Sunday, July 26, 2009

Originally posted on my myspace blog on 1/10 & 1/25/2009

Why trades, you ask? Well, I read comic books, yes, but I prefer to read them collected in trade paperbacks and/or hardcovers. Modern comics have their stories structured in such a way that it is almost necessary to read them in this format. Up until the last decade or so, comic book stories were structured to be read in intervals, with brief recaps at the beginning of each issue via a flashback to bring the new reader up to speed. They now have a previously page, but that often doesn't work well enough to bring a brand new reader up to snuff. Another reason in the timeliness of publication. When I was a kid (insert old man voice here) comic books came out on the day promised, period. I never ever went to 7-11 on the day the new Spider-Man came out only to find that it had been delayed for 3 weeks. It is common for titles to be bumped a week or more, sometimes months (or in the case of a few creator owned comics, YEARS). This is unacceptable, and is part of the reason that I follow new comic books via their collected edition counterparts. Another huge reason is variant covers. Trades feature all of these as "DVD" style extras. If I were to buy single issues, I would have to buy sometimes 3 or 4 copies to get all of the artwork, which is BS. When I was a kid, buying the book once was enough.

X-MEN- KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE (Marvel, 2008; Hardcover)

Collects Kitty Pryde & Wolverine Nos. 1-6 (cover dates November, 1984- April, 1985)

It’s nice to see this series collected for the first time ever, and to have it done in hardcover with sewn binding to boot. This is the type of material that the Marvel Premiere Classics line should focus on: never before collected or long out of print mini-series or arcs. None of this re-re-releasing Marvels or Origin garbage! I have never much cared for the ninja Wolverine angle, instead preferring the brainwashed berserker killer from the ‘70s. Claremont delivers a solid story with a little too much room to breathe and add dialogue. Perhaps mini-series are where the pacing, made-for-the-trade style writing originally came from. Al Milgrom delivered solid artwork that seems dated by today’s standards. It should be noted, however, that all of his comic books shipped on time.


Collects Journey Into Mystery Nos. 1-10 (cover dates June, 1952- July, 1953)

Atlas (that's what Marvel was called before they were Marvel), like most comic book companies of the era, was a derivative company, jumping on whatever fad of the day was shipping units. EC struck gold with their “new trend” line in the early ‘50s, and the claim jumpers came a-runnin’ with their own line of Horror comics. These were all, of course, inferior to EC’s output, but there are some solid, entertaining stories in many of these imitators. Many greats worked on this title: Russ Heath, Dick Ayers, Stan Lee, Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, John Romita, Sr., Joe Maneely, along with some forgotten talents like Carl Hubbell, Jimmy Infantino, Carl Wessler, Dick Briefer, Al Luster and Charles A. Winter. I wonder how many of these stories Stan Lee actually wrote. Credits were scant back in this era, and comic historians have pieced together many of the credits in the table of contents via signatures on the splash page or stylistic cues. There are such cues in many of these stories that lead me to believe that Stan Lee wrote many more than he was credited for. I suppose we’ll never really know, because Stan has a bad memory and nobody kept track of the “funny books” they were working on back then. Issue 8’s The Strange Case of Mr. Whimple was good, and seemed familiar. A bit too familiar. Digging through my books, I deduced that it was a blatant rip-off of The Basket from EC’s Haunt of Fear No. 7 (May-June, 1951) from two years prior. Plagiarism was rampant during this era, and Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines were known to liberally borrow from Ray Bradbury. Go online and do some research for that amusing tale of how he went to work for them. Volume 2 is due out this year, and I can't wait! Marvel needs to release more Pre-Code Horror in hardcover. More more more!

X-MEN- MAGIK: STORM & ILLYANA (Marvel, 2008; Hardcover)

Collects Magik: Storm & Illyana Nos. 1-4 (cover dates December, 1983- March, 1984)

Another nice surprise to see collected in hardcover. This falls under the category of “probably cheaper to buy the singles than the hardcover”, but where’s the fun in that? Solid stuff by Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema and Ron Frenz that is much better than most comic books published today.


Collects Dead of Night No. 11, Marvel Chillers Nos. 1, 2, Marvel Spotlight No. 26, Marvel Team-Up (Vol. 1) No. 24, Marvel Two-In-One Nos. 11, 18, 33, Strange Tales (Vol. 1) Nos. 169-174, 176, 177, Supernatural Thrillers Nos. 5, 7-15, and selections from Haunt of Horror Nos. 2-5, Monsters Unleashed No. 11 and Tales Of The Zombie Nos. 2, 6, 10 (cover dates range from August, 1973- November, 1977)

Essentials have come a long way, baby. Six years ago, they looked mostly like black and white photocopied comics. Spider-Man would have washed out weblines, linework would be obliterated, missing word balloons, etc. Nowadays, the linework is fine, the paper is a little brighter and the ink is darker. Now, if we could only get numbered pages like DC's Showcase phonebooks... On to the review: The Living Mummy was really good. With Steve Gerber and Tony Isabella writing and the vastly underrated Val Mayerik's artwork, how could it not be? Brother Voodoo has the righteous team of Len Wein and Gene Colan on guard. Can we please get this stuff in color and in hardcover, Marvel? At least the Scarecrow stuff has been collected in hardcover and in color in the Legion of Monsters from a couple of years ago. The B&W magazine stuff is my favorite, especially Gabriel, the Devil-Hunter by Doug Moench and the amazing Sonny Trinidad. Golem, Modred the Mystic, and the Scarecrow all suffer from the same problem: Half-baked ideas with no more than an initial appearance's thought as to how future stories would play out. They try, but like many Marvel Horror/Hero characters of the Bronze Age, there are many changes along the way. They try to make all of them seem way too important. Unfortunately, the premise of these characters don't make enough sense to back up the initial idea. Worse still is the way that Marvel would pull the plug on a character without warning, cancelling titles without a heads up, whathaveyou. Imagine kids trying to find the next issue of these title, going from spinner rack to spinner rack in vain. There were no comic shops or Internet back then, people! This is an excellent companion to Essential Werewolf By Night Vols. 1 and 2, Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1, and Essential Tales of the Zombie Vol. 1.


Collects Sherlock Holmes: Return of the Devil Nos. 1, 2, Sherlock Holmes: The Loch Ness Horror Nos. 1-3 (cover dates September, 1992- 2000)

This is another fantastic collection of Black and White stories of the latter days of Sherlock Holmes, originally published by Adventure and Malibu Comics.

PROJECT SUPERPOWERS VOL. 1 (Dynamite, 2008; Hardcover)

Collects Project Superpowers Nos. 0-7 (cover dates January- October, 2008)

This is a really good read by Alex Ross and company where they resurrect long-defunct (now) public domain characters from the Golden Age of Comics. Marvel also did something similar in The Twelve, and it smokes this series. I wish that Alex Ross did the interior art too, but that would probably take him years to paint 8 issues’ worth of story. This title is definitely made for the trade, and when read in one sitting like I did, it makes for a satisfying read. In monthly intervals, who knows? I have issues with this book as a book. First off, it really is a pretty book to look at. I have been spoiled by Marvel, as they have a nice thick waxy coating on their hardbacks and dustjackets alike. Dynamite has "fancier" production values, with only certain sections of the dustjacket offering a silk-screened image of sorts. DC also does this, and I hate it, as the remaining surface (and the image itself) are very easily scratched and damaged. Once the dustjacket is removed, you are treated to a beautiful wraparound Alex Ross painting, easily the most beautiful cover art for a book on the book itself that I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it is also not coated, and very easily scratched and damaged. I am not rough on my books, but am unhappy about this because one of the allures of trades (and more importantly expensive hardcovers) is the durability vs. the floppies (or single comics). The binding is glued, something that boils my blood on hardcovers. Binding on hardcovers should be sewn so that the book lays flat comfortably in one hand, the way God intended. This book, like most glued hardcovers that seem to litter this field, does lay flat in one hand a little bit in. Marvel has slowly moved into sewn binding for it's Masterworks, Omnibus, and now select Premiere hardcovers, and I wish that it were company policy to do so, but I digress. I wish that Dyamnite and every other company would do away with the devil that is glued binding on hardcovers. Also, hardcovers should be shrink wrapped! Most companies seal their hardcovers and so should Dynamite. Not to end this review on a negative note, the extras are amazing. I generally don't care for extras per se', but the character sketches and character galleries are very very cool. They show some characters who are not even in the series yet, and I would love to see them at some point in time (and I am sure that we will, with all of the related series spin-offs out there). The most interesting thing to me is the color guide by Alex Ross shown for comparison to a finished page. It is done in old fashioned flat four-color style, and I would pay to see this entire book re-colored like that. It's amazing and looks vintage, and I feel that this style might better serve the flavor of this series.

Collects Ex Machina Nos. 11-16 (cover dates July, 2005- January, 2006)

Collects Ex Machina Nos. 17-20 and Ex Machina Special Nos. 1, 2 (cover dates March, 2006- July, 2006)

Collects Ex Machina Nos. 21-25 (cover dates August, 2006- February, 2007)

Collects Ex Machina Nos. 26-29 and Ex Machina: Inside The Machine (cover dates March- August, 2007)

Collects Ex Machina Nos. 30-34 (cover dates November, 2007- April, 2008)

Brian K. Vaughn’s Midas touch continues on this title. This series hasn't lost any steam and remains a spectacular read. I am really enjoying the way that this title combines political topics with super-heroics.


Collects Astonishing X-Men (Vol. 3) Nos. 19-24 and Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men No. 1 (cover dates January, 2007- July, 2008)

A solid ending to the Joss Whedon/ John Cassady run on the title. This title may not have shipped on time, but it is a good read in trade form that will rank right up there with any of the great runs of the X-Men.

TOMB OF DRACULA OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2008; Hardcover)

Collects Giant-Size Chillers No. 1, Giant-Size Dracula Nos. 2-4, Tomb of Dracula Nos. 1-31 and Werewolf By Night (Vol. 1) No. 15 (cover dates April, 1972- April, 1975)

I had never read a single issue of Tomb of Dracula before I bought this monster tome (pun intended), but I have always been a fan of Marv Wolfman’s writing and have enjoyed Gene Colan’s artwork in the past. Sure, not every single panel is “iconic”, and not every page features a “splash page” worthy t-shirt design, but there’s a lot of story going on here. Bronze Age titles are meant to be read in intervals, being far more text laden than their modern day counterparts. I really miss those third party narratives in today’s comic books. These lend to more characterization in less space, and thus, less “talking head” pages than we see today. This book ends on something of a cliffhanger.The production values on this book are astounding. The book lays perfectly flat, from the first page to the last. The paper and sewn binding is top notch in spite of the fact that this book was printed in China. Just don’t lick the pages, kids! I am very happy with the improvements that Marvel has been making in their hardcovers over the last couple of years. Maybe my crazy letters demanding no more glued bindings were actually read!


Collects John Byrne’s Next Men Nos. 13-30 (cover dates March, 1993- December, 1994)

This is some outstanding stuff by John Byrne. I plowed through this 500-plus page phone book in under 48 hours. I literally could not put it down. It must have been agony to wait for the next issue, although the wait was always part of the fun back when I read monthlies. Mike Mignola's sub-par artwork mars about 9 pages, where Hellboy guest-stars. Cutter and Skywise from Elfquest also make a guest appearance, and I suspect that the creator-owned royalties on these characters were part of the reason for the $24.99 MSRP on this book. That's quite steep for a black and white "phone book" type trade. Still, lots of fun even in black and white. The Matrix movie swiped so much from the first few issues of this series.

HOUSE OF M: AVENGERS (Marvel, 2008)

Collects House of M: Avengers Nos. 1-5 (cover dates January-April, 2008)

This was a surprisingly good read by Christos Gage and Mike Perkins. I had kind of written off the whole alternate reality/ House of M thing, but this mini-series shows how there are many more good stories that can be told.

MIGHTY AVENGERS VOL. 2: VENOM BOMB (Marvel, 2008; Hardcover)

Collects Mighty Avengers Nos. 7-11 (cover dates March- May, 2008)

Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley have crafted some fine stories early on in Ultimate Spider-Man, and their winning streak continues here. Bendis has some good ideas, but he seems to take so goddamn long to make a point! The first 6 pages of Issue 7 are talking head shots with Iron Man and Spider-Woman. This could have been done in 2 or 3. The next 8 pages are spent with a group meeting, with an additional 6 pages being spent with the set-up of the symbiote invasion. It then takes 3 more pages for the team to “assemble”, and the issue is done. This could have been done in like 9 or 10 pages! An entire issue of set-up is BS. Issue 8 at least has a lot of fighting. Issues 7 and 8 should have been 1 issue. Issue 9 boasts three two-page spreads of fighting without one word of narrative or dialogue. Bendis does seem to be trying to put more dialogue into his stories as of late, so this return-to-form was a disappointment. Six out of the 22 pages in this issue were taken up by that and didn’t move the story forward too much. They could have had 1 or 2 pages with multiple panels and conveyed as much information. I enjoyed the retro flavor of Issue 10, both in narrative and coloring. I am glad that Bendis has brought back thought balloons. Again, the story was good, but some pruning and less 2-page spreads and less splash pages would make a better read, in my opinon.

HORROR BOOK VOL. 1 (Image, 2008)

Collects ‘68, Creature From The Depths, Frankenstein and Full Moon (cover dates January-July, 2007) 

This reprints a bunch of creator owned one-shots that were published by Image, and it was a very good read. The artwork was solid and mostly appropriate for the material. My only gripe is the paper used by foreign printers on these trade paperbacks always feels weird. This trade was made in Korea, and the paper has a weird coating that feels unpleasant to the touch, almost as if it was gritty or dirty.

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