Is Bigger Better? Andy Burns on DC’s Absolute Editions

Yesterday in his Tales From The Long Box column, JP took a trip in time to the massive DC Comics event Crisis On Infinite Earths, which shook up the entire DC multiverse when it was published back in the mid-80’s. Personally speaking, I enjoyed JP’s look back on Crisis more than the original series itself. In fact, even though I own it in two different configurations, I’ve never actually been able to finish reading the series cover to cover.

The first time I purchased the series was one boxing day, not long after Crisis On Infinite Earths had first been compiled into a softcover trade. As a Marvel Zombie, I found the whole thing totally impenetrable. Sure, George Perez is a ridiculously talented artist, and hey, Marv Wolfman wrote some decent issues of the V comic book (though I don’t know if llI’ll ever forgive him for having Ham Tyler eat garbage in the first issue of that particular series). But with my bare bones knowledge of the DC Universe and with little to no affinity for the characters throughout (yes, that even includes Supergirl and The Flash), I just couldn’t get into what appeared to me simply be a very convoluted tale.

A few years later, Crisis On Infinite Earths was released in a two book Absolute Edition, with the story blown up in an oversized hardcover that history has deemed the story worth. For some reason, even though I never made it through the softcover I spent upwards of $30 on, I decided I would get Crisis one more time for roughly $70 more. My thinking at the time was simply “bigger is better”. Right?

Not so much.

I don’t think I made it much further on the series in it’s Absolute format. And while the art does look great, the size of thenedition doesn’t exactly make it a comfortable reading experience. Which would be my biggest criticism of the whole Absolute run of books, from Sandman to Crisis to Ronin et all. The quality of the books is impeccable; the extras contained at the back of each volume enticing; and they surely look good on your book shelf. But boy, are they an unwieldy reading experience.

The most recent Absolute edition that I read cover to cover was Absolute Justice, written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger and illustrated by Ross and Doug Braithwaite. Set outside the regular DC Universe, Justice is essentially a 12 issue version of the Super Friends cartoon we all grew up watching. It’s also a convoluted mess of a story. Once again, I can’t see how anyone can appreciate this series unless they have an encyclopedic knowledge of DC minutiae (I bet Grant Morrison loved it). The only reason I was able to read this particular series front to back is because of the great art from Ross and Braithwaite. While I wasn’t familiar with the later’s work, I am an unabashed Alex Ross fan. His art is tailor made for the grandiose visuals that Absolute editions offer. For proof, Justice isn’t bad, but for those interested in seeing Ross’ work at it’s Absolute best, you’d be best served picking up Absolute Kingdom Come. Not only is the art superb, but unlike Justice, the story is equal to the visuals.

That’s just my take on a few Absolute editions and my own reading experiences with them. Currently, I’m making my way though Absolute Green Lantern Rebirth, which ironically has a story that’s served well by the hugeness of the volume but that’s art doesn’t really require it. And maybe, once I’m done reacquainting myself with Hal Jordan, I’ll take another crack at Crisis On Infinite Earths. But I better start working out again so I can lift the bloody thing.

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