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Friday, September 24, 2004
Comics: Age of Apocalypse collected?

While perusing Amazon the other day, I found two other interesting comic-related entries:

-X-Men: Complete Age of Apocalypse v. 1 (4/04) - listed as a paperback for $29.99. No page count given.
-X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic TP (4/04) - paperback (obvious from the title) at $14.99 for 144 pages.

For those who may not know or remember, the Age of Apocalypse was an X-Men story from 1995 where all of the X-books were suspended for four months and replaced by new titles which took place in a universe where Professor X was killed young and Magneto founded the X-Men. I suppose the story could be considered "apocalyptic," both because of the type of story being told and because the main villain is X-Men baddie Apocalypse, who has essentially taken over this strange new (but familiar) world.

The best thing about this story for non-X-fans, though, is that it's essentially self-contained. Don't get me wrong, it's a massive story which takes place through a dozen different titles and 40 or so single issues over four months, but there are no lingering plots brought over from the "real" Marvel X-Men (okay, there is one character from the "real" Marvel U, but I think the story tells you everything you need to get up to speed quickly). The story has a beginning (the 48-page X-Men: Alpha one-shot), an ending (the similar X-Men: Omega), and several middles (four issues each of Astonishing X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Weapon X, Generation Next, X-Calibre, Gambit and the Externals, X-Man, Factor X; the two issue side mini-series X-Universe; and the two-issue X-Men Chronicles, which fill in some backstory), each of which contributes to the primary plot to varying degrees.

If you're interested in the X-Men, but are intimidated by the volume of backstory in the mainline books, the AoA is a pretty good story in the Mighty Marvel Manner and you won't have to read anything else, ever, to know the whole story (okay, Marvel did publish two one-shots a few years later to capitalize on the popularity of the AoA world, but they aren't critical to understanding the story as originally published).

I had heard that Marvel was "planning" something AoA-related for next year, the tenth anniversary of the story, and it looks like the plan is to reprint the saga in it's entirety. Originally, the story was reprinted in ten fairly flimsy collections of about 90 pages (four comics) each: one for each of the eight "new" titles, a beginning (collecting the final Marvel U X-Men story before the Ana started, X-Men: Alpha and a prose with pin-ups one shot), and an ending (collecting X-Men: Omega and maybe the two issues of X-Men Chronicles). I passed on the collections initially, for one because I already had the story in single issue format, but also because the gold foil covers with some etching on them made them all look like the same ugly book.

Though I'm a little scared that the story isn't as entertaining as I remember it being, I'm at least cautiously interested in any decently printed (and priced) collections that Marvel might be putting out. The problem is that the story weighs in at close to 1000 pages, if you factor in the later two one-shots, and I can't seem to figure out how Marvel is planning to collect it, even with the helpful Amazon listings.

I don't think there's any way that the story could be reprinted in two bargain-priced, black & white, 500-page Essentials tomes. I may be wrong, but my memory is that color was extremely important in the X-books at the time, so the story needs to be reprinted on paper thicker than that used in the Essentials or the Bone One Volume edition in order to take the color. Marvel was doing a lot of experimenting with the effects that computer-based coloring (mostly by Liquid, Steve Buccelatto and/or Steve Oliff) could bring to the table at the time, and my memory is that the colorists filled in a good deal of the backgrounds (something many of the artists at the time were notorious for skimping on).

In fact, I can't see any paperback binding holding 1000 pages with paper thick enough to hold the color in one volume for a reasonable price point ($29.99 for the complete story, according to Amazon). In fact, I don't know that I'd trust the binding of two 500-page paperbacks with the paper to hold the color used in the AoA.

They might be able to do it in a hardcover, like the Barnes & Noble exclusive Ultimate Spider-man, which contained almost 1000 pages on quality paper and was priced at $39.99. The thing is, that volume and price point was for material that's still available and generating revenue in other formats (three hardcovers, six paperbacks) and costs were supplemented by B&N (I believe). I'd be really surprised if Marvel put the entire AoA epic out in a single HC for only 30 bucks, at least without anyone supplementing the printing costs. In fact, I'd be pretty suspicious that they skimped on the binding if they did. A single volume hardcover would probably cost $100 or more, I suspect.

If they're going the small TP route, as in the second Amazon listing, it'll take between 8-10 volumes, which sounds pretty reasonable on the surface (maybe Marvel could finally have an answer to DC's trade paperback series' like Sandman, Preacher, Transmet or Starman). The problem comes, though, in determining how to organize the story into collections in that format.

Part of the reason that DC's collected edition program works is because each collection contains at least one whole story, though it may have elements which continue from book to book. If Marvel were to go this route, the only way the could come anywhere close to completing a story in each volume would be to reissue the old 88-page collections of the story with better covers. Personally, I think many buyers are leery about collections under 100 pages (I may be wrong, but the standard trade size seems to be 5-8 issues, or 110-176 pages). Not to mention the fact that the story just doesn't read very well this way (by the time you get to the last volume, it's easy to forget where the first stories ended).

To clarify, the story as I remember it is structured such that it starts with X-Men: Alpha, then goes to Astonishing X-Men #1, where Magneto assigns the missions taken on in the Amazing X-Men, X-Calibre, Gambit, Generation Next and rest of Astonishing X-Men. Each four issue story then takes it's own path until feeding into either Amazing X-Men #4 and/or X-Men: Omega. X-Man, Factor X and Weapon X all start from either X-Men: Alpha or their own issue #1, but all are crucial by the time of X-Men: Omega. X-Universe ties into Weapon X (though they don't cross over, events in one significantly impact the other), while Chronicles and the two later one shots tell stories that happened prior to X-Men: Alpha, but which supplement the main books by delving into some of the background of the character relationships. I know this sounds hopelessly complex, but trust me, it's not really.

The only way that the story could be structured to be read as a one cohesive work would be to collect it in the order that the single issues were initially released, working the one shots in where they would make most sense as backstory (or leaving them out, entirely). In a one, two, three or even four volume edition (ranging in page count from 250-1000 pages each), this structure works, because each volume contains at least one chapter of each story. But when paced across nine or ten smaller (88-144 page) books, I suspect it would be very frustrating, as each middle story would only show up in every other volume or so. Even released rapidly, like one volume a month, a reader would still easily lose track of the characters and stories.

For my money, I suppose I would prefer it if the Amazon listings were way off, and Marvel were to release the entire epic (including the one shots, but not the Legionquest story leading into it) as either a two or four volume oversized hardcover series, structured chronologically by release date. Three volume just feels off, and it offends my delicate sense of balance that some of the middle stories might have two chapters in one book, and only one in the others (I know, I'm borderline OCD about some things).

I know I've given this way more thought than it's worth, and if the collections aren't nice or don't make sense, I just won't buy them. The Amazon listings just got me thinking is all, and it helps to get my thoughts down in writing.

More Marvel Essentials

Trolling Amazon the other day, trying to decide how to spend a gift certificate that I got for Christmas last year, I started playing one of my favorite games: try to find advance info on comic collections that haven't been announced yet.

I'm happy to say that it looks like Marvel appears to be continuing to release their Essentials volumes (500-600 page black and white reprints of older comics for $15-17), both for marquee characters and some of the lesser knowns. Last time, I found out about Marvel's upcoming Essential Iron Fist and Super-Villain Team-up (don't ask me how. I can't even begin to recall what made me look for them) before they were solicited, this time I found a few more (keep in mind Amazon's listed release dates are often a month or two later than the direct market):

-Essential Defenders v. 1 (listed for 6/05) - this was pushed back from an original date of 12/04 that I found a few months ago. My guess is that it was delayed either because of the amount of work necessary to restore the originals or in order to be timed with an unannounced new Defenders project on the slate for next spring. Not to repeat myself, but I expect this will contain the first 20 issues or so, mostly by Steve Englehart (the most lauded run, by Steve Gerber, starts around 21, so I'm really hoping for a second volume). If they follow recent patterns by including tie-in issues from other titles, it will probably also have the two Avengers issues (110-111?) which tied into several early teen issues to make up the Avengers/Defenders War.

-Essential Dr. Strange v. 2 (3/05) - Neilalien will be happy to see this one collected. I'm not as well-versed in Doc history as the palindromic one, but I think all the Lee/Ditko stories were collected in v. 1, so I assume this will collect the first 25 issues or so of the 70s series, which I think were by Englehart with Frank Brunner penciling at least a few.

-Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-man v. 1 (2/05) - Nice to see them collecting the second Spidey book, but my Slings and Arrows guide says that the first 60 issues of this one (much like Marvel Team-up) are abysmal. It gets better later, supposedly, and Peter David's run (~100-130) is really quite good, IIRC. I hope they keep this one up, alternating with their collections of Amazing Spider-man.

-Essential Luke Cage Powerman v. 1 (3/05) - I'm guessing this one is to get caught up on the adventures of everyone's favorite 70s Marvel blaxploitation hero (at least initially) in order to catch up with the end of the Iron Fist volume (containing Power Man and Iron Fist 48-50). If I'm recalling issue numbers correctly, the series was called Power Man for 1-17, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire for 18-49, then Power Man and Iron Fist from 50-122, so they'll have to do two volumes of Cage before getting to Power Man and Iron Fist, which I really want them to collect.

-Essential Hulk v. 3 (3/05) - As far as I know, no one did anything really interesting with the Hulk till Len Wein in the late 70s and Bill Mantlo/Peter David in the 80s. I'm guessing this won't collect anything exceptional, just a lot of "Hulk Smash" and running around in the desert.

Books that I looked for that I didn't find any info on include (just assume I'm talking about Essential volumes for all of these as I don't feel like re-typing "Essential" twenty times):

She-Hulk (I thought maybe with her new solo book, they'd reprint the 70s series), Spider-woman (here's hoping, with her higher profile in the New Avengers), Fantastic Four v. 4 (somewhat conspicuously absent, as it's been years since v. 3, but I would hope they plan to collect the entirety of the Lee/Kirby run), Marvel Team-up v. 2, Marvel Two-in-One, Uncanny X-Men v. 2 (another conspicuously absent volume, and particularly irritating to me as I've never read X-Men 25-60 and I want to), Werewolf by Night, Master of Kung Fu (this one seems like a no-brainer to me, as it's fairly well-regarded and it's a finite run, like Tomb of Dracula), Man-Thing (c'mon, who wouldn't want an Essential Giant Sized Man-Thing? There's even a movie on the horizon), New Mutants, West Coast Avengers, Champions, Nova (okay, I may be the only person who wants these last three).

While there were no additional volumes listed for X-Men or Amazing Spider-man, there's a pretty good chance that these will continue. Avengers, too, maybe.

[In case you didn't notice, I've been MIA for awhile. I've been debating about how to make my return, but ultimately decided just to do so quietly, acting as if I'd never stopped posting. More to come. Maybe.]

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