When I was asked to contribute my picks for CBR's Top 100 for 2009, I was flattered to be included, but I often found myself stonkered by the fact that reprint collections were ruled out.
Because, well, I'm old, and reprint collections are the bulk of my comics purchases, any more. It got a little frustrating... but then the lightbulb finally came on. I thought, Hey, that's a column idea!
So here, deliberately not numbered and in no particular order because I love them all, are my favorite trade collections of older material that came out this year.
As regular readers know, I'm all about Westerns. So I couldn't resist Showcase Presents Bat Lash.
Apart from the fact that Bat Lash is one of those legendary cult books that I'd read about for years but never actually got a chance to see for myself, I really loved the format. Slim-case Showcase Presents, or whatever DC's calling it, was easily the best deal I had on a book all year long. 240 pages for $9.99.... and to be honest, I think that beautiful Nick Cardy artwork is enhanced by the black-and-white format. And it was nice to see the extra stuff, the later backup Lash tales from Jonah Hex and so on, and black-and-white also shows off the great Dan Spiegle art really well.
I was very pleased to see The Complete Rocketeer, too.
I didn't spring for the Deluxe edition with the extra hundred pages of sketch material and so on, although by all reports that is an awesome package. I was just happy to have all the Rocketeer stories collected in one place, especially since I'd loaned out my original Rocketeer trade to some deadbeat seventeen years ago and never got it back. It's a shame that we lost Dave Stevens so young, but he did leave us this much, at least. This is a really well-produced collection in both its editions and either is a worthy addition to any comics bookshelf.
I suppose we're getting a bit spoiled since they've been chugging right along putting out two volumes a year, regular as clockwork, for several years now, but it's worth noting for the record one more time how truly wonderful the Fantagraphics Peanuts collections are.
We never miss one in this household. They've now reached the middle of what I consider to be the peak years of the strip, the late 60s to the early 70s, but apart from the delight of getting to revisit all these great Charlie Brown comics again I want to mention what lovely books these are just as artifacts. These hardcover editions are produced with such love and reverence that it's fun to just pick them up and page through them, at least for a bibliophile like myself. Not to be missed.
What I really love about the Fantagraphics Peanuts reprints, though, is that it's inspired other publishers to put together similar collected editions of famous or historically interesting comic strips.
This is a trend I'm really, really in favor of.
Of these various strip collections that have popped up the last couple of years, probably the one that filled me with the most surprise and delight appeared just a few weeks ago.
This beautiful hardcover collecting The Lone Ranger strip from Cary Bates and Russ Heath.
I love westerns, I love the Lone Ranger, this would have had me at hello anyway but it had the added bonus of being brand-new to me.
The fact that I'd never heard of the strip's existence, and that it was by two talented guys whose other work I'd really enjoyed, made it feel like a brand-new book. And this particular Lone Ranger strip is relatively new, collecting the revival Bates and Heath did from 1981 to 1984.
396 pages from Dynamite, packaged in a hardcover remarkably similar in feel to the Fantagraphics Peanuts books. If I can't have the regular monthly Ranger book from Dynamite as often as I'd like, well, this certainly will tide me over for a while in the meantime.
Marvel and DC did some nice specialty hardcovers this last year as well. I have to say that many of Marvel's choices of storyline to collect for the deluxe hardcover treatment seem odd to me for the most part (the Hawkeye mini-series? Really?) but there are a couple that are really cool, and I wanted to be sure and point them out.
I suppose with Natasha appearing in Iron Man 2 it was inevitable that we'd see some kind of Black Widow collection, but Black Widow: Sting of the Widow was a lot nicer one than I'd expected to see.
As it happens the strip that ran in Amazing Adventures is probably my favorite iteration of the Black Widow, and I think it was one of Gene Colan's artistic high water marks at Marvel.
So it was great to see it get this high-end presentation, and I like the other reprint choices in this book too.
Likewise I was very happy to see Steve Gerber's take on the Guardians of the Galaxy get such respectful treatment.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome puts together the Guardians' debut story in Marvel Super-Heroes by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan with their later appearances from Marvel Two-in-One and The Defenders by Steve Gerber and various collaborators, and The Power of Starhawk collects the Guardians' strip that ran briefly in Marvel Presents. Volume one you can find reprinted in bits and pieces in various of Marvel's Essential collections for the most part, but the stories in volume two have never been collected before. At any rate, something like this is long overdue, and I'm glad to see both volumes out.
Several of DC's choices for their hardcover classic line seem a little strange to me as well -- the two-volume George Perez JLA collection strikes me as weirdly random-- but I certainly couldn't argue with Kryptonite Nevermore.
The first chapter has been reprinted about a zillion times, but everyone forgets that it was the first part of a much longer arc, the succeeding chapters of which never have been reprinted until now. The 70s were actually a pretty innovative and exciting time for Superman, what with Denny O'Neil doing the revamping that's collected here and Jack Kirby tearing it up over on Jimmy Olsen, and the appearance of this book means it's all out there again now. There were complaints from some quarters about the quality of the reproduction, but my copy looks fine and really, I'm largely a story guy anyway. More than any other, this is my era of Superman, with Morgan Edge and WGBS and Clark Kent as a television news anchor, and it's a treat for me to see it get a presentation this nice.
And speaking of innovative 1970s revamps, I know I've mentioned these before, but let me just point out again how awesome it is to see Mike Sekowsky's groovy Diana Prince get the respect she deserves.
The fourth and final volume of Diana Prince, Wonder Woman appeared earlier this year, meaning the whole run is now available. I'm telling you, my shop can't keep these on the shelves. They're enormous fun, the best kind of gonzo Silver Age craziness.
Of course Marvel's Essential and DC's Showcase Presents reprint books continued right along, and quite a few favorites of mine appeared this last year.
I already mentioned Bat Lash. But I think my favorite Showcase to come out this last year was Doom Patrol.
Honestly, a great many of DC's Silver Age strips seem a bit creaky and formulaic to modern eyes, especially when you read the stories reprinted all in a row in a book like this. But Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani's Doom Patrol is just as fresh and interesting to read today as it was forty years ago, it's really aged well.
Somehow I managed to miss these stories the first time out -- I don't remember why, I know I liked what I'd seen of Mike Grell's art over on Legion of Super-Heroes. But I was kind of a Marvel snob in the 70s, and I probably snooted the book as warmed-over Conan or something. I didn't really become a full-on Mike Grell fan until Sable.
But Warlord really owes much more to Edgar Rice Burroughs than Robert E. Howard, and Mike Grell put a deft 70s spin on the whole enterprise as well. I just purely enjoyed the hell out of this book on a story level, without any overlay of nostalgia to help it along.
Mostly because it puts two of my favorite 70s X-runs together in one place -- the Neal Adams run on the original X-Men book side-by-side with Steve Englehart's solo Beast stuff from Amazing Adventures. The black-and-white really enhances one's appreciation for Tom Palmer's exquisite inking job over Adams, for my money, but your mileage may vary.
...and he was absolutely right. I heart this book. Marie and John Severin's artwork is breathtaking. They plan to do all the Marvel Kull material in five volumes, and the quality was a bit up and down in the later stuff... but there's not a false note in any of the stories here in volume one.
Honestly, though, I love ALL Dark Horse's Robert E. Howard books, new and old alike.
In fact, I was thrilled to see, after crabbing in a column a while back that I missed getting the backup material from Savage Sword in the reprint volumes Dark Horse was doing, that they promptly gave my favorites of those very backup tales a reprint book of their own.
I hadn't heard about this particular collection, and Solomon Kane is actually my favorite Howard character, even more than Kull or Conan. So it came as a wonderful surprise. I think I actually may have erupted with a squeal of delight when I saw Saga of Solomon Kane appear on my comics shop rack not too long ago. Embarrassing as that is to admit, I was THAT pleased about it. There's a companion volume collecting the color Solomon Kane material from Marvel as well, but Saga is the good stuff.
That's the list. Let's talk about the stuff that didn't get collected, and as far as I can tell isn't about to. Call this the Where The Hell Are They? list.
For example, in a comics landscape where we have seen gorgeous re-issues of so many other beloved 80s books, I'm at a loss as to why DC can't seem to get off the dime and give us some kind of book collecting Mike Grell's Green Arrow.
...especially in a year that saw the premieres of new Warlord, new Sable, and nice reprint collections of both of those Grell series besides. What's up with that? That run of GA's about a decade's worth of good stories that it really seems like DC would rather we just pretend didn't happen.
Likewise, we've seen two collections of Peter Milligan's Vertigo run on Shade the Changing Man. Would it kill DC to put out a trade collection of the short-lived Ditko series that started it all?
It couldn't be too terribly expensive to do it; eight issues isn't a very thick book. It would satisfy people's curiosity if nothing else. They could at least manage one of those skinny Showcase paperbacks, I'd think. Though Ditko's psychedelic art works a lot better in color, I'd take whatever we could get. I know the Creeper's on deck for both the hardcover and the Showcase treatment, so why couldn't they sneak a Shade collection in somewhere?
Marvel's not off the hook with me either. They've done so many other great collections of the 1970s monster material, but there's one glaring omission.
I want an Essential Morbius, damn it! They've already done Brother Voodoo, The Living Mummy, and Tales of the Zombie, so there's really no excuse.
Likewise, when Marvel's already done an Essential Killraven, an Essential Savage She-Hulk, and even an Essential Ant-Man for crying out loud, I am baffled as to why we have yet to see an Essential Ka-Zar.
Lots of good stuff starring the Lord of the Savage Land that, to my knowledge, has never been reprinted. And as long as I'm daydreaming...
I'd really love to see an Essential Deathlok, too. As long as I'm daydreaming, I think I'd even rather have that than the ones starring Morbius or Ka-Zar.
But far and away, the most baffling omission to me this last year was the complete absence of a collection of Marvel's Tarzan.
What's up with that, Dark Horse?
I mean, they were on such a roll. The Kubert books were stunning, and well worth it if you have the money.
They also did those amazing Russ Manning reprint digests, some of the best work to come out of the Dell/Western/Gold Key comics years.
With those gorgeous new covers from Mark Schultz, too.
It seemed to me that if Dark Horse had the license, the obvious next step for Tarzan reprints was the Buscema. But instead, we get... Jesse Marsh?
It seems like an odd choice.
Okay, yeah, Jesse Marsh did a lot of Tarzan and he certainly deserves his slot in the reprint library for historical reasons if nothing else, but.... really? In front of John Buscema?
Tarzan was one of the very few times at Marvel that John Buscema actually did not just full pencils but even inked his own work as well... it was quite possibly Big John's finest hour at Marvel, artistically. It really is criminal not to give that work the full archival treatment. Especially if Mr. Marsh is getting it. Come on, Dark Horse. The world should see those stories.
And finally, there was one reprint that actually annoyed me this last year.
Normally I am all about DC's theme collections. Secrets of the Batcave, Imaginary Stories, Phantom Zone -- I think they're a great idea, especially for those that just want a sampler. And I loved the original Nightwing and Flamebird concept, the Kryptronian riff of Superman and Jimmy Olsen taking on the identity of the "Batman and Robin of Kandor."
So when the Nightwing and Flamebird collection appeared I snapped it right up. It collects the run of "Nightwing and Flamebird" backup stories from the old Superman Family, a couple of one-offs from Jimmy Olsen -- everything except the actual original two Nightwing and Flamebird stories that started it all.
That's really irksome. Especially since the stories are pretty clearly referenced on the cover art.... and they'd have been the best stories in the book, easy. The other stuff is just 'meh.'
Oh well. At least I didn't pay full price for it.
And there you have it. I hope you all had a great holiday, and have a safe and happy New Year as well. See you in 2010!