As the reviews editor for Comic Book Resources, I accumulate a lot of collected editions. For better or worse, trade-waiting has become a part of the comics landscape, but it's easy to tell when a collection rises above the pack. Whether it's through superior craftsmanship, incredible bonus material, attention to the little details or a combination of all three, there are always a few trades that rise to the top, and make for an enjoyable reading experience and a fantastic display piece.
Thus, here are a few of my favorite collected editions of 2014, factoring in the strength of the original material, and what makes the collection worth picking up for those that might already own the single issues -- ranging from budget-conscious trades up through the incredibly pricey omnibus editions.
As a format, I'm not the biggest fan of trade paperbacks. Many times, there's not a lot of extra packed in, whether that means better paper quality, good cover stock or extra bonus features that make them worth owning for those who already bought the individual issues. These trades are some of my favorites of the year, not only because of their superior content, but because of the incredible craftsmanship that make them look incredible on any shelf or coffee table.
Afterlife With Archie: Escape From Riverdale
Archie Comics, $17.99
Afterlife With Archie was one of the best surprises of 2013, with the first arc getting collected in 2014 in a trade paperback. That collection is easily one of Archie's best, with a heavy, semi-glossy stock for the interior pages that really highlights Francesco Francavilla's excellent art. Once again, the attention to detail on the cover is partly what makes this a great addition to any shelf: Archie went with a matte finish for the base cover, but added a glossy finish to the title and the differently colored bottom scene. On the back, the gloss extends to "The is how the end of the world begins ..." written in blood-like text, with a zombie Jughead lunging at Archie.
However, what I like most about this trade is the cover gallery -- a feature I normally ignore. Comments from writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa put the many variants into context. Did you know that the Andrew Pepoy and Tito Pina variant for Afterlife #1 was second in overall sales for the initial print run? In addition, there's a full thumbnail breakdown for the first issue, and comparing it to the actual issue is a fun exercise.
The Midas Flesh, Vol. 1
BOOM! Studios, $14.99
Out of all the trade paperbacks BOOM! Studios has ever produced, The Midas Flesh Vol. 1 has to be the most impressive -- and I include its great Adventure Time original graphic novels on that list. Not only is The Midas Flesh one of the most entertaining stories from BOOM! -- through its BOOM! Box imprint -- but the craftsmanship on the trade is simply superior. From the thick paper stock of the pages to the endpaper design, there's a lot to love about this trade. While "The Midas Flesh Origins" essay by Ryan North with concept art by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb makes for fun reading, it's the cover of this trade that really sets it apart. Texturized gold fingerprints have been stamped onto the cover -- both front and back -- with regular texturized fingerprints on the inside cover. While it's a small stylistic detail, it's something that can only be accomplished in trade paperback, and makes The Midas Flesh easily one of the must-own trades of 2014.
Hardcovers are my bread and butter. Solidly constructed, there's a permanence to them that trades don't always have -- and you're guaranteed a certain quality of paper when it comes to hardcovers. The best part of purchasing a hardcover is seeing what the book looks like beneath its dust jacket -- if it even has one.
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake Mathematical Edition
BOOM! Studios, $39.99
BOOM! Studios' Adventure Time books have been consistently great, but none so excellent as Natasha Allegri's Fionna and Cake. Featuring a gender-swapped version of the Adventure Time world, BOOM!'s Mathematical Edition hardcover may be the best version of a collected edition of the series ever -- and I include the publisher's incredibly superior Enchiridion convention-exclusive editions in that category. Everything from the cover design down to the simple white-on-blue polka-dot endpapers are thematically on-point, and the giant bow on the front cover ties it all together (pun intended). The massive cover gallery that has become a hallmark of most BOOM! Adventure Time collections is also included, but editor Shannon Watters' essay on Fionna and Cake's history is easily the best extra.
Plus, if you do manage to get your hands on the New York Comic Con-exclusive version (whose cover illustration actually makes the Javits Center look good), you can have the joy of silver-lined pages that really make the book stand out on a shelf, and adds to the superior craftsmanship of the hardcover collection. It's hands-down my favorite Adventure Time collection in the history of BOOM!'s series.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search
Dark Horse Comics, $39.99
Dark Horse has a wonderful production value on its hardcovers, and Avatar: The Last Airbender fans should take heart in how the collected edition of The Search looks. A matte finish cover with glossy accents, the book is beautifully bound and sports a larger size than the paperback OGNs. While the art in The Search isn't larger than its paperback counterparts, Dark Horse cleverly uses the extra space for commentary from writer Gene Luen Yang, Avatar co-creator Michael DiMartino, and artist Gurihiru. As a result, the sketchbook in the back is more gravy than anything else, and the thick, heavy paper really emphasizes how the incredible story was given a physical quality to match.
Bad Machinery: The Case of the Simple Soul
Oni Press, $40.00
It's rare to see a print collection of a webcomic handled with such love and care, but Oni Press' Bad Machinery hardcovers really hit the nail on the head. Expertly designed to resemble collections of classic newspaper strips, creator John Allison provides a number of new pages for his humor-filled The X-Files meets Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series. When I wasn't blown away by the production value of the cloth hardcover, the matte finish dust jacket and the wonderfully heavy glossy pages, I was laughing at the extra pages Allison included to better set up his punchlines. The extra material -- including a glossary of British slang terms jokingly intended to educate Americans -- is top-notch. There's a paperback version of the book available as well, and while it's a great paperback, the hardcover is of such high quality that even for double the price, it's the version I'd recommend.
Harbinger Deluxe Edition
Valiant Entertainment, $39.99
Valiant waded into the hardcover pool in 2014, and its Harbinger Deluxe Edition stands out above the rest. The superior teenagers-with-powers story crafted by Joshua Dysart certainly helps its case -- and the fact of the matter is that the series reads even better collected than it did in single issues -- but it's clear that Valiant has a vision when it comes to these collections. The faux-leather cover with blue foil accents works well for the collection, and while the dust jacket isn't significantly different from most other hardcovers (glossy, but firm, stock), the overall design is appealing and works alongside the Valiant trades.
The gallery is the real selling point for those that might already own some of the material already. The bonus section does a great job illustrating how a script goes from pencils, to inks and colors to a finished and fully-lettered page. It's a great behind-the-scenes look.
Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega Hardcover
IDW Publishing, $29.99
I'm really going to miss IDW's Locke & Key hardcovers -- not merely because the awesome story by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is over, but because the collections were just so darn pretty. The matte finish covers worked better for this series than any other, for some reason, and the size was just perfect -- both in terms of page size and overall thickness. The endpapers feature some excellent architectural designs of Key House, as well. However, the thing that always put the Locke & Key hardcovers over the top for me -- certainly above their trade paperback counterparts -- was the bookmark ribbon, which allowed readers to flawlessly mark their place without damaging the book.
The 2014 convention version of the book had some wonderful foil lettering and a glossy accented makeshift Alpha key on the front, but the standard version is also fantastic, keeping in tune with the rest of the series' strong design.
MIND MGMT Vol. 3: The Home Maker
Dark Horse Comics, $19.99
All the MIND MGMT hardcovers are great, but the third volume of Matt Kindt's critically acclaimed series is probably my favorite so far. I love the paper stock the hardcovers use for this series -- it's absolutely perfect. Eschewing the glossy, thinner paper stock, the pages have a rougher, almost cardboard-like quality to them that gives them an excellent heft. The combination matte/gloss cover also works particularly well for this series, giving designers a chance to put faux-hidden messages in the gloss.
While the special production values on MIND MGMT Vol. 3 certainly make it a great addition on any coffee table, it's the fun recipe cards in the first three pages that really show how the graphic novel is a different reading experience than the single issues. The intro by Brian Michael Bendis is fantastic, and while there aren't a lot of additional special features, the production value on this book is so high that it really doesn't need them.
Saga Vol. 1 Hardcover
Image Comics, $49.99
Here's the one everyone knew was coming -- the incredible behemoth that is the Saga volume 1 hardcover. This series is great, and one of the few I believe to be better in single issues than in trade -- but the cover for this book was just so gorgeous that it would be foolish not to go for the pricier collected edition. The total price adds up to about $10 more than purchasing the first three trades individually, but the heft and story value of the hardcover is more than worth the price of admission. It also includes one of the most detailed special features I've seen yet in a creator-owned collection: a step-by-step process of creating an issue, from conception to printing. It's a fascinating look at the Eisner award-winning series with commentary from Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples and Fonografiks that really helps to illustrate the amount of work that goes into every single issue of the comic.
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5 Color Edition
Oni Press, $24.99
I'm not going to lie: I love all of Oni's Scott Pilgrim color reprint hardcovers. Bryan Lee O'Malley's manga-inspired books were pretty fantastic in black and white, but Nathan Fairbairn's colors add a different level and reading experience. The color aesthetic extends to the purple trade dress, distinguishing it from the other books in the series. Really, though, it's the scowling face of Kim Pine on the cover that really makes this cover awesome. Like so many of the other hardcovers on this list, it sports a matte finish with spot gloss. I love the extras in this volume -- and it's especially great for those that missed the limited-release promotional material at conventions. Plus, it's always cool to read about O'Malley's behind-the-scenes process.
Stumptown Vol. 2
Oni Press, $29.99
I straight-up adore Stumptown, and Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's second hardcover volume is a package that has a tough time being beat for the price. Not only does the story hang together just as well as the first volume, but the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. I'm not just talking about Southworth's art. Stumptown Vol. 2 actually has sewn binding -- or at least does the best impression I've seen in a long time. There aren't a lot of books that do sewn binding -- gluing sections onto cloth is easier, but really undermines the integrity of double-page spreads. Stumptown Vol. 2 is one of the few collected editions this year that went the extra mile to maintain the integrity of reading a comic, and it's absolutely fantastic. There aren't really many extras other than a short process one-pager and a few poster/related artwork images, but the sewn binding is just so damn impressive that it doesn't really matter.
DC Comics, $29.99
Superman Unchained is a great Superman story -- Scott Snyder and Jim Lee really did a great job of putting together a solid narrative that can be enjoyed in full with DC's hardcover collection. The hardcover itself is pretty standard DC fare: glossy pages, glossy dust jacket, an embossed hardcover with no accents. That said, the extras in this book are pretty staggering -- in part because I've never seen a variant cover gallery that's this great. Granted, a lot of that has to do with the fact that there were a lot of variants for Superman Unchained. Like, a whole lot. Even so, it's like looking through a history of Superman artists. The included script and penciled/lettered pages are a nice touch as well.
However, be aware: Much like other DC hardcovers, the two-page spreads don't read nearly as well due to a glued binding. It's still more than worth the price of admission, especially if you're a fan of Superman.
OMNIBUS & HIGH-END
Here's where you start to drop some significant cash for books. These are the more expensive collections -- and for good reason. The quality is either superior, or the amount of content included is more than worth it to have it all in the same place. These are my favorite high-end and omnibus collections that made me shell out some hard-earned cash without any regrets.
Big Damn Sin City
Dark Horse Comics, $99.99
Big Damn Sin City is absolutely massive. Seriously, this thing could probably be used by spies to jam open those metal vault doors they're always trying to break into. And frankly, it's huge for good reason -- not only is the glossy paper quality a great fit, this 1,300-plus page book contains every single Sin City story ever published by Frank Miller. The book has enough content to merit the price of admission -- especially if you've never gotten into Sin City, but have always wanted to -- and manages to maintain the integrity of two-page spreads, which is a neat trick in a book that's as big as this one.
There's no dust jacket, but the standard Dark Horse matte finish hardcover works very well in this case -- but much like some of the other omnibus editions on this list, it's tough to read anywhere else but on a table. Still an incredible value and a great edition to have all of Miller's Sin City work in one place.
The Muppets Omnibus
Marvel Comics, $59.99
I'm a huge Muppets fan. I actually bought every trade paperback of Roger Langridge's The Muppet Show when it was at BOOM! Studios. Marvel did a great job with The Muppets omnibus, collecting the entirety of Langridge's run in a tight and gorgeous package. His stint remains my favorite piece of ancillary Muppets media of all time, and it's great to have it all collected in a single place. There are actually two dust jackets available: one with Langridge's standard cover and another by Phil Noto. That said, the coolest part of this omnibus edition is that the cover below the dust jacket is actually Kermit green. It's a really nice touch for the 600-page book, and it's actually the perfect size -- light enough to be read somewhere other than a table, but large enough that it has a good coffee table book quality to it as well. Well worth it for any Muppets fan.
DC Comics, $75.00
Planetary was a special comic, and one of the few Wildstorm books to actually see an omnibus edition. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's masterpiece is collected in its entirety, and it's probably one of my favorite omnibuses DC has ever released. The dust jacket by Cassaday is great -- it's the standard DC hardcover glossy material -- but the real joy is what's underneath. The hardcover is modeled after Elijah Snow's Planetary Guide, right down to the lettering and drawn-on clasps. It was a fantastic design move, and well worth some praise in an effort to give readers a little more bang for their buck. In terms of special features, DC included the first script by Ellis, and a number of designs by Cassaday.
The only thing that's slightly disappointing -- and it's slight -- is that the paper quality feels a little lower than that of DC's New 52 hardcovers. Granted, it would make the book weigh much more, but it does feel a bit like you might damage the pages if not careful. However, the cover design and ability to read all of Ellis and Cassaday's Planetary in a single volume is well worth it.
The Sixth Gun Gunslinger Edition, Vol. 1
Oni Press, $120
Confession time: I actually picked this one up at New York Comic Con 2013, but it was released to the direct market in 2014, so I figure it's fair game.
With a slipcase resembling General Hume's coffin and a matte-finish dust jacket on the actual book with an enraged Hume, this is an oversize edition of The Sixth Gun that's absolutely worth the money -- especially given the high quality of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's long-running supernatural western story. The pages are sturdy and firm, the extras are incredibly solid -- including Bunn's "Them What Ails Ya" prose story, original pitch artwork, and sketches and designs from Hurtt -- just the book by itself (which is available) would be a must-have for Sixth Gun fans. But the superior packaging of The Gunslinger Edition and the incredible attention to detail on everything from paperstock to the unique slipcase design really makes this a great purchase for any comics fan.
Uncanny X-Force Omnibus
Marvel Comics, $99.99
Although its paper stock is somewhat light -- much like the Planetary omnibus -- there's no denying that the story in Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force omnibus is top-notch. The book actually does sport a binding that maintains the two-page spreads and makes it feel like you're still reading a single issue of the comic. The standard glossy dust jacket is fine, but the cover below is a matte finish white with the Uncanny X-Force logo in the front, with the partial X-Force squad on the back walking toward the reader. It's a very slick package, and the extras are pretty great. It includes the first turn at Wolverine and Deadpool by Remender and Opena, The "Evolution of a Page" that goes from script to colors, a reprint of some supplemental material from past comics, and designs and art.
Wolverine and the X-Men Omnibus
Marvel Comics, $99.99
Collecting Jason Aaron's entire Wolverine and the X-Men run, the construction and design of the book is very similar to the Uncanny X-Force omnibus -- except the matte finish hardcover below the dust jacket actually has some really incredible Chris Bachalo artwork from the first issue featuring the Jean Grey School staff. While Aaron's run on this book is one of my favorites, it's the extras that really push this one over the top in terms of value. There's definitely the standard designs and page process stuff, but Marvel also included letters columns from the book that were answered by Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Quentin Quire and Broo, as well as the full transcripts of the Jean Grey School Twitter account's live tweets for individual issues. Great value and super fun to read -- especially if you weren't there to catch it when the series was running.
These are just a few of the great high-quality collections that came out this year. What were some of your favorites? Sound off in the comments!