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MY FAVORITE FORMAT

I was looking at my bookshelves the other day and was struck by something I had never paid a great deal of attention to previously: the ridiculous number of MARVEL ESSENTIAL collections I own.

61 of ‘em. With two more currently on pre-order.

Obviously I didn’t buy them all at once, and never one of them at cover price. But all the same, that’s quite extraordinary. It made me think about why I have so many of these books, and I think the reason is simple: they remind me of a better day, and a better Marvel. Plus, there’s no better return on your money than what you get with these books.

For better or worse, Marvel is the straw that stirs the comics drink, at least as far as the direct market goes. A strong Marvel keeps comics shops alive. And right now, they’re dominating the sales charts, keeping retailers healthy. It’s just they way they’re doing it that makes me turn my nose up.

Stupid events. Dumb crossovers. Bad fan-fiction being passed off as “revolutionary” storytelling. In the 80s, my formative years, I completely admit- I was a Marvel zombie. I bought and read damned near the entire company line of books. But today? X-FACTOR, SHE-HULK, NEW WARRIORS, THUNDERBOLTS, ASTONISHING X-MEN. Stuff that generally stays far away from the center of the Marvel (and even X-Men) universe, and is written by Peter David and Warren Ellis. I buy WARRIORS out of my long love affair with the original book, and even then, I keep thinking I’ll drop it.

Ahh, but those ESSENTIALS. Many of them are the comics of my youth. Even the ones that aren’t still pass muster as pure fun, especially as the SPIDER-MAN books collect the series all the way back to Lee and Ditko. Nearly 600 pages of material with a cover price of seventeen bucks. There is no better dollar value in comics today, and even if you have an objective issue with the quality of some of the reprinted material, you can’t deny that you will never feel ripped off when you buy ‘em.

Other companies have started to get onboard with the huge black and white reprints. Erik Larsen has two SAVAGE DRAGON volumes on shelves now. IDW is reprinting JOHN BYRNE’S NEXT MEN in the format within the next couple of months. And considering they will be fixing some of the problems with the Dark Horse trades (including re-adding the back-up stories so that the final volume makes sense), they’ll be on my shelves, too. IDW has also done some of these with their C.S.I. books, too.

The omnibus book, whether in black and white or color, is the future. The format works, the consumer sees and feels the value, and they look phenomenal on the shelf. With everything that’s wrong with comics today, it’s nice to take a moment and pay tribute to one of the things that’s truly, wonderfully right.

Marc Mason

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