December 3rd, 2005 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I love Marvel. I have ever since the beginning. I still own the first two comics I ever read. Amazing Spider-Man numbers 316 and 317, the second story involving Venom, I believe. It was a David Michelinie/Todd McFarlane joint. FOOM, Merry Marvel Marching Society, Marvel Zombie, you name it, I was it in an unofficial way because I was little and had no money. This stands to this day. Most of the DC books I read are published by Wildstorm.

There’s a lot of things I like about Marvel (Spider-Man). High on that list (after Spider-Man) is their trade policy. Is there a miniseries coming up soon that you want to check out, but you’d rather read it all in one chunk for better enjoyment? Grab the trade that’s gonna hit somewhere between one month and three months after the last issue ships. This is somewhere between two and two billion times better than DC’s trade program, which is “You’ll get the trade when we remember to actually print it.” Identity Crisis, for example, had a year-long wait and was released twice in floppy form before we finally got a trade. Common sense would tell you to strike while the iron is relatively hot and push that trade out there. Marvel does what DC don’t (that pun works a lot better with Sega and Nintendo, I think), though, so it’s all good.

A while back, Marvel started up the Visionaries line. They’d take a big-name creator and release a series of books featuring what’s considered their best or most influential works on a series. This brought us gems like a complete collection of Frank Miller’s first Daredevil run in three trades, Jim Lee’s first work on X-Men, John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four, Peter David’s work on The Incredible Hulk, and Walt Simonson’s run on Thor.

There was a companion series of sorts to the Visionaries line that was called Legends. It was slightly less-focused than the Visionaries line. It centered on the bigger storylines or presenting a burst of work by a certain author. This brought us most of the rest of Frank Miller’s work on Ol’ Hornhead (Born Again and Man Without Fear were part of this line, while Love & War, Elektra Lives Again, and Love’s Labor Lost were left in other formats), Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Daredevil: Yellow, Arthur Adams’s work on X-Men, The Dark Phoenix Saga, and plenty of other books.

Marvel’s got a new book on the block, though. The Marvel Visionaries line is in an over-sized Marvel hardback and retails for around thirty bucks. As I recall, it was started in celebration of Marvel’s 65th anniversary. The paper quality is up to usual Marvel snuff. I don’t know what it is, but Marvel has the most comfortable paper around. It’s perfect. The art has either been remastered/retouched or taken from high quality reproductions. Either way, it looks excellent. Sometimes too excellent, as old-school comic art wasn’t like the newfangled super-detailed Hitch ‘n’ Cassaday stuff we tend to get nowadays. Still, they’re beautiful volumes and the covers are quite beautiful, too.

The Marvel Visionaries books borrow a bit from the Visionaries books and give you a name creator and a smattering of his work, though not necessarily his most famous. Since these are out-size hardcovers, you get plenty of story bang for your buck. Check out the lists of the stories in these volumes farther down the post.

Shoot, some of the stories haven’t even been reprinted until now. I mean, did you know that John Romita, Jr. did Star Brand back in the day? And that Claremont wrote an issue of Daredevil?

I own two of these and will soon have four more on the way. The first one I bought was Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby. I love Kirby, but I know him more for the New Gods than for his Marvel work. I figured that this would be a great primer. I was absolutely right. It’s almost a career retrospective, as it covers his first work for Marvel, a few of his Captain America works, then a few of the expected heavy-hitters like Fantastic Four 48-51 (“The Coming of Galactus” and “This Man, This Monster”). It’s a wonderful book and practically educational. You can spot stuff in here that has influenced artists even until today.

The second one I got was the John Romita Sr. volume. Now, I’m a Spider-Man fan. As far as I’m concerned, JRsr’s run on Amazing is magic in a bottle. For me, that was the Golden Age of comics. I thought that I was a big Jumpin’ Johnny Romita fan. Imagine my shock when I saw the list of titles included in his go at bat… and only recognized half of them. I didn’t know that JRsr did a beautiful black and white Satana (as in the Daughter of the Devil) story. It was surprisingly adult for Marvel of that time, too, since the villain is implied to be a serial rapist who gets off on violence. I never in a million years would’ve expected to see JRsr’s sci-fi/horror/pre-superhero work in this hardback, either, but that’s exactly what the book leads off with. The usual suspects are in effect, however, with Spider-Man appearing in a majority of the stories. The big issues are here, too, with “Spider-Man No More” and one of my most favorite comic panels ever (“Face it, Tiger…”) making well-deserved appearances. Curiously, Gwen Stacy’s death does not show up, though I figure that’s because Gil Kane pencilled that issue and JRsr and another fellow inked it.

The only thing I don’t like about the book is that it revealed to me that Wolverine met Peter Parker’s parents back in the day, way before Peter was born. In fact, he congratulated the Parkers on being in a family way. That means that Logan’s met Natasha Romanoff, Steve Rogers, Ben Grimm, Nick Fury, Baron Strucker (at least twice), Kitty Pryde (don’t ask), Rachel Summers (don’t ask again), and who knows who else before he joined the X-Men. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon has nothing on Two Degrees Or Less of Wolverine.

But, really, this shows to go you that these books aren’t just slapdash collections. There’s something for the neophyte and the old guard. Romita and Kirby’s book both cover 40+ years of comics art. They come with oodles of backmatter, too. The JRsr volume comes with a few swank sketches. The original Mary Jane Watson sketch, Wolverine’s character design [fun fact: he was 5’5″ when he was created), and even the huge litho that JRsr did with Adam Ross (semi-viewable here). My only complaint is that the center of it is cut off due to the binding, so we only get half a Mary Jane. The Kirby volume is filled with sketches and such, too.

These books are an amazing value. Genuine slabs of culture for thirty bucks, handsomely dressed, and impeccably printed. I’ve only bought two, but they were enough to make me want to buy each and every volume. Try one out. You’ll love yourself for it.

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Excelsior, kids.

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