Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy Anniversary, True Believers!

I can hardly believe that it’s already been a year since I started this blog! If the timestamps are to be believed, though, it was indeed one year ago today that I posted my first review, in which I spotlighted one of my favorite collected editions, The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 1. Since then I’ve written and posted an additional 40 reviews, begun an annotated timeline of Marvel’s collected editions (more on that in a minute!), and made some great friends in the online comic book community. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to this blog in some way over the last year, whether you’ve read a review, left a comment, or browsed the timeline. I never imagined that I would accomplish so much at With Great Power in only a year, and I owe it to you guys.

But enough with the sappy stuff. It wouldn’t be an anniversary if we didn’t celebrate somehow, right? So in honor of the occasion, I’ve made the biggest update to the Marvel TPB Timeline ever. The timeline now begins with the first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939 and goes all the way up to the start of the Secret Invasion crossover in 2008. I’ve done my best to make the information provided on big storylines like House of M and Civil War as understandable as possible, so I hope you enjoy those sections. (On the other hand, if you think I could do better, feel free to let me know – I’m always looking for new ways to improve the timeline!)

I didn’t ignore the period of time (1970-2005) that had already been covered, though. It’s been overhauled with new and more accurate annotations for many books, information on a variety of out-of-print collected editions (including the original Onslaught and Kurt Busiek Avengers trades), and books from Marvel’s most recent batch of solicitations. In other words, pretty much everything published in Marvel’s first 70 years is on the timeline! Of course, that doesn’t mean my work is even close to being done – the next step is to get the timeline totally caught up to the present day, and beyond that, I have a few other cool ideas. They’re a little too far off to talk about in much detail yet, but I’m pretty sure you’ll like ’em!

So that’s what you can expect in the immediate future in regards to the timeline, and it’s exciting stuff, to be sure. What about reviews, though? As you’ve probably noticed, those have been a bit less frequent in recent months than they used to be. The simple reason for that is that I’ve been so busy lately that it’s been hard to find the time to read, much less review, very many comics. For the next month, at least, the reviews will probably continue at a rate of about one every other week, although I may occasionally be able to post a review on off-weeks. In May, though, I hope to really get back into the reviewing groove and to make up for lost time with extra reviews on top of the planned weekly ones. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be doing a creator-focused month during the summer, which I think will be a lot of fun. Who will the creator (or creators) be, you ask? That’s still a secret… although I can tell you that the books have already been picked out!

That’s about it for now. Thanks again for stopping by, and as always, if you have comments, questions, or feedback of any kind, you can either leave a comment here, email me at marveltimeline@gmail.com, or follow me on Twitter (@Dief88)!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some Thoughts on Collecting Venom

While I haven’t been an avid buyer of individual comic issues for a few years now (other than Amazing Spider-Man, which I still follow religiously), today I decided to pick up the first issue of Marvel’s new Venom series, written by Rick Remender and penciled by Tony Moore. It’s a pretty decent comic, as it turns out, although I don’t know that I’ll continue to buy it in single issue form. But this post won’t be too concerned with the actual content of that comic – instead, I’d like to talk about something interesting I noticed on the letters page, which for this first issue is simply a column written by the book’s editor, Stephen Wacker.

He begins by discussing a bit of Venom’s publishing history, emphasizing that Venom #1 is the 90th issue to star everyone’s favorite brain-munching alien symbiote. (In other words, you can expect the book to change its numbering for a “100th issue extravaganza” in just under a year!) Then – and this is what I find most interesting – he recommends several collected editions for readers who would like to learn more about the character:


What’s so interesting about this, you might ask? Well, of the seven trades Wacker recommends, four of them are actually out of print – and I don’t mean recently out of print, but for more than ten years in some cases! Let’s take a look at each of the trades in Wacker’s list, starting with the first one; throughout, I’ll discuss some of the list’s problems and end with a few suggestions on how Marvel might address them.

Spider-Man vs. Venom was an extremely popular trade in the nineties. Originally published in 1990 and collecting a handful of issues written by David Michelinie and penciled by Todd McFarlane, it went through at least six printings and was even named one of Wizard Magazine’s top 100 trade paperbacks in 2006. It was out of print by the early 2000s, though, and in 2007, Marvel collected the full contents of Spider-Man vs. Venom (along with the contents of the out-of-print trade Spider-Man: The Saga of the Alien Costume) in Spider-Man: Birth of Venom, a trade which is still in print today. Although Birth of Venom is a little expensive, I would still recommend it – although that’s mostly for the Saga of the Alien Costume issues, which come from one of my favorite eras in Spider-Man history. But since Spider-Man vs. Venom is included in full in Birth of Venom, Wacker is essentially repeating himself by listing both.

Spider-Man: Venom Returns collects the next two storylines to feature Venom, written again by Michelinie and penciled this time by Erik Larsen. Published in 1993, this trade is also out of print, but unlike Spider-Man vs. Venom, its contents have never been re-collected. Priced originally at $11.95, a new copy of this trade will run you over $30 today, if not even more; one Amazon seller is currently charging $115. That makes Venom Returns pretty much the opposite of “accessible” for people interested in reading up on Venom’s history.

Venom: Lethal Protector collects the 1994 miniseries of the same name, written by Michelinie with art by Mark Bagley and Ron Lim. This trade is out of print too, and even less affordable than Venom Returns. I had to do a double-take when I saw it mentioned, to be honest, because this trade is known for being notoriously difficult to find at a reasonable price, even used. Amazon has used copies ranging from $25 to over $150, and one new copy for sale at $85. Why such high prices? I imagine it’s because the trade had a fairly low print run (collected editions weren’t always as popular as they are today, remember), plus it collects what is undoubtedly the best Venom miniseries from the nineties. It’s worth reading if you can get your hands on it affordably, but it’s definitely not worth the exorbitant price that many sellers are currently charging.

The next two trades that Wacker mentions, Venom vs. Carnage and Venom: Dark Origin, are collections of fairly recent miniseries and are still in print. I wouldn’t expect Venom vs. Carnage to be easily available for much longer, though, being the older of the two and having been released at a fairly low price point. I could very easily see Marvel re-releasing it as a Marvel Premiere hardcover for twice the trade’s price in a year or two.

This brings us to the final trade on Wacker’s list, Venom: Carnage Unleashed (which Wacker mis-identifies as “Venom/Carnage: Unleashed”). Written by Larry Hama and penciled by Andrew Wildman and Art Nichols, this is one of the better Venom miniseries to come out of the nineties, but it’s still a bit on the mediocre side. It’s also the second-most difficult trade on the list to find, behind Lethal Protector. The lowest price currently listed on Amazon for a used copy is just under $20, with other used copies at closer to $100; the only new copy listed is priced at $60.

As we can see, then, Wacker’s list of Venom trade recommendations is pretty problematic, not because of the quality of the books themselves, but because most of them haven’t been available at a reasonable price for years. That isn’t Wacker’s fault, though, and I certainly don’t mean to seem like I’m attacking him. The fact that this is the best list he could come up with actually speaks more to a failure on the part of Marvel’s collected editions department than anything else. You would think, with a brand-new series coming out starring a character as popular as Venom, that Marvel might take a bit more initiative in making sure that more than two or three trades starring that character were readily available.

I do have to give the trade department some credit, though. Just this month, Marvel released Venom by Daniel Way Ultimate Collection, which collects the entirety of Way’s eighteen-issue ongoing Venom series from the early 2000s. It was also announced last month that Marvel would publish an Omnibus edition collecting the entire Michelinie/McFarlane run on Amazing Spider-Man (during which Venom made his first appearance, in the issue pictured at right). Strangely, though, neither of these books appears on Wacker’s list; nor does Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage, an important Venom-related story which, unlike many of his recommendations, is actually in print.

With the exception of the Daniel Way trade, all of the books I just mentioned collect Spider-Man comics in which Venom happened to appear. But what about the 89 comic books starring Venom that Wacker talks about in his column? Much like what’s happened with the Clone Saga over the last few years, I think a good deal of nostalgia for these comics has built up lately and that there’s a viable market for reprints of these issues. I, for one, would certainly be interested in buying a series of Venom Classic trades collecting the character’s various series from the mid-nineties. After all, if Gambit, War Machine, and the Danny Ketch version of Ghost Rider are worthy of Marvel’s “Classic” line, why not Venom?

So what do you think? Has Marvel really done a poor job of collecting Venom over the years, or am I giving them the short shrift? And while we’re at it, what are your favorite Venom storylines, and which ones would you like to see collected (or re-collected)? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at marveltimeline@gmail.com with your thoughts!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Harry 20 on the High Rock

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day
Artist: Alan Davis
Collects: 2000 AD Progs 287-307 (1982-83)
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2010; $19.99

Harry 20 on the High Rock is the first full story arc I’ve ever read from 2000 AD, a black-and-white British anthology comic which has been published weekly since the 1970s. While not as popular in the United States as it is in the UK, the comic has nonetheless produced internationally recognizable characters (like Judge Dredd) and has served as a launchpad for a number of prominent comics creators, including Alan Moore, Peter Milligan, Garth Ennis, and Grant Morrison, to name just a few.

There’s no overarching plot in 2000 AD; rather, each issue is comprised of a few five- and six-page stories, each of which is usually a part of some longer narrative that unfolds over several weeks, months, or even years. And while I picked Harry 20 as my starting point, it’s possible to dive in virtually anywhere. Approaching the comic for the first time, though, I was skeptical of just how good such a heavily segmented story could be. Would half the comic be spent recapping earlier plot points? And what exactly can a writer accomplish in just five pages, anyway? These were the questions I had as I began to read Harry 20 on the High Rock.

Luckily, I had nothing to fear. In fact, the short length of each chapter is actually one of the book’s greatest assets. Aware of what limited space he has, writer Gerry Finley-Day doesn’t waste a single panel, propelling the story forward at incredible speed even as he develops the central characters with surprising finesse. But I’m getting ahead of myself – I haven’t even explained the premise of the story yet. (I’ll just chalk that up as a side effect of the book’s breakneck pace!)

Harry 20 on the High Rock takes place in a future where the worst criminals are jailed not on Earth, but on an orbiting satellite known as the High Rock. And, as we learn on the first page: “The High Rock is Hell!” Tormented by sadistic guards and stripped of their surnames (which are replaced by numbers, reflecting the number of years each man is to be imprisoned), the High Rock is not at all a happy place for its prisoners. It’s also where our protagonist, Harry Thompson, is sent at the beginning of the book to serve twenty years for a crime he didn’t commit. His one goal, from the moment he arrives? Escape!

It won’t be easy, however, and Harry wastes little time in gaining the trust and help of his cellmates: Genghis Eighteen, a Mongolian imprisoned for refusing to sell his family’s land to the military, and Ben Ninety, an apparently crazy old man who may very well have been on the High Rock since it was built. Incorporating the best elements of all the greatest prison films and TV shows – camaraderie between those wronged by the system, rivalries with other inmates, a cadre of inhumanly evil guards led by a maniacal warden, and a truly wild escape plan – Finley-Day crafts a suspenseful, unpredictable story that also happens to be paced perfectly.

Not really knowing what to expect of Finley-Day’s writing before I began reading, though, the main draw of this book for me at the outset was that it features the earliest professional comics artwork by one of my favorite artists, Alan Davis. Since it comes from such an early point in his career, I had expected the art to be a little rough. But remarkably enough, Davis is at top form in these pages. Most impressively, it’s obvious that he put a great deal of work into the design of the High Rock itself. In fact, schematics that appear throughout the story show that Davis actually mapped out the entire prison from top to bottom, inside and out. The effect is that when the prisoners despair that there’s no way to escape the High Rock, it’s not a mere plot contrivance; instead, it’s the visual nature of the place Davis has created that makes us believe in the hopelessness of Harry’s situation.

As much as it may sound like an overstatement, I feel quite confident in saying that Harry 20 on the High Rock is one of the best self-contained comic book stories I’ve ever read. The story and the artwork are perfect individually, and put together, they make for something truly awe-inspiring. If this book is at all representative of the quality of the rest of 2000 AD, I can’t wait to read more. Consider me converted!

Rating: 5 out of 5