Friday, 1 February 2008


It's obvious that Comic collecting can be a very daunting thing to get involved in. Everyone knows the basics about the big heroes, Spidey, the X-men, Daredevil and so on, but what of their early exploits? The newcomer can be more than a little flabbergasted by it all. The Secret Wars? Modok? Maximum Carnage? Weapon X? Huh? Also, it would cost an absolute fortune to get hold of the actual classic issues, themselves, not to mention the hassle of tracking down the key stories and the must-read issues that helped define these legendary characters. Thankfully, Marvel listened to the fans long ago and began publishing the near comprehensive ESSENTIALS volumes, which are great value for the amount of content offered. Essentially (pun intended), they are big thick books containing 25-or-so comic book issues in black and white, printed on value stock to keep the price of the books reasonable.

What you get for the money is really quite substantial, though, These books are generally a minimum of an inch thick, and are often a good deal thicker. While they don’t offer colour reproductions of the original comics, they do allow fans both old and new to appreciate and enjoy the classic stories they may have missed and would miss out on due to the lack of availability or cash. Being able to flick through these chunky tomes and enjoy Jack Kirby’s early Marvel work, for example, is an absolute joy.

I’ll talk you through a few good examples of the range and what they contain, if I may. I’ve picked a bunch at random off the shelves, so lets see what they offer.

First up I picked off a copy of DOCTOR STRANGE Volume 1. Now, in this you get Strange Tales 110, 111 and a run of issues 114 to 168. That’s a hell of a lot of comics for the same price as a current release Trade Paperback. There’s classic work in this volume by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, no less, not to mention some of the most famous stories in the Dr Strange pantheon.

WOLVERINE volume 1 is next on my pile, Bub. This really does live up to its ESSENTIAL status, containing issues 1-23 inclusive of the original WOLVERINE series. The roll call? Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Peter David, Archie Goodwin and John Byrne. Heavy hitters or what? The content of this book alone would easily set you back a couple of hundred quid, and we’ve got it for just over a tenner. Not bad at all.

What else have I got here? Let’s try ESSENTIAL X-MEN volume 7. Jeez, there’s Uncanny X-Men 214-228, Annuals 10 and 11, and FANTASTIC FOUR Vs The X-MEN 1-4, with work by Claremont, Barry Windsor-Smith and even Marc Silvestri. Now this is a sizeable chunk of X tales from a great period in the team’s history.

Likewise with ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA volume 4, which is the last one I grabbed to tell you about. This is very nearly 2 inches thick (I measured, yes I’m that sad), and contains issues 157-186 of the original run of Cap’s own title, and features some awesome work, not to mention appearances by Falcon and Black Panther along the way.

The whole range is massive, and well worth checking out if you want to check out the classics without breaking the bank. It’s a really, really good idea, and the uniformity of these volumes makes them look superb on a bookshelf.

DC have had a go at something similar over the past couple of years, which has seen them bring about the DC SHOWCASE range. Now, that range has got off to a bit of a slow start, and in a couple of cases, some blatant misfires. They’ve gone for the big obvious names like Superman and Green lantern to get things up and running, but then they’ve gone and brought out things like The haunted Tank, y’know, really obscure titles with limited demand, which are only going to dampen interest in the line until the next big title comes along.

The early volumes are of great quality, black and white like the ESSENTIALS from Marvel, but printed on a slightly higher quality stock, enabling the art to stand out more. It’ll be interesting to see how the DC range pans out, but I’m not sure how they’ll pull it off, mainly because of the sheer amount of material they have released in their long, LONG existence. The stuff they’ve released so far is enjoyable, but with such a rich history to pull from, it’s going to be hard to pick the stuff people will scramble for.

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