The Official Marvel Graphic Novel Collection 1
Tony Keen — 13-Jan-12
So, after an abortive go at this in the summer of 2011, Hachette, since 2010 Marvel’s partners in the book trade, bring readers a 60-part collection of ‘the best of Marvel’s comics’. Welll …, perhaps not quite. Over the next couple of years will bring you 60 volumes of graphic novels ‘from the last thirty years of Marvel’. Huh? Even Hachette’s own publicity leaflet, included with the first issue, concedes that ‘For over forty years Marvel have entertained fans of all ages’ (over fifty, actually, but evidently no-one’s much counting). Why are the 1960s and 1970s excluded? Would it cost too much to recolour the pages to the standards used here? Are there copyright and royalty issues? Is it just that those stories are considered too ‘unsophisticated’ for modern audiences (i.e. not drenched in post-Watchmen grimness and violence)? Whatever the reason, a collection that explicitly excludes Marvel’s most creative decades can hardly claim to be ‘the best of Marvel’, ‘ultimate’ or ‘definitive’.
But surprisingly, that is the only real complaint I have about this series (apart from describing X-Men: Dark Phoenix as ‘the novel that inspired the first X-Men film’, correcting any foolish notion that it in fact inspired the third). The first volume is handsomely bound in good quality hardback covers, and nicely printed, and unlike most partworks, where you end up assembling a kit of HMS Victory for twice as much as it would cost you in a model shop, this is actually good value. The first issue, priced at £2.99, is certainly so. For the second issue, Dark Phoenix, the price goes up to £6.99, and after that to £9.99. But these prices are still comparable to what one would normally pay for a full-colour paperback of these stories.
The first release is Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home, the first story from J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the title. Straczynski brought ‘a mythical element to the character that had never been attempted before’, reconfiguring Spidey’s origins in a similar way to that in which Alan Moore and spun round the origin of Swamp Thing two decades before. Whether Spider-Man needed this element is another question, and the new villain introduced, supposedly tougher than any other threat Peter Parker has ever faced before (and this is a man who has faced off against the Super-Skrull in his time), turns out to be just rather dull, lacking the colour of the great Lee/Ditko villains such as Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin. But still, Straczynski’s a good writer, who knows how to construct a story well (and I bet he doesn’t think 1960s and 1970s Marvels are unsophisticated). The art by John Romita Jr is fine, displaying a storytelling skill that many modern artists lack, and employing the scratchy, blocky style he developed when he finally came out from under the shadow of his father.
The next five issues will carry X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Iron Man: Extremis, and The Ultimates: Superhuman, Spider-Man: Venom and Thor: Reborn, and future issues will include Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations (the sequel to this story) and Neil Gaiman’s Eternals, plus Kurt Busiek’s first Avengers volume and Avengers Forever. And 50 other volumes that I don’t yet know what they are.
I can’t say I’d recommend taking out a subscription to this series (not even for the free gifts!) – it’s a big committment when you don’t quite know what you’re going to be getting. But if there are stories published here that you don’t have and want, this isn’t a bad way to pick them up. Assuming you can find them in your local newsagents.