Thursday, November 20, 2008

Essential Update '08

That's right, it's that time of year again, time for me to pick my favorite series that Marvel needs to collect in big five-hundred page chunks for our viewing pleasure. (Because I sincerely hope I've managed to infect at least one or two people with my love of great big cheap "readers' editions" of Marvel's classic series.)

So how did Marvel do, off of last year's picks? Um...not so much of the good, really. In the sense that they didn't print very many new series at all. We got plenty of continuations of older stuff, like more Hulk, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, but the only new series to be printed were the 'Rampaging Hulk' and 'Captain Marvel' collections, and while I won't knock those, they weren't on my list. So let's go over the list again, with extra special begging and pleading this time...

15. The Champions. I suspect that this one won't ever get a release, since it's out in the "Classic" format, and since the rights situation is so confusing, and since 'The Order' got canceled (does that prove that there's no viability to the 'Champions' franchise, since it got canned, or that there is, because they couldn't call it 'Champions' for rights purposes?) Still, with a Hercules series and a Ghost Rider series running right now, there's a slim chance we could see a collection of a book that contains both characters.

14. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Another one where the ship might have sailed; Shang-Chi did pop back up again in 'Heroes for Hire', but that book didn't even last a year, so the character's returned to comic book limbo for a time. Still, with Brian Michael Bendis' crush on the 70s being what it is, I wouldn't be surprised if he joined the Avengers along with Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, and Howard the Duck.

13. Micronauts. Again, I don't even know who has the rights to the Micronauts right now, so this could be a plea to Devil's Due or Dynamite for all I know. But hey, Dark Horse is reprinting 'Savage Sword of Conan', so clearly the "giant reprint book" idea is catching on industry-wide...

12. Adam Warlock. He's back, he's in the new Guardians of the Galaxy (which seems to be fairly popular), why not reprint his older stuff? This is the kind of synergy that a company with a large backlist should be taking advantage of, reprinting their older material to build interest in their new stuff, and simultaneously getting fans of the new stuff to buy reprints of the backlist (which are low cost to produce, since you've already paid the writers and artists.)

11. New Warriors. They really should have done this one last year, in order to maybe build up some sort of buzz for the new 'New Warriors' title (actually, it's the fourth 'New Warriors' series--the New New New New Warriors?) Now they're canceling that series, so that dims the chances of seeing any old 'New Warriors' for the upcoming year. Oh, well. Any title that's had three relaunches is bound to have a fourth.

10. Spider-Man 2099. Really, all the 2099 series should probably be collected, but Spidey 2099 was the best of the lot; Peter David really enjoyed his time writing this one, and it shows. Sure, it's a little bit obscure, but can it really be any more obscure than the Living Mummy, Brother Voodoo, or Gabriel the Devil Hunter? (I don't even know who that last one is, and I've got every single volume of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe.)

9. Power Pack. The lack of this one continues to surprise the heck out of me. It's got name recognition, it's got plenty of guest-stars, it's a relatively self-contained and popular title with a long run...really, I honestly don't know what they're waiting for here. It's easily the most obvious choice on this list, even if there are others I'd want more.

8. West Coast Avengers. I can only assume Marvel's trade paperback department is currently committing ritual seppuku for knowing that there is a comic book series out there in which Hawkeye leads a team of Wonder Man, Iron Man, Tigra and Mockingbird, and not releasing it in collected format for the American reading public to enjoy. Shame, really. They were nice people.

7. Alpha Flight. Sure, we all know that Marvel has never been able to successfully recreate the popularity of the early 1980s Alpha Flight, despite attempted relaunch after attempted relaunch. But really, isn't that actually an even better argument in favor of reprinting the classic John Byrne-era series?

6. ROM. I've heard some rumors recently that we might see a ROM revival, spearheaded by Hasbro. Could this mean that the adventures of the Greatest Spaceknight will no longer languish in Marvel's forgotten vaults, but will instead be told in glory? We can but hope.

(Seriously, these were some great comics. It really did feel like an epic war, complete with a grand conclusion that spread through all of Marvel's books that month as the Dire Wraiths made their last great attack on the human race. It's a shame that rights issues have held reprints of this series up.)

5. Quasar. Another character who's currently in the Guardians of the Galaxy...umm, sort of. It's actually a lesbian alien daughter of Captain Marvel with the same name and powers as the Quasar whose book I want to see reprinted. That's not, um, convoluted or anything, is it?

4. New Mutants. Okay, remember what I said about 'Power Pack' being the most obvious title for an Essential edition? Kidding. It's actually 'New Mutants', which was as popular as any of the mutant books, tied into the other X-series frequently, and formed a cornerstone of mutant continuity for almost a decade. Let me put it this way--the Essentials of X-Men and X-Factor are already up to about issue #75 of where 'New Mutants' would be, complete with numerous dangling plotlines that get resolved within that book's pages. This one is a frustrating missing chapter for any X-fan.

3. Excalibur. This one is a lot less necessary than 'New Mutants', because it was pitched at the time as a "casual" book for X-fans who were sick of having to follow three series' worth of continuity. But that's exactly what would make it so nice for the purposes of reprinting; there's a nice, clean through-line of story that involves very little tying-in and crossing-over. (There's also a long, ugly stretch of fill-ins and weak writing between Claremont's departure and Alan Davis' run as writer, but hey, that's why they're cheap, folks.)

2. Guardians of the Galaxy. Look, there is a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' series going right now! It is very popular! It features numerous references to the classic series that I want to see reprinted! This is about as easy a decision as you can make, Marvel! Heck, you can start with the 70s origins of the team to keep Bendis happy! Please!

1. What If...? This is clearly pretty popular, as there are 190 issues available for collection already and they still do one-shots, specials, and limited series based around the concept to this day. I know I'd love to see them collected in big 500-page chunks, and I hope that I'm not alone. Because if I am, you'll see this one again next year in the top spot.


Anonymous said...

Wow, just the fact that you know all this really impresses upon me what a huge nerd you are. That's a compliment ;)

Tom Clancy said...

I'd love to see What If? as well, but I wonder if there aren't enough rights issues in there to make it hard to print. Conan, Howard the Duck, there must have been a ROM issue or two, etc.

Dylan Todd said...

I would kill, or at least seriously maim, for a set of Master Of Kung Fu Essentials. Spider-Man 2099 would be aces, too. And yeah, Excalibur would be pretty sweet, too. Good call as usual.

John Seavey said...

In the case of a series like "What If", where individual issues might have rights problems but the series doesn't, it's a relatively simple matter to just skip the problematic issues. So issues 13, 16, 39 and 43 of the original series would probably get skipped, but that still leaves plenty to collect.

(And for the record, I'm pretty sure there are no rights issues surrounding Howard the Duck, even though some Steve Gerber fans might wish there were. All of the problems they had with Disney have long been resolved, and they've already released one 'Essential Howard the Duck' volume.)

Anonymous said...

What are the rights issues surrounding the Champions? I was unaware of any issues.

I disagree about Spiderman 2099 being the best of the original 2099 group. What i liked best about (most of) the 2099 world was that the definition of Hero has changed since the end of the second age of heroes, and the characters in that world reflect that. Ravage, Doom, the Punisher all represent the norm of the year 2099. Anti heroes that kill, betray, and lie to get the job done. Even later characters like Hulk, Ghost Rider and the X-Men are anti-heroic.
That's why i feel like Spiderman 2099 is out of place. He is the only character in that world that is actually heroic. He is a relic in a world with no morals. If they had played on that concept, things might have been different, but to my knowledge, they never did.

John Seavey said...

Marvel let the trademark on the "Champions" name lapse, and Heroic Publishing came along and started publishing a series called "The League of Champions".

Trademarks aren't like copyrights, you have to actively defend them to keep them going, so when Marvel went back to publish a new Champions series a little while back, they found that doing so would infringe on Heroic's trademark, even though they had an older series with that name. So it was changed to "The Order". (A similar situation exists in reverse with Marvel and DC and "Captain Marvel".)

In short, Marvel can't call a new series "The Champions", but clearly, they can market reprints, because they're putting out volumes of "Classic Champions" now. So I hedged my bets by saying there "might" be rights issues to doing an Essential.

Reid said...

Sweet idea. I'd buy most of those, even if once I got them they weren't nearly as good as I remember them (i.e. Nova, Ms. Marvel). I don't understand how the ROM rights could still be tied up since that cheap piece of crap toy hasn't made a sale in almost thirty years.

I'd also love to see the early Adam Warlock series, the Christ allegory that ran before the Starlin epics. I don't think it's ever been reprinted.

Love the column!

Anonymous said...

Of course, MoKF is perhaps the mother of all rights issues, since virtually the entire series uses the lapsed-license Sax Rohmer characters Denis Nayland-Smith, Fu Manchu, Fah Lo Suee, and Douglas Petrie.

It's rather unlike ROM, where all the mythology was basically developed by Marvel save for the visual design of the title character.