Marvel Comics Digests: a post-mortem

Well, it was fun while it lasted…

So, back in late 2017, I wrote about the Marvel Comics Digests – a project to put Marvel Comics back on grocery store check-out lanes, as well as the book & magazine sections of certain department stores (and select bookstores). This was a collaboration with Archie Comics, which distributed them in its own channels, i.e., the same places where it puts its own digests on the market.

At the time, I was delighted, because Marvel digests like these were something I longed for back in my early comics reading days in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, when I was eating up the DC digests.

My hope back then was that the new Marvel digests would become a regular thing, just like the Archie digests. Unfortunately, though, the line folded after only a year and 8 volumes. I’m assuming sales didn’t warrant its continuation. Which is too bad, because these aren’t bad little books at all. I have the whole set, and I have to say, at about 220 pages each, they really pack in a lot of content.

As I noted in my original post, these contain a nice mixture of stories. The selection formula is: some classic stories from the 1960s, followed by newer but still classic stories from the 1970s or 1980s, and then some post-2000 stuff from the various all ages titles (in Marvel Age, Marvel Adventures or Marvel Universe lines). The emphasis, of course, was to make sure that all of the material included in these books is kid-friendly – or rather, parent-friendly, in the sense that parents wouldn’t balk at picking up one of these and giving it to their preteen children.

Although the conclusion to the Warlock saga (in the sixth issue) might be pushing it…

Below is a rundown of the entire line. I’m including a listing of the contents of each volume below, because I couldn’t find a single site that had them all (which I admit may be due to my inadequate Google-fu acumen). The GCD (Grand Comics Database) only has two volumes indexed (#1 and 7), while other sites, including Archie’s product page, only has content listings for about four of them.

Marvel Comics Digest #1: Starring the Amazing Spider-man
Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #38, 156-159
Marvel Age Spider-Man 1, #6
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man (2005) #2-3
Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man #1
Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors #8

 

Marvel Comics Digest #2: Avengers Assemble!
Avengers (1963) #1-2, #235-237
Marvel Adventures The Avengers #9, #16
Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2012) #6
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble #1-2

I talked about the first two volumes at length in my original post about Marvel digests linked above, so I won’t bother re-hashing my thoughts on them here.

Marvel Comics Digest #3: Starring Thor
Thor (1966) #154-157
Thor Annual (1966) #6
Marvel Age Spider-Man Team-Up (2004) #4
Marvel Adventures Super Heroes (2010) #6
Marvel Adventures Super Heroes (2010) #19
Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2012) #9
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble (2013) #4

This may be the best of the lot in terms of the stories in the overall package. You’ve got the big four-issue Man-Gog throwdown from the Lee/Kirby run, followed by the team-up with the Guardians of the Galaxy in the far future to fight Korvac from his pre-god days. The more modern stories are all fun reads as well, including a team-up with Spider-man, some Asgardian antics and a tussle with the Midgard Serpent. My only complaint would be that there’s nothing here from Walt Simonson’s run, but then again, I have to admit I can’t think of any single issue (or two) in that run that you can pull out to include here. We have to settle for a pin-up by Simonson in the back.

Better than nothing, I guess

Marvel Comics Digest #4: Starring the X-men
X-Men (1963) #4, 5 and 9
Uncanny X-Men (1981) #153
X-Men: First Class (2006) #1-2
Marvel Girl (2011) One-Shot
Wolverine: First Class (2008) #1
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man (2005) #59

I liked this one more than I thought I would, and what I liked best weren’t in fact, the classic stories, but rather the newer material in the back. I had never read any of the ‘First Class’ stuff, and just loved it all, but esp. the stories by Jeff Parker. In fact, I would say that these digests introduced me to Parker’s writing. I really like all of the various stories by him included in these books, but especially the X-men: First Class stories. Outside of the Thomas/Adams run, I never liked the original team as much as the later all-new crew, but Parker really gave me a new appreciation for the yellow-and-black clad bunch.

The scribbled up yearbook page is a cute touch

Generally I’m not the biggest fan of Wolverine once he became overexposed. However, I was surprised to find that I also liked the Wolverine: First Class story (written by Fred Van Lente). Needless to say, I’ll be on the lookout for more of this First Class stuff in the future.

Marvel Comics Digest #5: Avengers featuring Black Panther
Avengers (1963) 3-4, 57-58 and 126
Marvel Adventures: The Avengers (2006) #1, 3
Marvel Universe – Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2012) #1, 3, 5
Marvel Universe: Avengers Assemble (2013) #3

Now I’m back to preferring the older stuff, especially the two-parter in Avengers #57-58 that introduced the Vision has always been a favorite story of mine. It’s one of the highlights of the Thomas/Buscema run. My only, minor, complaint is that the cover has that “featuring Black Panther” blurb (obviously a marketing ploy to tie it in to the movie), but not many of the stories focus on or highlight BP – sure, he appears in the Vision story from the 1960s, but mostly as a background character. He does save the day in Avengers #126, which is nice, but then he only appears in two of the all-ages material in the back half, and really, he’s only the main character is a back-up story in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #3.

…it’s a fun little story, but still…

Were there really so few appearances by T’Challa in the various Marvel Adventures, Marvel Age, Marvel Universe lines? Not that I’m complaining too much; again, there’s two great Jeff Parker stories (from Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #s 1 and 3) here.

Marvel Comics Digest #6: Avengers featuring Thanos
Avengers (1963) #6-7
Iron Man (1968) #55
Avengers (1963) #125
Avengers Annual (1967) #7
Marvel Two-In-One Annual (1976) #2
Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010) #3
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble: Season Two (2014) #1-2

This one lives up to its “featuring Thanos” blurb quite well, as he appears in all but three of the stories included herein. Again, a really nice package, since it includes the epic end of the Warlock saga from Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel 2-in-1 Annual #2.

The story from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #3, which involves the Collector and Grandmaster betting on who would win in a knock-down drag-out between Thor and Hulk, is – given how overplayed that trope has been since the beginning of the Marvel Age back in the 1960s – quite enjoyable, and actually has a few nice character moments.

Marvel Comics Digest #7: Avengers featuring Ant-Man and the Wasp
Tales to Astonish (1959) #44
Avengers (1963) #8, 11
Marvel Premiere (1972) #47-48
Avengers (1963) #195-196
Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #4
Marvel Adventures Super Heroes (2010) #19
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble (2013) #4
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble: Season Two (2014) #9

This one almost matches the Thor volume in terms of the outstanding selection of content: you get the classic Ant Man story that introduces the Wasp, plus the first appearance of Scott Lang. Besides the ‘classic’ material, I also really enjoyed the story from Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #4, which involves a fight against the Masters of Evil, and an out-of-control giant robot, while Wasp is trying to get a group photograph of the whole team. Kind of silly, but great fun nonetheless.

However, eagle-eyed readers will notice something here that is my first major criticism of these digests: yep, this one includes Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble  #4, which is also included in the third digest featuring Thor. I’m assuming this some kind of mistake, because the story, involving Dr. Doom summoning the Midgard Serpent, doesn’t even feature the Wasp or Ant Man/Giant Man/Yellowjacket.

Marvel Comics Digest #8: Amazing Spider-man featuring Venom
Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #51, 52, 252, and 258
Web of Spider-Man (1985) #1
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man (2005) #21, 24, and 35
Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man (2012) #2-3

Normally, I avoid Venom like the plague – just not interested in that character in any way whatsoever. But he doesn’t really appear much here. In the first half of the book, after the first two featuring a Kingpin story from the 1960s, the stories mainly focus on the alien costume before it became Venom. And it even has the famous, or perhaps notorious, story when Spidey leaves the alien costume in the Baxter Building and has to go home with an improvised outfit provided by the Human Torch.

They should have at least spun out a mini-series with Spidey wearing this get-up

Venom only appears in twice, in the all-ages stories in the second half, where he’s far more palatable: one is the origin of Venom in Marvel Adventures Spider-man #24, and the other is a goofy bit in Marvel Adventures Spider-man #35, where he claims he wants to be Spider-man’s sidekick. Much silliness ensues, and I honestly found it pretty funny.

***

So that’s my rundown; I have one other major criticism, which applies to pretty much all of them: the dark coloring on the reprints from the Marvel Universe line, mainly Avengers Assemble, but also Ultimate Spider-man. These are straight adaptations of the cartoons, and it looks like they just reproduced stills from the cartoons themselves, so the panels look really dark and muddy, and often it’s hard to make out some of the art.

The images actually become a bit easier to discern after they’re scanned; however, I still can’t figure out what’s going on in that last panel.

Overall, though, I really like these little books – as one may suspect from some of my previous posts, I tend to like books that come in small packages.

Corrections department: I have to slightly modify a claim I made in my original post back in 2017, i.e., that Marvel had never published digests before this. I later learned that Marvel did, in fact, publish a bunch of digests in the late 1980s (something of which I was blissfully unaware at the time). Most of them featured Spider-man and the Transformers – there were 13 of the former and 10 of the latter. However, these were mainly simple reprint books (which, by the way, were called ‘comic magazines’ for some reason). The Transformers volumes reprinted about two issues each of the regular comics series published by Marvel, while the Spider-man volumes, near as I can tell, reprinted about 3 issues each from the mid-1960s run of ASM (starting with #51). So they were not, either in terms of page count or content, like the curated digests that DC was publishing up until the mid-1980s, or these more recent Marvel digests.

4 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    Looks like a good little series. If I had it, it’d even fill in a couple of small gaps for me.

    There was a run of hardcovers they sold through newsagents for a while (they might still be selling them, for all I know). They were cheaply-priced for what they were, and their spines would line up to make one big picture. I was given one of them, but I looked into what they were reprinting and it was a combination of ‘got it’, ‘never heard of it’, and ‘eww, no way is that going into my collection’, with only a very few ‘want it’s, so I never committed – but it’d be good for some collectors, and would be worth looking into for some people.
    The thing that reminds me of your digests is – again – sold through newsagents. Normies can get ’em!

  2. Rob Allen

    Thanks for writing this! I’ve got all eight issues and was thinking about doing a review thread at the Classic Comics Forum but have never had the time & energy to do it. I enjoyed reading the digests and speculating about the choices they made on what to include. Too bad they pulled the plug on it. There was a cover for the unpublished ninth issue that was online; not sure if that’s still findable.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      I’ve seen the proposed covers for the unpublished ninth and also tenth issues at various sites; the former would have featured the X-men with a focus on Wolverine, while the latter would have been another Spider-man volume featuring Miles Morales.
      Just checked, the product page for the Marvel digests at Lone Star (mycomicshop.com) has listings and cover images for the last two issues that weren’t to be: no. 9 and no. 10.
      Since someone had gone to the trouble to create covers, I’m assuming the books had already largely been put together as well. It’s too bad that they didn’t at least go ahead and publish those last two before killing the series.

      1. Well, honestly, those covers couldn’t have taken too long for anyone to put together, so they may not have put the actual books together ever….

        I loved this series but I don’t think I read the last couple yet. Glad you went through these and wrote about them. I agree that the newer stuff was really dark and hard to read, but generally the stories were ok.

        And technically, it lasted almost a year and a half, because these came out every two months…. 😉

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