Monday, December 12, 2005

What I Have Learned About Cheap Trade-Priced Black and White Collections

I am a huge fan of Marvel's Essentials line. I think it's good comics and a tremendous price, intelligently organized by story arc/creator run, and in a good format. Sure, there's no color, but quite frankly I think it makes one appreciate the linework all that much more.

DC's Showcase line is basically their version of Marvel's Essentials. I don't like it as much, though, and I can only offer up the following reasons, some of which may be unfair, but oh well:

1) Showcase paper is wayyyy too high-quality, which may sound stupid and elitist, but hear me out: when reading these old comics, I like the feel of old-timey newsprint and black smudges the way Marvel's Essentials has. Showcase feels almost too much like a glossy reproduction; Essential feels like I just found a batch of comics I never knew I had.

2) It probably speaks to larger history, comics trends, and all that, but Showcase so far has terms of the actual content that's published. I absolutely realize that it's still a young line, and DC's still figuring out what works and what doesn't---and that these things take time---but, man. After reading my share of Marvel and DC collections from the Silver Age---and I don't claim to like one company any more than the other---it's fair to say that Marvel took DC behind the woodshed during the 60s. It's not even close. I'm as big a fan of Green Lantern as the next guy, but go ahead and read the Showcase edition --- it's part (bad) military comic, part romance comic. Seriously. It's pretty awful. And Superman...well, either you like Silver Age Superman or you don't. I don't.

3) I applaud DC for making some not-so-obvious choices (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, House of Mystery) to begin with and at the same time shake my head (Metamorpho? Green Arrow?) at some of the others. And yes, I realize that GL and JH were tie-ins to franchise revitalizations, but if that's the case, can a new Metamorpho book be far? Ye Gods.

P.S. DC, if you're listening, please release Showcase Presents: Hawkman ASAP. Thanks!

4) This is not to say that Marvel hasn't released some clunkers --- but the sheer choice involved with the line makes it easy to find something I'll like if I'm looking for something to take on a plane trip. Want just a memorable story arc? No problem --- Dark Phoenix saga has its own Essential X-Men volume. Looking for a specific creator? Check out Larry Hama's Essential Wolverine. (I know, those are both X-Titles. That said, I'm in sheer astonishment that Tomb of Dracula is up to its 5th volume of Essentials. THAT, my friends, is commitment to a format!)

5) It seems that Essentials prints more issues-per-volume than Showcase, but that could totally just be my perception. I have absolutely no facts to back that up whatsoever.

Anyhoo, let me be the first to thank both companies for even bothering to put out collections like these in affordable formats --- it's a hell of a lot easier than buying overpriced TPBs or seeking out issues on eBay, and it's gotten me to read comics I wouldn't normally have sought out (like Jonah Hex or Iron Fist).

I would also like to point out that coming this month we get Showcase Presents: JLA and Essential Handbook of the Marvel Universe! Booyeah!


Blogger kelvingreen said...

(1) isn't silly at all. There's something just right about putting these reprints on the cheap paper.

One thing I wish Marvel and DC (particularly DC) would do, and that's get away from the slavish devotion to reprinting in publishing order. Frankly, I want Essential Avengers to be reprinting stuff from the 80's rather than the earlier stuff (although that said, they Avengers volumes have started to get to the really good stuff now with the latest volume). And I'd much rather see an Essential Marvel 80's Miniseries (Rocket Raccoon, Hercules: Prince of Power, BWS' Machine Man) or Essential Simonson's Thor (I mean, after Lee/Kirby, there's not much to speak of until Simonson arrives), or Alan Moore Swamp Thing Showcase or stuff like that.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

KG, I couldn't agree more --- a lot of the early, early Marvel stuff comes across like exactly what it was --- a new comics universe finding its feet, but not particularly great comics. I know from personal experience that Iron Man vol. 1 is at times darn near unreadable, as is (surprisingly) Spider-Man vol. 1, Hulk vol. 1, and Captain America vol. 1.

By the time we get to vol. 2, though, we're rocking solid.

Every property takes time to hit that special creator/artist/idea jackpot that every enduring property does at some point. Unfortunately, this means that I'm going to have to wait about a billion years before I get Gruenwald's Captain America or Michelinie's Iron Man or Englehart's Batman.

Simonson's Thor is an excellent example, and one that I'm slavering for as well.

Is there an Essential What If? volume yet?

6:34 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Yeah, at least Essential Avengers has got to the good stuff now. I've been avoiding them up until the collection you've got an image of above. There are some good stories in there, but the title isn't consistently good until it gets up into the 80's-100's there, where it, as you say, found its feet. And didn't lose sight of them until the mid 1990's, I'd say.

6:45 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Also, Essential Frenz/DeFalco Amazing Spider-Man, Essential Frank Miller Daredevil, etc.

6:49 PM  
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