By Various Artists, based on the manga created by Hajime Isayama. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
This review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.
The moment this was announced, its potential was always going to be sky-high. Yes, Japan also has some anthologies based on prominent titles, and we’ve seen a few of them over here, but they’ve tended to be either a) only comedic (Evangelion), or b) not very good (Code Geass). But a cross-cultural anthology like this is unusual. Plus the talent announced made the American comics reader sit up and take notice. Faith Erin Hicks, Gail Simone, Scott Snyder, Paul Pope, Evan Dorkin… names so well-known that even the manga-only fan will be familiar with them. And so yes, there was always going to be a high bar to clear. I am pleased to say, though, that it soars over it easily, and manages to be one of the most riveting titles I’ve read this year, taking the world of Attack on Titan and opening it up to become so many other different things.
For the most part, the main cast of Attack on Titan are used sparingly here, though if you do want to see them there is Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer’s hilarious Attack on Attack on Titan, which puts the cast in a Milk and Cheese style gag comic that goes WAY beyond what we’ve seen in Junior High or Spoof on Titan. But you don’t really miss the cast. We do get some stories set within the series proper, or before it, as humanity fights against the titans or against the oppressive rule that constricts them. If you enjoy the fighting in the series, you’ve love Michael Avon Oeming’s Live And Let Die, which shows us a conflict between safety and freedom. There’s also Gail Simone and Phil Jimenez’ Good Dog, an almost wordless tale of a woman and her dog taking on a titan with the best possible derring-do. On a more tragic level, Asaf and Tomer Hanuka’s Memory Maze shows us how the Titans’ existence can devastate one family, even as the years go by.
There are also stories that use the Titans in different settings or in different genres. Genevieve Valentine and David Lopez’ An Illustrated Guide to the Walled Cities starts off cute and gets darker as it goes along, showing us one woman’s attempt to show off the wonders of the city while dealing with a repressive, cruel monarchy. Rihanna Pratchett, Ben Applegate and Jorge Corona’s Skies Above shows us what could have been under that same cruel monarchy, and all the opportunities that were lost, as well as some lovely action and tragic romance. Si Spurrier, Kate Brown and Paul Duffield’s Fee Fie Foh sees the invading titans as a Celtic fantasy, with an added dose of the corrupted hero who must relearn what heroism truly means. And while I found Ronald Wimberly’s Bahamut the most difficult to get into of the stories in this book, it manages to succeed on evocative mood alone.
Be assured, it’s not all grim tragedy in here. Aside from the aforementioned Evan Dorkin comics, we get Faith Erin Hicks’ The Titan’s Laugh, which shows the use of a good jokebook (and also shows us how grim and desperate the battle still is – the punchline wouldn’t be as hilarious if the serious consequences weren’t played up beforehand). Sam Humphries and Damion Scott’s Attack on Playtime is every young child’s revenge fantasy come to life, rebelling against cruel teachers, sadistic gym instructors, and unfeeling administration. And Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr show us in Attack on Demoncon that when it comes to sexual harassment at a comic convention, turning into a Titan can be quite empowering.
If you like Attack on Titan, this is a great chance to see its world used to tell dynamic and evocative stories. If you enjoy Western Comics and have heard of the title through the creators, you may be surprised at the grim yet hopeful universe that we see. Both fans should be happy with this anthology, as it is an absolute delight.