If you're like me, adulthood has hit you like a runaway train and expenses such as diapers, gas and a little thing called a mortgage have made it clear that a full run of Batman or Amazing Spider-Man is not in your future. Fear not, financially burdened geeks, for I have found great 5 titles with short runs (between 7 and 12 issues) that can be completed for relative peanuts. These are also pretty easy to find, so you should be able to put together your runs with little effort.
The Frogmen? Yes, The Frogmen. This is a fun, fun, fun series. Lots of great, self-contained (get it?) stories and unbelievable artwork. As much as I like Sea Devils (especially those with Russ Heath art), this is a superior series. The Frogmen take on dangerous assignments around the world, so it has a James Bond in flippers feel to it. The series premiered with Four Color #1258 and then moved into its own title for an additional 11 issues. George Evans, Alex Toth, Don Heck and Mike Sekowsky all contributed artwork and even Frank Frazetta provided inks. This series is pure Silver Age fun and adventure. I'd be surprised if you couldn't put together a run of the 11 issues for under $50. I recently picked up two low grade but solid copies for $1.35 each.
The King Features Syndicate had a very brief foray in the comic book business, but one of their lasting contributions was the 11 issue Flash Gordon series. Al Williamson, Reed Crandall and Frank Bolle give these books a wonderful look and many of the scripts are by Archie Goodwin. These are unbelievably inexpensive when compared to contemporary books published by DC and Marvel and are as good, if not better. I'll bet you could pick up a VG run of the series for $50. If you're feeling very confident, you can also pick up the additional 7 issues after the series was continued at Charlton. Those issues feature fun Pat Boyette artwork (see last week's column).
Well, it looks as though DC has finally wised up and now plans on reprinting Bat Lash in the Showcase Presents format (readers of my blog will remember that I demanded the TPB treatment a while back). For those among you who like single issues in spectacular color, let me suggest that you start digging around for these back issues. I see low to mid grade copies selling on eBay all of the time for around $5. The Nick Cardy artwork is breathtaking and the Aragones & O'Neil stories are definitely ahead of their time and therefore have aged very, very well. This is one of the best series of the 60s, and it's a shame that it had such a short run, but that makes it much easier to complete it.
Ok, the first two Bloodstone issues aren't all that great, but Marvel certainly put out some worse crap in the 70s than Marvel Presents (and that Gil Kane cover to #1 is a dandy). I've got two words that will tell you all you need to know about this series: Steve and Gerber. Gerber's fertile imagination is in full bloom here as he builds a mythos around the Guardians of the Galaxy. As he does so often, Gerber can make even the most obscure characters extremely compelling. This may not be Gerber at his best, but it's solid and much more cohesive and coherent than the majority of Marvel's high concept books published during this period. Al Milgrom does most of the art and he's solid, if not spectacular. The keys are eventually handed over to Roger Stern who continues nicely under the run ends with #12. These are bargain bin fodder, so you should be able to piece together the run for a buck or two a pop. Watch out for the bait and switch with issue #8, the result of the standard Marvel scheduling mishap - it is mostly a reprint of Silver Surfer #2, so it's not a total loss.
One of the universal rules of comic book collecting is that everyone should own a run of E-Man. It's hard to believe that this series is now 35 years old, as it is as charming and entertaining as ever. With E-Man, Charlton took one more kick at the superhero can and while it only lasted 10 issues - it has developed a well deserved reputation as one of the best exports from Derby, CT. This Cuti/Staton creation is the wonderful fish out of water tale of a powerful alien dealing with both ordinary and extraordinary problems on Earth. It's very inventive, with great blend of action and humor. Joe Staton is a personal favourite of mine and this is the perfect vehicle for his style. An added treat are the great back-up stories, which include Cuti & Byrne's Rog 2000, Ditko's crazy but fun Killjoy, Ditko's most standard Liberty Belle and the interesting time traveler Travis by Cuti and Tom Sutton. There's a lot of good reading in these pages and it's still dirt cheap and widely available.
So, there you go. 5 great series that can be collected in full without taking out a second mortgage. There are a lot of hidden gems out there, and if you're willing to do a little digging and aren't obsessed with a slabbed 9.8, you can start putting together a nice collection.
For more rudderless talk about Classic Comics and further reading recomendations, stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent