Hatcher’s Junk Drawer #13: Big Damn Comics Edition

For some reason I’m getting a lot of really hefty tomes about comics in here lately.

Now, regular readers know I’m all about the bulk editions…. have been ever since I was a kid, really.

And even as an adult they are still my favorite thing ever. Especially when it comes to comics, I’m all about the volume.

Clearly, I’m not the only one. Publishers are getting hip to this and a number of humongous hardcover comics collections and histories and so on are showing up on the market.

However… regular readers probably also know that I can’t really afford to drop $100 or so on a big hardcover omnibus. Much as I would love to.

Sigh.

Every once in a while, though, I get lucky. I keep an eye on Amazon and AbeBooks and other online dealers and I am especially watchful for listings that caution “remainder mark,” which is basically a brand-new book that for whatever reason didn’t sell and is now being offered for pennies on the dollar. The only downside is that it’s got a little mark on the top or bottom with a felt-tip marker.

Well, hell, I don’t care about THAT. I’m not a fussbudget antiquarian, nor is my wife Julie. (Nothing fills my bride with horror like the idea of discarding something that might still be useful somehow. Our place is furnished in early Goodwill.) We almost never buy new… but when I do, it’s usually a book that’s been remaindered.

And, well, I’ve had a run of good fortune lately. Several books I could NEVER have afforded new suddenly showed up from various dealers, remaindered for way cheap. As it happens we had a nice little royalty check come in and so I snapped them up. They’re all fun and I’m glad to have them but they’re just HUUUGE. I decided that was reason enough to group them all together in a column, so here’s a rundown.

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The Marvel Age of Comics, 1961-1978, by Roy Thomas.

Taschen Publishing has been doing these giant coffee-table comics histories for a little while now– notably the DC 80-year one by Paul Levitz and the 75-year Marvel one from Roy Thomas. Both of those have been re-done and expanded into other volumes that cover smaller chunks of the same time period. I really enjoyed Paul Levitz’s Bronze Age of DC Comics, and so when I saw this marked down to roughly a quarter of its initial retail price, I snatched it up.

Now, these are art books, not hard-hitting histories. Generally this sort of book is mostly about giving you some fluffball interview stuff with participating creators and lots of beautiful reproductions of the art. But there are a lot of fun behind-the-scenes stories, and in this case, Thomas was THERE for a lot of it, so it’s got a little more meat on its bones. Here’s the blurb: It was an age of mighty heroes, misunderstood monsters, and complex villains. With the publication, in November 1961, of Fantastic Four No. 1, comics giant Marvel inaugurated a transformative era in pop culture. Through the next two decades, the iconic Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the X-Men leapt, darted, and towered through its pages. Captain America was resurrected from his 1940s deep-freeze and the Avengers became the World’s Greatest Super Heroes. Daredevil, Dr. Strange, and dozens more were added to the pantheon, each with their own rogues’ gallery of malevolent counterparts. Over 50 years later, these thrilling characters from the ’60s and ’70s are more popular than ever, fighting the good fight in comics, toy aisles, and blockbuster movies around the world.

In The Marvel Age of Comics 1961–1978, legendary writer and editor Roy Thomas takes you to the heart of this seminal segment in comic history―an age of triumphant character and narrative innovation that reinvented the super hero genre. With hundreds of images and insider insights, the book traces the birth of champions who were at once epic in their powers and adversaries and grounded in a world that readers recognized as close to their own; relatable heroes with the same problems, struggles, and shortcomings as everyone else. By the ’70s, we see how the House of Ideas also elevated horror, sword and sorcery, and martial arts in its stable of titanic demigods, introducing iconic characters like Man-Thing, Conan, and Shang-Chi and proving that their brand of storytelling could succeed and flourish outside of the capes and tights.

Behind it all, we get to know the extraordinary Marvel architects whose names are almost as familiar as the mortals (and immortals!) they brought to life―Stan “The Man” Lee, Jack “King” Kirby, and Steve Ditko, along with a roster of greats like John Romita, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Jim Steranko, and countless others. The result is a behind-the-scenes treasure trove and a jewel for any comic fan’s library, brimming with the innovation and energy of an invincible era for Marvel and its heroes alike.

So it’s not breaking a lot of new ground or anything, but there are a few nuggets of interesting trivia here and there. Mr. Thomas is good at keeping it all interesting and readable, and the book itself is just gorgeous.

On the one hand, it’s wonderful to see these things at the larger size.

On the other hand, the book’s almost too big to read comfortably. You could get a nice workout with this in one hand and the Levitz volume in the other, doing lifts like you would with barbells. But that is a complaint so petty I feel silly even saying anything about it. It’s mostly for the older comics fan, though, and that level of heft is a consideration for some of us when the arthritis is kicking in. Certainly not a deal-breaker for me, but I have to admit I felt a little clumsy and awkward just trying to read the damn thing.

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Watchmen: the Annotated Edition edited by Leslie Klinger. I acquired this one largely by accident, to be honest, but I really like it.

It started with me thinking, you know, I have all these classic comics around here in the single issues and I never read them; they’ve all had nice hardcover collections, I bet I could find one to read for cheap. Stuff like Starman, Sandman, Kingdom Come, and so on. I wasn’t looking for an Absolute Edition or anything like that, just a bookshelf copy so I didn’t have to root around in longboxes, and I figured I’d start with hardcovers because they tend to get remaindered when a paperback edition appears. (Julie gets annoyed with me when I give away little shopping tricks like this online, but I always consider fellow book people to be at least friends if not family. Good hunting, all.)

Anyway, when I went looking for Watchmen in hardcover this came up for $2.47, “remainder mark.” I knew Leslie Klinger from his Sherlockian books and thought, That’s an interesting meeting of minds, and at less than three bucks? Hell yeah. The book arrived in pristine condition (except for the remainder mark) and it’s really very cool.

The comic is reproduced in black-and-white, not color. But it’s still a nice edition and the annotations are mostly new information for me, and very interesting. Klinger had access to Moore’s original script, and he also consulted with Dave Gibbons, so the behind-the-scenes stuff is all pretty much from the horse’s mouth about how storytelling decisions were made. And there’s lots of helpful real-world history as well.

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It is a frigging ENORMOUS book, and another workout for my arthritic wrists, but so worth it. I’d thought after all these years there really wasn’t anything new for me about Watchmen, but this was a way to come to it with fresh eyes. Very much recommended. Turns out Mr. Klinger is doing the same thing with Sandman, and he’s three volumes in. I may have to put those on the remainder watch list too.

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Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, volumes one and two, by various hands; notably Doug Moench, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Rudy Nebres, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Paul Gulacy, along with news and reviews by Tony Isabella, Dave Kraft, and Don McGregor.

Marvel’s been collecting the Deadly Hands stuff here and there in a haphazard way in paperback for a while, but once I heard about these I was actively lusting for them.

You have to understand, I loved every issue of Deadly Hands I could lay my teenage hands on back in the day. Part of it was the lure of forbidden fruit; Mom hated David Carradine (“He’s a dirty hippie!”) so we never got to watch Kung Fu on TV, and the Bruce Lee movies were rated R, so those were definitely out. But reading was under the parental radar, so I was all over the paperback books and so on that were flooding the spinner racks at the time. And when I discovered the Marvel black-and-whites, this instantly became my favorite, even over Savage Sword of Conan. The trouble was, I came in very late, around issue #26.

I still loved it, though, and I tried my damnedest to keep up. A year or two later when I learned how to take the bus into Portland to hit up the used bookstores and so on I was able to get hold of most of the Marvel black-and-white magazines but Deadly Hands was maddeningly elusive. Still is– the Bruce Lee collectors are after it, along with plain old comics fans. So it goes for gouger’s prices, usually. As an adult I haunted eBay and other dealer sites and put together a fair chunk of the run, but not all of it.

So I was overjoyed to see that it was finally going to be reprinted…. until I saw the price tag. There was no way. But then last month, by a miracle, I found a remaindered set for thirty bucks and snatched it up.

To my great joy, this collects not just the comics but EVERYTHING– a lot of the fun of Deadly Hands was not just the comics but also the articles. Don McGregor wrote huge, passionate, 20,000-word reviews of the most spectacularly awful chop-socky grindhouse fare, and guys like John Warner and Dave Kraft would do overviews of “the martial arts scene,” like whatever schlock paperback series were out there and so on, and even Denny O’Neil sneaked over from DC to write a prose piece once in a while.

They even included the house ads.

It’s put a big silly grin on my face to see all that stuff again. Especially the Sons of the Tiger by Bill Mantlo and George Perez, which was just gonzo-dog-crazy.

(Years later Mantlo would admit that “We were doing a martial arts strip without actually knowing anything about the martial arts.”)

These omnibus volumes retail for $125 each, and there was no damn way I was EVER going to drop two hundred and fifty bucks just to wallow in my teenage love of seventies exploitation martial arts junk. But for thirty… god DAMN it’s been a hoot to have these here and FINALLY find out what the hell happened with White Tiger and his sister. Still, I can’t honestly recommend these unless you love the stuff as much as I do, not at that price (or even discounted to $75 each as I often see them) but they are a lot of fun if you get a chance to score them cheap.

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Tales of the Batman: Gerry Conway Volume Three by Gerry Conway, Don Newton, and Gene Colan, among others.

This is the third and final volume of the run Conway did in the 1980s, when he made Batman and Detective essentially the same serialized book, and it’s the best of the three. This is the run that introduced Killer Croc and Jason Todd, and wrapped up several big storylines like the Vicki Vale investigation into whether or not Bruce Wayne was Batman, as well as the final fate of Boss Thorne.

Some of these were reprinted in the Gene Colan volumes but those were maddeningly incomplete because when the story ran from Batman to Detective, Colan generally was only drawing Detective, so you never got the whole thing. But here it’s all seamless and it’s been great fun to see the other half of the story, especially since Don Newton was doing some of his best work here.

This one, I confess, I paid full price for; I was too impatient to wait for the remainders to show up. I adored this eighties run of Conway’s and when Doug Moench picked up the ball and ran with it, it got even better. I wish DC would get around to getting those back into print as well. These Tales of the Batman hardcovers are pretty much my desert island Bat books and I budget for them.

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And there you go. Lots to read AND a nice workout for the upper body. I’m hoping to get back on schedule here, so I’m going to try to be back next week with something cool.

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10 Comments

  1. Eric van Schaik

    Hi Greg, I got the Bronze Age of DC Comics the same way!
    In Holland there’s Het Boekenfestijn where books (mostly) and a small amount of comics are sold with a larger mark at the top of the books. Most of the time it’s Marvel junk but from time to time there’s a gem. At another visit I got the Wolverine Adamantium edition for half price but without the large slipcase, but who cares!!!

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Up top, you basically described the exact way I also prowl for books online, and yes, I love it when I find remaindered books being offered for cut-rate prices. I have so many collected editions of comics, both HCs and TPBs, with remainder marks on them – which I couldn’t care less about. I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that a remainder mark would be a deal-breaker for someone.
    Some of my absolutely favorite personal triumphs in this regard, i.e., finding incredibly cheap brand-new books, include the Black Panther Masterworks, the Steve Ditko Omnibus vol. 1 (DC), the complete collection of Simonson’s Starslammers, and Captain America: War & Remembrance (collecting the Stern/Byrne run).

    I still envy you for finding the Deadly Hands collections so cheaply. I haven’t been that lucky when looking for those.

    By the way, I don’t understand why DC published the Batman by Gene Colan books and then the Gerry Conway volumes, reprinting some of the same material twice – but leaving incomplete stories in the former as you noted. They should have just done the gone down the Conway route right away. (That’s also why I removed the Alan Davis Batman collection from my want-list: I really want the Barr/Davis run on Detective, but it only has the first installment of Year Two; it would have been better to publish a Mike Barr volume, so that whole story could have been included.)

  3. I’m not sure why your link is only showing the first 3 Annotated Sandman volumes, because the fourth (and final, unless there’s going to be another with Overture and anything else that wasn’t covered before) has been out for a few years. I’d forgotten there was a Watchmen one, but all of those ones are on my list of “boy, I’d like alla them neato big books!” It’s actually a selling point for me to get the B&W version as well (the Sandman ones are also B&W), because I like looking at process stuff, and seeing comics art before the coloring is done is pretty cool a lot of times. (Not quite related aside: I want to get the Noir B&W version of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight stuff, because that’s gotta look cool in B&W — nothing against Lynn Varley’s amazing colors, of course).

  4. jccalhoun

    Just last night I was checking ebay and amazon for copies of Legion Archives books. That later ones are over a hundred. I am almost exclusively digital these days but I would still love to have a complete set of Legion Archives sitting on my shelves.

    DC really needs to reprint these.

  5. I’m willing to pay full price if it’s something I really want and I have the money — I bought a high-priced copy of the Jungle Action T’Challa run for about $100 when I had a large cash Christmas gift. But yes, it’s awesome to find it cheap.
    The Omnibus editions at DC are impressively heavy, but the art inside looks so damn good, I don’t mind.

  6. Jeff Nettleton

    Taschen is a terrific publisher, especially for lovers of modern art, pop culture, architecture, and associated stuff. We used to get a of of their material, both new and remaindered/bargain books. I had quite a set of their Icons series, covering everything from futurist art in Mechanix Illustrated and advertising, to travel posters, Giger art, modern chair designs, and Hawaiian travel materials. They had a series of $9.99 basic retrospectives of many noted Mid-Century Modern Architects (Saarinen, Eames, Le Corbusier, Van der Roe, etc) and I had a stack of those. They had a series, by decade, of advertising art, pop culture art and design by decades, photo collections, art retrospectives and such. I had their retrospective of the men’s adventure pulp magazines, edited by Dian Hasson, who has also edited collections about girlie magazines, pin-up artists, fetish artists (like Stanton, who shared a studio with Ditko), and similar fare.

    We got some nice comic remainders in our bargain section, over the years. For a while, we had a license to reprint that big Marvel book (the big black cover, with the raised cover art), got most of the Les Daniels books, the Evanier Kirby book, the Willie & Joe slipcase reprint collection (from Fantagraphics) the Don Martin Mad book, the Taschen books, and some others. I did notice we got more remaindered Marvel trade books than DC, probably because DC would keep theirs in print, while Marvel seemed to let them lapse after a couple of print runs.

  7. I have a complete set of those Legion Archives that jccalhoun mentions above, and if they are that pricey these days I’m really glad I got them when I did.

    I normally find the giant hardcover Omnibus editions to be a bit too unwieldy to actually read, but that doesn’t stop me from getting one if it’s the only to get what I’m after. For me, so far, that’s just meant getting the Superman: Exile and Other Stories Omnibus, which I’m pretty sure is the only example of DC reprinting its “Triangle Years” Superman in an extended chronological manner, rather than just around themes or particular storylines.

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