This is a 152-page trade paper-back format comic produced as a benefit book for Actor Comics, an American organisation which works for the rights and welfare of comic-book creators.
Actor is actually an acronym for "A Commitment To Our Roots". But it's a pretty silly name, which is why at the same time that this book was published, the group changed their name to "Hero Initiative".
The book features a dozen or so short works by mainstream and independent creators, including some big names like Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Mark Waid, Tom DeFalco and others.
The content is black and white, except for 24 full-gloss colour pages at the centre which contain an 11-page Spider-Man story (by Ron Marz, Dan Jurgens and Al Vey) and an 11-page Hulk story (by W.M. Loebs, Troy Hickman, Dave Simons and Armando Gil).
There's a separate, dedicated review for the Spider-Man story Actor Comics Presents (Story 2). So this review is simply a summary of the content of the rest of the book.
And the summary is... well, it's rather mixed.
The Stan Lee story "The Day the Superheroes Quit" is rather odd. Contrived and unconvincing, it demonstrates once again that Stan's glory days really are far, far behind him. J.M. Linsner does a good job on art, but this one is all about the plot, and the plot don't got a lot.
"Dance" by C.B. Cebulski and Joao Lemos is an elegant visual sequence which lovingly illustrates the power of the sequential art medium.
"The Final Kaboom!?!" (Nickerson, Staton, Cuti) is a frivolous super-hero beat-em-up. "The Dreamland Chronicles" (Scott Christian Sava) demonstrates again that art without story is meaningless. "Mice Templar" (Michael Avon Oeming, Bryan J.L. Glass) has the opposite problem, the excess of story is utterly overwhelming and leads to a turgid, unreadable tale that wants to be epic but isn't.
"Dirty, Pretty, Everlasting Things" (May, Hinds, Jalil) is a muddled fantasy mess featuring characters who live in paintings, and something to do with magic. I don't know exactly what is supposed to have happened, but it left me utterly cold.
"I Know Everything" (Vaughn, Brendon, Fraim) is a cleanly-illustrated short drama. A woman confronts her husband in a search for the truth about their relationship. It's well-meaning, but the dramatic twist doesn't really carry any sting in the tail.
"Hypothetical Cerebus" (Brennan, Sim) seems to be a cleverly constructed, complex literary introspection, leaping from biography to... oh, I don't know. I tried to get some meaning out of it, but it was overly wordy, and so far shoved up its own rectum that I gave up long before the end.
"Send Another Submissions Editor" (Cebulski, Guillory) is a collection of true-life anecdotes about meeting wanna-be artists at conventions. Amusing, interesting, and refreshingly honest.
"The Sacrifice" (Oeming, Santos) initially presents itself as a simple coming-of-age heroic fantasy tale, but at the last minute it slips nicely into something much more satisfying. Good stuff here.
Now we're into the block of glossy, colored pages at the centre of the book. "My Hero" is an original content Spider-Man story is visually attractive, and is a gentle, laid-back vignette. Go read the full review of Actor Comics Presents (Story 2).
The full-color, original Hulk story is also pretty good. It's a psychological inquiry about just how far Bruce Banner might be prepared to go in order to rid himself of responsibility for the Hulk's actions. There's plenty of colour and action. Both the Hulk and the Spider-Man stories are fully professional quality in both art and story.
"Chips Wilde" (by Dick Ayers) is a two-fisted tale of action in the wild west right out of a "Best Book of Stories for Boys". It's competently told, though I must confess it's not a genre that excites me particularly.
"Singapore Sling" (DeFalco, Hinds, Din) is a self-indulgent super-heroine story for teenage girls. I guess there's a market for this stuff, but it sure as heck doesn't number me among its fans!
"For the Love of Barbara Allen" (Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano) is an elegant work which adapts the short story by Robert E. Howard. Crossing two generations from the American civil war to the early 1900's, this stands out as the finest piece in the collection, mostly because it has a real story to tell. As a writer, Roy Thomas has a confident voice, and Giordano's pencils are mature and sympathetic.
"Mr. Oblivion" (Wickline, Rincon) is a brief, tongue-in-cheek silly super-villain romp. Not very deep, but amusing enough. Could have been longer, but maybe they ran out of ideas anyhow.
"True Tales of Horror From The Convention Trail" (Mark Waid, Rodolfo Migliari) is a prose-heavy cautionary true-life tale about a fan-encounter that left Waid sadder but wiser. Like the Cebulski tale earlier in the book, this one is refreshingly candid.
"Ida Red in: No Rodeo Dough" (Dini, Alvarez) features the crazy cartoon capers of an utterly over-the-top busty wild-west lady sheriff. Light-weight, but undeniably fun.
Well there you go. This is a wide-ranging sampler of many different genres.
On one level, it's all professional quality, in the sense that somewhere in the world there's bound to be a market for each of these stories.
However, not all of it would necessarily qualify for "critical acclaim"... at least not from this critic!
The individual stories range wildly from 2 webs to 4 webs. Silly and serious. Fiction, non-fiction, and utterly-fantastic. Dumb, smart, literate, lowest-common-denominator.
Overall, it's three-webs.