Hey Kids! Trade Paperbacks!

CrossGen Ilustrated is something unique to my experience. When I first saw ads for this a few months back, I thought it looked interesting but was unsure of exactly what it would be. Maybe new stories set in the CrossGen universe? New art from their regular artists?

Since I buy all of their regular comics (nine and counting) each month, I figured I would buy it and find out. Then I saw that the price was $24.95, a bit steep for a comic book.

It turns out that this is not a comic book. Physically magazine-sized, it has thicker paper than a comic. This is an art book containing work from the first eighteen months of CrossGen comics. Usually art books like this will focus on just one artist, and is often painted. Despite being a cross-section of CrossGen, it would be hard for anyone to flip through this book and argue that this isn't 'art' in any sense of the word. It is a beautiful package.

I am curious about who the folks at CrossGen are marketing this towards. CrossGen Illustrated is not something that I would expect to find in a comic book shop. It would be more at home in one of the chain bookstores. I happened to be in Borders yesterday, and I looked around for it there. I didn't find it, but it may show up in places like this eventually. (It's not listed by Amazon, either - editor) So CrossGen should be commended for trying to reach outside the normal comic marketplace.

This book would make a good introduction to the CrossGen universe for someone who had never read any of their comics before. The art is grouped into nine sections, one for each of the titles that CrossGen publishes. Three or four pages of text describe each of the worlds and gives a recap of the story to date. Filled with a nice variety of fantasy and science fiction themes, the traditional super-hero genre is notably excluded.

As far as I could tell, none of the art is new to this book (except the painted cover, by Joseph Michael-Linsner). The majority of it comes from covers and splash pages of the individual issues. For someone who has read all of these issues, there is not much new here. The text does contain some hints and clues of things to come for hard-core CrossGen fans. The real reason to buy this is if you want a high-quality compilation of the art.

One good thing done here is to include both pencil/ink and colored versions of the same pieces. This shows how much impact the colorist has on the illustration. The coloring is done on computer, and the colorist is clearly adding as much to the finished work as either the penciler or inker.

The art itself varies from good to outstanding. I wish there had been more from George Perez, but he only gets one two-page spread. There is great stuff from Bart Sears, Steve Epting, Greg Land, and Butch Guice. I want to single out Jim Cheung for special mention. I've always thought his work on Scion was good, but his real talent is knowing which image will capture each moment in the story. Seeing the best of his work in one place really makes an impact.

CrossGen illustrated would be good for those art fans who are not on a tight budget. Hopefully it will bring some new readers to their monthly comics as well.

Also out this week is The First trade paperback. Issues 1-7 of the ongoing series are collected here along with some supplementary material. It is written by Barbara Kesel and illustrated by Bart Sears and Andy Smith. This makes a great chance to try out CrossGen's central book.

The story concerns the "gods" of the CrossGen universe, who are similar in some ways to Jack Kirby's New Gods. The cast of characters is immense, and the plotting is dense. The status quo has been changed by the appearance of sigil-bearers who have the power to kill members of the First. Turmoil ensues and there is a power struggle to see which faction will end up in control. The struggle is more political than physical, which seems to be a more interesting way to go.

The First appear in the other CrossGen comics as well as their own title, and a lot of the underlying backstory of the CrossGen universe gets explained in these pages. The upcoming title The Path finds its set up here, as its main character and his motivations are introduced. CrossGen is good about making each of their titles self-contained, but there are links between them.

The art is excellent, and the story is complex but good, making The First definitely worth a look.

Both books can be purchased at your local comics shop as well as through CrossGen directly.

Charlie Wentling

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