By Ben Snyder
Annual #1 is unlike many other comic books on the market today. It is not a graphic novel, but it’s significantly more comprehensive than a simple single issue of a comic book. It’s also completely segmented, including multiple stories as well as written essays featuring many different artists. In the introduction Joe Casey, the main writer for the comic, claims this project is his attempt at emulating the anthology issues that influenced him as he matured as a writer and to this end he succeeds. However, Casey attempts to make this composite reflect the industry’s current state of more personal, character driven stories and in this way I feel Annual #1 ultimately falters.
Annual tells so many stories in its large page count and the sheer creativity that Casey and cohorts create is apparent. There is a story of an out of time man that has to deal with his anxiety of picking the right girl to marry, a blatant Hellboy ripoff, a vengeful God story, an homage to the classic golden age comics of yesteryear, and a showcase of Casey’s kids stories. While the sheer breadth of content is something to marvel at in this day, unfortunately one is worthy of praise and that is the first story, “Modern Romance”.
“Modern Romance” tells the story of a man from the proposed ‘50s who leaves his elevator into our contemporary world with no explanation. It’s a simplistic hook and it works wonders. The main character, Stan gets ran around town by a hard core bike messenger, gets shot up with an illicit drug while receiving fellatio, all to realize his anxieties over his fiancée are fruitless and he loves her. It all works as an ideal outlet for Casey to unload his grievances of our current society while highlighting the ignorance many men held towards women in the past (and future). Nathan Fox does a fantastic job of emulating the classic ‘50s art style while also flashing to a more current style and making it all work “Modern Romance” is actually worthy of an entire analysis that would span longer than this review, so let’s just chalk it up as a great read and the best thing in this anthology which makes it a good thing that it comes first, because the rest of the book is a slog.
Following the amazing “Modern Romance” is a couple page long brief run through on the history of lettering. This is really feels like it comes out of nowhere and it really takes one out of the experience of reading the comic as a whole. Then comes an overtly long and tedious Hellboy knock off entitled, “Winternational” which is really inconsequential. Luke Parker does a really good impersonation of Mike Mignola’s classic style but that’s really all it comes down too, an impersonation. Parker doesn’t add anything new to differentiate his talents from Mignola’s and Casey certainly doesn’t either. If anything it’s rather cliché and annoying. But most importantly it’s not personal.
Then comes a story about Odin who comes down to Earth to avenge his fallen son. That’s literally it, and it takes up a lot of pages. It really feels pointless.
There are also some of Casey’s kid’s original stories and art in this compendium. It’s a cute touch that is one of the only things that makes this anthology seem personal, but I think it’s also a bit odd to have children’s work be lumped into a professional book. I understand they are his kids, and he wants to praise their creativity while giving them a platform, but once again it takes the reader out of the medium.
Then comes another unwanted addition to the “Winternational” tale and an essay about a seemingly made up ‘60s comic book publisher that pioneered character-driven superhero stories that combined DC’s godlike superman figures with Marvel’s more personal human problems. (I looked them up online and found nothing so I could be wrong, and Century Hero Comics could be real). It’s an interesting idea, but ultimately Casey’s follow-up issue, “The Nightmare Bandit,” to the essay in which he tries to emulate said style doesn’t really work and comes off as rushed.
Annual #1 reaches for some very lofty goals, and only in one instance does it succeed. I commend Joe Casey for attempting this endeavor, as it truly seemed gargantuan just content wise. However, I feel this would be better suited as a tighter more focused book. Maybe if it combined just “Modern Romance” and possibly, “The Nightmare Bandit” and focused more on them, using this maybe the essays could have been better used as buffers as well. Even then, I don’t think I could call this anthology a success as it fails to meet even Casey’s own goal for the majority of its page count: It’s just not that personal or good.
Annual vol. 1