‘Giant-Size Kung Fu Bible Stories’ Lies To Your Face, Is Still Great [Review]
If there's a Hall of Fame for comic book titles, then Giant-Size Kung Fu Bible Stories deserves its own wing. You put those words in that order on the cover of a comic book, and I'm going to buy it, no questions asked, and I'm pretty sure I'm not exactly alone in that way of thinking. To be honest, though, I will admit to being just a little bit disappointed that it's not an accurate description of the contents. I mean, is there anyone who wouldn't want to read a treasury-sized extravaganza about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego busting out forbidden martial arts techniques in order to fight their way out of the oven? I would.
That said, what we actually have -- an extra-sized $20 tome edited by Bruce Timm and Erik Larsen -- is still pretty amazing; an anthology of stories from fantastic creators that accomplishes that rare feat of being an anthology book where every single story is highly entertaining, even if they're not about Esau mastering poison styles to take his ultimate revenge on Jacob.
Our first offering comes from Timm himself, and to be honest, eight pages of new art from the animation legend responsible for the look of Batman: The Animated Series is another one of those things that would've convinced me to drop twenty bucks without even knowing what it was. Fortunately for me, it's Timm doing an over-the-top slapstick take on inter-company crossovers, featuring a guest appearance by Timm and Larsen themselves.
Again, I'm already a pretty big fan, but this story features Timm drawing a few dozen analogues for Marvel and DC Characters slugging it out in a double-page spread that looks like something from my platonic ideal of MAD Magazine, and it's pretty great.
There's also an interesting touch to this story that comes at the end, when the editors themselves show up as the architects of the crossover, underscoring the theme of the whole book: Timm, Larsen and friends screwing around with the toys that are superhero comics and making some pretty fantastic stuff in the process.
Next up is an eight-page Empowered story called "Feel The Über Burn," by the amazing Adam Warren, and again, it's something that I was initially disappointed by, if only because it's a reprint of a story that I already own. The real draw here, though, is that since it's showing up in a treasury-sized comic, it's being printed at about twice the size of the usual Empowered offerings, which is definitely worth checking out.
Even at the usual size, seeing how tight Warren's pencils are and how finished they look without ever being inked never fails to amaze me, and seeing them here is predictably beautiful.
"Snowman Slaughter" by Invincible artist Ryan Ottley is a dang hoot. It's one of those comics that feels like it should be dropped into the middle of a Christmas special (as opposed to being in a comic that I picked up in Southern California in the middle of July), but it's got this perfect premise that starts off with slapstick violence between a couple of kids and then takes a sharp left turn into being completely bananas when the ice kaiju show up to seek revenge for humanity mocking them in the form of effigies.
It's great, and while it's quick, it has that energy that Judd Winick's Barry Ween had back in the day, and it's the kind of thing that actually makes me want to see more from these characters and their weird world of ice giants attacking ski resorts.
Erik Larsen has done more than a few Jack Kirby homages in his time, and "Enter -- Jack Champion!" is about as direct as you can get, right down to the title page promising "AN AWE-INSPIRING EPIC FOR OUR TIMES!" It's also the longest story in the entire book, clocking in at a full 20 pages, telling a complete superhero origin story while most of the other stories in the book are built as quick vignettes that build to punchlines -- and it actually feels a little out of place because of that.
That's not really a complaint, though. I'm maybe the only person who really, really liked Larsen and Kurt Busiek's Defenders run, and I really like seeing him take on these simple, classic-style stories and seeing what twists he adds to it. Like Ottley's contribution, it ends up being a story where I wouldn't mind seeing it continue, but given that it's already a 20-page origin story, it actually seems pretty likely that I will.
Tom Scioli has a couple of stories scattered through GSKFBS, and like the Empowered story, they're reprints of older material. Unlike Empowered, though, these are stories I hadn't seen, and they're fantastic. They're quick, but they're also kind of massive -- if I remember a conversation I had with Scioli about them correctly, they were originally printed on newspaper-sized pages. As a result, it's one of the few stories that really takes advantage of the size of the book, and it still feels like it's crammed with action.
ANDY KUHN & BILL CRABTREE
The final story is Andy Kuhn and Bill Crabtree's "Frankenstein of Mars," and in a shocking twist, it actually is about Frankenstein -- or Frankenstien's Monster, for you rotten pedants out there -- on Mars. What's really notable about this is that it is not the only comic about Frankenstein on Mars that I have ever read.
As you might expect, there's a lot of high adventure told in a very fast-paced way in these eight pages, but here's a quick tip for everyone out there: Andy Kuhn is somehow one of the best-kept secrets in comic books. He's easily one of the most skilled and evocative storytellers working today and has been for quite some time, but for some reason, he rarely seems to get the love that he deserves. If you're not familiar with him -- and you should be, if only for his recent work on IDW's TMNT books, or Firebreather with Phil Hester -- then seeing him knock out some beautiful stuff on treasury-sized pages along with ace colorist Bill Crabtree is well worth it.
That's it for the stories, but one last thing to note about GSKFBS: Art Adams draws a bunch of mermaids in it.
You know, if that's your thing.
All in all, it's a pretty fantastic package. The one thing that keeps me from picking up more anthologies is that they're always a mixed bag in terms of quality, but with this one, everyone brings their A-game, and the format of the book means that even the stuff I've seen before is presented in a new way. It's well worth checking out.
Giant-Size Kung Fu Bible Stories is on sale now in finer comics shops and digitally from Image Comics.