(Been waiting two weeks to use that title...)
For those of you who don't know, the "Essentials" series from Marvel are trade paperbacks that reprint their classic comics; they print them in black-and-white, on cheap paper, in order to reduce costs, which means that you get about twenty-five issues of story for the price that an eight-issue collection would cost in color on glossy paper. They're great ways to get big, hefty chunks of reading material for a relatively low cost (in fact, some of the Wolverine and X-Men collections might actually be less than cover price, on a per issue basis.)
Marvel's been putting the Essentials out for a while now, and they've got a very nice library of titles built up (the DC counterpart, "Showcase Presents", is much newer and has only a relative few), but there's still room for more. So, without further ado, I present...the Top Fifteen Comic Book Series That Should Get "Essentials" Trade Paperbacks*!
Honorable Mentions: Captain Marvel (a character that will probably get an Essential someday, but one who's more famous dead than alive); Solo Avengers/Avengers Spotlight (a title I enjoyed as a kid, but I still have enough of the issues that I'm in no hurry to see it collected); Cloak and Dagger (interesting, but did they ever live up to their potential?); Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (I'm sure this is much higher on somebody's list); Web of Spider-Man (will probably get one no matter what I say); Shogun Warriors (it sounds like fun in the "Godzilla" mode, but I'm not sure what the licensing status is. See the footnote at the bottom of the list.)
15. Dazzler. Sure, it was a silly series. Sure, she started out as "The Disco Dazzler." Sure, Marvel worked overtime to make her seem like a major player by bringing in guest stars from Doctor Doom to Galactus. But let's face it...all that just makes you want to read it more, doesn't it?
14. Champions. Another series that is sort of "famous for being famous", this was the LA super-hero team that featured Hercules, Ghost Rider, Angel, and a few other super-heroes...basically, whoever was in LA and not doing much at the time. They always had a rep as "bargain-basement heroes", but I'd be interested in seeing exactly what got them that rep.
13. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. This probably deserves to be much higher on the list, to be honest, because he's a bad-ass martial artist who fights his father, Fu Manchu, using kung-fu. And that sentence alone makes him crazy-cool. But I'm an 80s kid, so I don't have the kind of personal nostalgia for the title that would push him higher. (In fact, I remember reading an ad for his comic when I was four, and not realizing that "Kung-Fu" wasn't a person. I just figured "Kung-Fu" was a guy, and "Shang-Chi" was another guy who could beat him up.)
12. Ms. Marvel. She's really more well-known to me from her time in Kurt Busiek's Avengers and her role as Binary in Claremont's X-Men, but I would like to read her classic stories to see what all the fuss was about.
11. Micronauts. This might fall victim to licensing issues, but I suspect not, and this is a series that I know has a huge cult following. They could also use it as an opportunity to collect the "X-Men Vs. the Micronauts" limited series, which would just plain rock. But again, I never got much of a chance to read it myself.
10. Adam Warlock. I never got the chance to read the classic Adam Warlock stories from the 70s, either, but I remember reading recaps of them in "Marvel Age" and the Marvel Universe Handbook, and thinking that they sounded like the coolest, trippiest thing ever. Adam Warlock fights Thanos, the man in love with Death, and the evil empire established by the Magus, his own future self? Whoa. A lot of the mythos established here would come back to the forefront years later, and it'd be nice to make it all available.
9. New Warriors. Ah, now that we're into the top ten, you can start to see where my love really lies, can't you? The New Warriors practically defined late 80s/early 90s comics, and it'd be great to see it all put down in big thick chunks of black-and-white goodness. It had some great artwork, Fabian Nicieza doing fun soap-opera writing as a labor of love, and it brought back Nova, Speedball, and Firestar. Where's the bad?
8. Power Pack. To be honest, I wish this could be much higher. From a strictly commercial stand-point, it probably should be; this was a series that had great kid appeal. Four pre-teens with super-powers, guest stars galore, the X-Men, the FF, sleep-overs with Franklin Richards, and power swaps every twenty-five issues. Power Pack just plain rocked.
7. West Coast Avengers. Hawkeye led the team. Nuff said.
6. Alpha Flight. Another one of those titles like New Warriors that had a big, crazy soap-opera epic feel to it that would work much better in large chunks than single-issue stories, this would be excellent for collection. And John Byrne's art looks beautiful in black and white.
5. ROM. Every comics fan above the age of thirty is nodding right now. Not as they read this, as I type this--just my thought of "The Essential ROM" is causing their brains to vibrate with sympathetic resonance as they remember how freaking cool ROM was. A lone alien warrior, fighting a war against the evil shapeshifting body-stealing Dire Wraiths (a war that spilled out into the whole Marvel Universe towards the end--almost a crossover without the hype)...oh, it was the best. Actually the fifth best, but still very cool.
4. Quasar. I remember that I absolutely was not collecting Quasar as a teenager. Really, I wasn't. Oh, sure, I'd pick up an issue or two...or four...or seven...but really, I wasn't collecting it. I didn't have the time to add another title to my list. I just was buying it. A lot. And with a new Quasar series on the horizon, it'd be nice to not collect it again, in trade paperback format this time.
3. New Mutants. Actually, how is it that this hasn't already been collected as an Essentials series? They've got two X-Men Essentials (one for the Lee/Kirby era, one for the Claremont fans who weren't willing to wait three volumes to get to the good stuff), X-Factor, Wolverine...where's the New Mutants in all this? MIA, that's where, and it has to stop!
2. Excalibur. Everything from #2 applies here, but with added exclamation points at the end of every sentence, because Excalibur was just that much better.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy. At this point, mad props must go out to Jim Valentino, who took these characters that I'd just heard about and that I thought sounded cool, and made them into the best thing ever. In the 30th century, the alien Badoon have enslaved humanity, and a band of rebels from across the solar system must band together to stop them! And then, once they stop them, they become wandering adventurers, traveling through time and space to learn about what became of Earth's legendary super-heroes! And then...well, then they got cancelled, and have been in comics limbo ever since, which was a shame. But there's plenty of great material for several Essentials in there, and it might just lead to a revival. (Plus, we'd get to see more of Nikki, team hottie. Damn. Girl was so hot, her head was on fire!)
So there you go, Marvel. Get cracking. Oh, and keep putting out more of the ones you're doing already, too. And get Karl Kesel to write Fantastic Four. Seriously, he'd be great at it!
*This excludes comics that Marvel is precluded from collecting due to the lapse in licensing agreements with the companies who owned the properties in question; so, for example, the Essential Transformers, Star Wars, and GI Joe are all off the list because Marvel can't do them. The Essential Conan already got scuttled--if you see a copy, snap it up because it's out of print.