Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 April 2014

End of the Essentials

After months of decreasing output (much like this blog!), Marvel’s Essentials line has been declared officially dead, more or less. It’s kinda sad; I’ve got dozens of the thick black-and-white volumes, and they were the backbone of my comics library for years. The Essentials served two important purposes for me: it allowed me to get all the important, core stories I needed and hadn't read for characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, and the X-Men, and it also let me know whether lesser-known series I otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with were any good (Nova: No, Tomb of Dracula: Yes, She-Hulk: No, Spider-Woman: Sometimes). In both cases, the Essentials fulfilled their purpose without breaking my bank, which was important.

Marvel has mined all the core stories from its canon for the Essential books, though. The Essentials now reprint pretty inessential material for its core characters. (Essential Wolverine, v. 7, reprints Wolverine #129-48, which is about as inessential as comic book stories get.) The core continuity for Marvel’s major titles has been out in Essential form for years — fifteen years, for the first few Spider-Man, Wolverine, and X-Men volumes — and I certainly have all of those I want. I even divested myself of Essentials I didn't want any more after I picked up the DVD-ROM reprints of Fantastic Four, Captain America, Avengers, Iron Man, X-Men, and Spider-Man about five to ten years ago.

The Epic line has replaced the Essentials. I haven’t bought any yet, mostly because I’m not interested in most of the lines (because I have the DVD-ROMs), and they are expensive ($35-40 a pop). Eventually, I’ll buy a Spider-Man collection (I haven’t yet because I own physical copies of the issues in Ghosts of the Past and Cosmic Adventures) and … wait a minute — Daredevil / Elektra: Fall from Grace is an epic collection? I feel a bit worse for pre-ordering it now, since it’s slimmer and / or more expensive than other Epics. Still, it’s good to see the line expanding into Daredevil.

With a replacement already here and most of the good stuff already reprinted, I’m not really sorry to see the Essentials go. It was simply time. Still, I’m disappointed that some volumes didn’t get printed:

  • Essential Daredevil, v. 7. This would have finished off the pre-Frank Miller issues. I feel lucky we got v. 6, though, and if Marvel is adding Daredevil to the titles in the Epic collection, we might get #147-157 reprinted eventually.
  • Essential Defenders, v. 8. I own v. 7, and even though I haven’t read it yet, I suspect publishing it was one volume too many. Still, it would have been nice to finish off the series with #140-152.
  • Essential Dr. Strange, v. 5. This is the one I really wanted; it would have finished off the second Dr. Strange series (the one that didn’t continue Strange Tales’ numbering), printing #57-81. Hmm … that would have been a bit long, with 25 issues included.
  • Essential Power Man & Iron Fist, v. 3. Another one that would have had to stretch to make it to the end, v. 3 could have reprinted PM&IF #101-125.
Still, I should celebrate the successes of the Essential line, not bury it with my disappointments. We received full runs of Killraven, Tomb of Dracula, Marvel Two-in-One, the OHotMUDE, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Dazzler (Dazzler!), Spider-Woman, and Ms. Marvel. This is remarkable, and really, some of those lines deserved black-and-white reprints, either because the Essentials’ black-and-white reproduction enhanced the art and stories’ atmosphere (Moon Knight and ToD) or because the original stories deserved only a cheap reprint (Dazzler). And I should have read more: I should have picked up Essential Black Panther and Essential Rawhide Kid, just to see what they were like, but I did not. (I might still pick up Rawhide Kid, which is still in print and cheap to buy used. But Black Panther is going for $60 secondhand on Amazon, which is much too much.)

RIP, Essentials. You were the product of a long-ago, mostly TPB-bereft time. We loved you for your reassuring heft, and because you were cheap, but the world has moved on, and you’re just not needed any more.

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