Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Marvel Essentials.

Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1
Sometime in the late 1990s, I walked into the now-deceased Star Store on Sheffield's Cambridge Street and stumbled across a humble little book on a low shelf. It clearly hadn't been cut right - the cover being marginally smaller than the pages it was meant to be covering.

However, a close inspection revealed it reprinted the first 20-or-so issues of The Amazing Spider-Man - in glorious black and white, just as I remembered them as a child.

Needless to say I had to buy it.

That slightly dog-eared book was of course The Essential Spider-Man and, since then, those mind-controlling villains at Marvel have taken full advantage of my mental weakness by bringing out ever-more Marvel Essentials to prise my money from me. Creaking are my shelves with the weight of Essentials.

Well, there's no fool like an old fool and, still bitten by that bug, I've just gone mad and bought a whole slew more of the things: Thor Volumes 4 and 5, The Avengers Volume 6, and even the first two Captain America Essentials, even though I have no great interest in Captain America.

In terms of consistency my favourite run of Essentials is The Amazing Spider-Man from the start of Steve Ditko all the way through to the end of Ross Andru. The ability of that strip through the first fifteen years of its life to keep improving as it went along's genuinely astonishing and reflects just how strong the central concepts and characters of the title really were.

Essential Avengers Volume 3
My favourite individual volume's probably Essential Avengers Volume 3 with all those Roy Thomas/John Buscema/George Klein tales.

My least favourite so far's been the Essential Killraven which totally failed to engage me despite me having loved the strip as a child. And I can't ignore the fact that Volume 1 of The Incredible Hulk's mostly poor, with even the likes of John Buscema and Gil Kane somehow failing to bring it to life.

Even for one with my addiction to the books, I can't deny there are certain Essentials I'll probably never own. With all the will in the world, I can't see myself ever buying The Essential Human Torch or Essential Ant-Man. However, Essential Sub-Mariner and Captain Marvel are on my future shopping list, as are all the Tomb of Dracula and Defenders books.

All this rambling is of course not done without ulterior motive. It's simply my way of leading up to the big question. Are you a fan of the Marvel Essentials and which have been your favourite and least favourite ones so far?


Kid said...

I have a few Essentials volumes because, like you, I first encountered Marvel stories in b&w reprints. (The Odhams Power Comics, most of which I still own.) I even have the colour Masterwork editions of most of those stories as well - including Ant Man/Giant Man and the Human Torch. The reproduction in some of the early Essentials books was rather poor 'though.

Doug said...

Steve --

In regard to the Avengers Vol. 3, don't you think some of the reproductions are terrible? The cover you picture is the same edition that I have, and it looks like about half of the issues inside were shot from original art, while the other half look like poor photocopies of the colored pages. Very muddy...

But overall it is a great volume -- lots of wonderful stuff, and you're right about the creative team. At its zenith.


Rip Jagger said...

I love the Essentials and Showcase books. They are cheap and easy to read and give you a ton of storytelling for a nice price.

The Essentials volume I most craved was the Ant-Man volume. It was the one which had stories I'd never seen in any other format before.

One thing I did with my Essentials after several were available was to do a chronological reading of Marvel, month by month.

The story is really intriguing as the characters shift around and develop. By the time the Hulk series gets canceled they really had their acts together and the saga just rolled along.

Rip Off

Steve W. said...

Doug; The reproduction in The Avengers Vol 3 is indeed terrible in places and, as you say, a number of the earlier tales in it are clearly copied direct from published comics. It always seemed a shame Marvel didn't make the effort to clean the images up.

Then again, I grew up reading the reprints in the UK Marvel comics which generally looked even worse. So, for me, it was like an exercise in nostalgia to see the the stories looking so bad.

HannibalCat said...

I do have a great many of the Essentials, mostly purchased from Forbidden Planet on Matilda Street, or from Waterstone's while I worked there. Captain Marvel gave me another look at the great Gene Colan's work, as did all the Tomb of Dracula Essentials, and Howard the Duck let me read the one Gerber issue I don't own. Like yourself, I never bothered with Ant Man or The Human Torch, but the fact that the Essentials reprints let me go back to the first stories of Spider-Man and Captain America I ever read in the UK weeklies and then see all that came before them is just priceless. I love these value for money editions.

pete doree said...

Like you lot, I read all this stuff in UK weeklies, so the Essential's totally work for me. B & W obviously doesn't hurt Colan on Tomb Of Dracula one jot, but it also makes Bryne & Austin's X-Men shine too. Although it is a shame that, due to the chonological nature of them, I often find myself buying vol. 1 & 2 of something to get all the issues I'd like, when I'd rather just buy one. Case in point, Man-Thing, where it would've been nicer to have the whole Gerber run in one book, and not have to suffer Claremont's godawful sequel. Also Defenders: All of Englehart's run, followed by all of Gerber's in seperate volumes would've been nice, but that's not the point of Essentials. And it is nice to finally read the gaps in your collection.
So, the ones to get: Anything by Gerber, especially Tales Of The Zombie, as it works as one complete story, Avengers 3, 4 & 6 ( though not 5, very filler-y stuff there ), Dracula & the whole Lee / Kirby FF and of course Spidey. Not that everything else is rubbish ( I still like Killraven! ), but those are truly 'essential'
Not to get? Godzilla & Spider-Woman. Crap then, still crap.

Ade Salmon said...

Just won Essential Defenders Vol. 3 on ebay nice and cheap today ( it's hard to find cheaply it seems) , after finding the first two volumes in a secondhand bookshop recently. I actually have a very decent run of the Non Team's original colour books but not the very earliest issues so Vol. 1 has been a godsend! I too was weaned on early British Marvel's so reading these books reminds me alot of those times.


Steve W. said...

Pete; I only discovered less than half an hour ago that there's an Essential Godzilla. The existence of such a thing does strike me as madness.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend Essential Doctor Strange vol 1 -3 with some amazing work by Ditko, Colan, B W Smith and Frank Brunner just lovely stuff - some of the titles like - The Marvel Horror issues have some nice work in them as well as does the Moon Knight issues - never understood why Dazzler got the Essentials treatment though McScotty

R. W. Watkins said...

Sorry, but I consider an essential element of classic Marvel to have been colour. Scott McCloud touches on this in Understanding Comics ('A Word About Colour'), when he mentions how the masters of flat-colour comics have also been, above all, 'masters of form and composition', and cites Ditko and Kirby in the process. Ditko works okay in black and white provided he's drawing his own stories involving his own creations. Granted, his work for Marvel works far better in b & w then his work for those old b & w horror magazines in the late '60s. Still, I can't say I'm a fan of The Essentials series.

Anonymous said...

Defenders, Moon Knight, Luke Cage, Marvel Two-in-one, Nova, Super Villain Team -up, Tomb of Dracula, Howard the Duck and (yes) KIllraven are all great, I think Dr Strange is better in colour because of the "psychedelic" nature of some of the tales, although Ditko would strongly disagree with my adjective.


Boston Bill said...

I like the Essentials series. Yes, they would be better in colour; yes, even some of the black and white reproductions leave a lot to be desired; but I can cheaply read through the entire run of a character/title and finally find out what happened, instead of reading a synopsis of it in a later comic, or an edited reprint (as in Marvel Tales).
My real problem is the 'Essential' title itself. 'Essential' implies indispensable - but I doubt any one of these volumes is filled with completely essential tales. 'Complete' would have done it a lot better.
Oh, and 'Essential Defenders Vol I' gets my vote for the best one. It contains the stories in issues of the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and Dr Strange that lead to the creation of the group and complete the origin story much more nicely than merely starting out with the group's first official appearance. Plus, Roy Thomas wrote most of the issues, giving it a good feeling of continuity.

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

pick up Fantastic Four, Vol.3 ...you won't be sorry!

Steve W. said...

I have Fantastic Four Vol 3, and I agree with you.

Mentor said...

There are some titles that I simply can't read in black and white. For me, it's integral to read Ditko's Dr. Strange in color. I feel the same about Essential Killraven. I think Starlin's Warlock is like that. Sometimes color is just a very important piece of the puzzle. By contrast, I can look at Colan, Ditko, Romita art in b&w all day long.

I have a current run of the Essential Spider-Man volumes. Those are very readable in b&w. Particularly the Ditko and Romita run.

I think two other pretty good Essential volumes are SuperVillain Team Up and Man-Thing. SuperVillain is nice for reference purposes in that the entire run is in one volume.

And that's why I enjoy Essentials, mainly for quick reference, you can be rough with them, fold them in half, toss them around. Can't do that with a Masterworks.

Mentor said...

Speaking of Human Torch, I recently bought vol 1 of the silver age Human Torch stories from Strange Tales. I was surprised at how fun those stories are. I enjoyed it so much I bought vol 2.

I also bought the AntMan/GiantMan vol and was similarly surprised. Neither the SA Torch or Antman are Kirby's best work or Stans best storytelling. But they're very lighthearted and silly kitsch.

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