being sold for $1.50 in 2018. For reference sake, the two-year-old packaged Marvel comics were priced at $3.99 each. The secret, according to publisher Alterna Comics, is newsprint. Beautiful newsprint. The rough sensation on my fingers that I hadn’t felt in a comic in more than twenty years. It sated a thirst I didn’t know I had.

Comic books are best when they are disposable. Not because they aren’t worth keeping, but because they express a kind of immediate, present experience. When a man becomes a monster, we can and should contemplate whether he was a monster all along, but only a comic book can make you feel the change. A rocket that blasts into the cosmos only to encounter a bug-eyed alien menace may be a metaphor for communism, but it’s also a living adventure for the imperiled space traveler. In no way should the graphic narrative medium be limited. There is value in all types of expressions. But just as a novel can communicate an internal dialog like no other media, so a comic book (as opposed to a web comic, or graphic novel, or digital comic) can, through its disposable form, engender a sense of the immediate in the reader. This is happening now and it is amazing.

This was the great secret of the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of comics. That the stories belong not to the collector, though we may envy her, but to the kids who ripped them up through reading. The kids who digest each moment as they live them. It’s why, forty, sixty, eighty years later, the denizens of the comic books are billion dollar properties entertaining the world. Superman wasn’t meant to live forever in a plastic bag. He was meant to die crammed in the back pocket of a baby boomer’s dungarees only to be born again in the mindset of that reader, and thousands of others.

I was excited to find this alternate universe in my town. I bought the comic, brought it home and read it with relish. By its immediate nature it entertained, challenged and comforted me in way I haven’t felt in a long time. Kudos to the publisher for shepherding this project into being. And kudos to the creators for finding the immediate in an age obsessed with what just happened.

I’ll take a moment to address the content. Amazing Age is an all-ages comic book about friends and superheroes. The art is simple and vibrant. It’s not at the level of craft that a modern comic is, but neither were early issues of Marvel or most of the Golden Age. In other words, it’s not fetishistic in its art styling. It’s not trying to blow you away with visuals. It’s trying to tell a story. It makes one realize that superheroes have never recovered from the Image revolution where a series of beautiful pictures ultimately led to nothing. I specifically chose an advanced issue (four out of a five issue mini-series) to see how far my immediate experience would go. Unfortunately, the book is “written for the trade.” Some of that immediacy is robbed by confusion. At least a dozen costumed characters are featured, but only a select few get names. Even the protagonists go unnamed for most of the chapter. This will undoubtedly work better in long form, but with the possibility of this issue being picked off the shelf by a young reader, why not do the hard work of introducing the characters, through context or introductory splash page? Similarly the plot is open-ended. It is not the A, B, C plotting of old serial comics. This is clearly a middle scene in a narrative. While this is disappointing, it ultimately doesn’t matter. Heroes fighting villains in secret bases, bizarre character designs, and a small taste of child-appropriate adolescent angst come together to create an engaging comic book. An actual comic book. Something that hasn’t been seen in decades perhaps.

There are apparently, an array of Alterna Comic for you to experience and at $1.99 or less a pop. Why not? Why not step out of social media where you have to chase down the story and find a newsprint pamphlet to bring the universe to you?

alterna banner.pngAuthor’s Note: This may read like a sponsored post, especially as I’ve stolen Alterna Comics’ advertisement to illustrate their breadth of titles, so I want to assure my audience that I have no connection to this publisher. This is a legitimate personal endorsement of their work as embodied in Amazing Age issue 4. 


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