Back in my comics reading heyday, meaning back in the 1970s and early 1980s, one of the many things I just loved were the digests. When I went through a brief Archie phase, the Archie digests were always my favorites, and when DC started churning them out in the late ‘70s, I was all over them. They were such a great source of reprinted stories from the ‘50s through the mid-‘70s, so, among other things, you could read up on tons of DC’s Golden (occasionally), Silver and early Bronze Age lore. All told, between its two main digest series, Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest and Special Blue Ribbon Digest, plus the last 13 issues of Adventure that were in digest format, and the occasional issue of DC Special Series and a few other miscellaneous editions, up to the mid-1980s DC published around 120 or so digests. I didn’t even come close to having all of these back in the day, but I nevertheless had a pretty big stack of them (somewhere between 35 and 40).
But back then, and even later, I always wondered why Marvel never made a bid to get some of that sweet, sweet digest cash. And before anyone mentions it in the comments: yes, I know about the pocket books from the late 1970s; I had all but one (Captain America) back then, and even now I’ve managed to re-acquire most of them.
In fact, back in 2014, this glaring lack of Marvel digests led to a series of posts at the now quite sadly defunct, Bronze Age Babies blog under the heading “Blue Ribbon Digest” in which one of the blog’s hosts, Doug, threw out a character or team and suggested possible issues for hypothetical Marvel digests that could have been published in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Everybody had a lot of fun with those in the comments.
But now, finally, thanks to some kind of distribution deal with Archie Comics, Marvel is finally producing digests which can be purchased where comics used to be available. So you USians (and Canadians, too, I think) have the luxury of picking these up wherever you can find Archie digests (i.e., in the checkout lines of grocery stores, and also at bookstores like Barnes & Noble; but, I’ve been led to understand, usually not in comic book shops). They’re also available via Amazon, but it just seems more fun to me to snap them up in a check-out line.
The way I got my hands on these all the way over here in Croatia was rather circuitous: I asked my sister and brother-in-law (who live in Oregon) to keep an eye out for the first two, featuring Spider-man and the Avengers, and my brother-in-law, himself a former comics geek back in the ‘70s, came through. Then, one of my cousins who lives in Portland just happened to be going on a trip to Croatia this October so she brought them with her. And so voila!
The new digest series was kicked off with a Spider-man digest, released that past summer to coincide with the movie. It starts off with a story from the classic Lee/Ditko run, in fact Ditko’s last issue ever, #38, with the story “Just a Guy Named Joe,” which has always been a personal favorite.
The next four are reprints of ASM #s 156-159, an extended Doc Ock story, from the often overlooked, and thus underrated, Len Wein run on that title. I already have these stories in some Panini digests I bought some years back (possibly the subject of a future post) and normally I don’t like to double-dip, but heck, it’s a Marvel digest. I had to have it!
One thing I don’t like about the Spidey digest is that the covers to the issue reprinted therein are on these single page galleries, meaning they’re shrunk down even more in the already shrunken digest format.
Then we jump from the Bronze Age to material that’s all new to me. First, two Vulture stories from Marvel Age Spider-man that are adaptations of the first two Lee/Ditko Vulture stories in ASM, scripted by Daniel Quantz. I actually enjoyed these quite a bit, and really liked the art, by Mark Brooks:
This is followed by another, somewhat looser, adaptation of the first Sinister Six story in ASM Annual #1, from Marvel Adventures Spider-man #s 2-3, written by Erica David, with pencils by Patrick Scherberger and inks by Norman Lee. Like the preceding entries, quite enjoyable (even though, obviously, I still prefer the originals).
The final three stories are from the Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-man books that accompanied by the animated shows, specifically Ultimate Spider-man #1 and Ultimate Spider-man Web Warriors #8, which features a team-up of sorts with Deadpool. These I didn’t like as much as the stuff that came before, but they were still solidly entertaining, and I really liked the back-up feature from USM #1 by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton (in which SHIELD creates a mandroid body-double for Peter Parker). Also that final entry is the first Deadpool comic I’ve ever read.
Next up is the Avengers digest.
It starts off with the very first two issues, which I’m pretty sure everyone reading this knows all about. However, I just had to take this opportunity to reproduce what has to be one of the most bonkers panels in all of superhero comics:
Keeping with the format of the first digest, we now jump to the (very late) Bronze Age, for three issues, #s 235-237, from Roger Stern’s excellent run on the title. This doesn’t have the great art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer that marked the second leg of Stern’s run, but it’s still solid work by Bob Budiansky and then Al Milgrom, all inked by Joe Sinnott. The stories, are of course, quite good, but that’s a given when Stern’s the writer. Also, this digest corrects what I see as the major failing of the first one: the covers are reprinted in full page size:
After that, there’s a jump to the post-2000 period. First up are two stories from Marvel Adventures Avengers, #s 9 and 16. The stories are both by Jeff Parker, with art by Juan Santacruz and Raul Fernandez in the first story, and pencilers Steve Scott and Ronan and Cliquet and inkers Nathaniel Massengill and Amilton Santos in the second. Much as I hate the idea of X-men like Wolverine and Storm being Avengers, I really enjoyed both of these stories.
And again, the book closes off with a few stories tied to the animated features and the MCU, reprinting stories from Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #6 and Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble #s 1-2. These were my least favorite parts of the book, but they were still pretty solid. And, in fact, they could all serve as storyboards for some live-action Avengers shorts.
So my overall assessment is that I really like these books. First and foremost, as noted above, I just love that there are Marvel digests. Sure, this should have happened ages ago, like back when I was a kid, but better late than never, I guess. Second, they’re really good all-ages books. No parent has to worry about handing one of these to their kids, and I think they’re a great starting point for any kid who wants to read some super-hero comics.
The third one, featuring Thor (again, and quite shrewdly, to coincide with the movie release), is already out:
And the fourth one will feature the X-men.
By the way, for those of you who are fans of comics digests, I highly recommend the Digest Cast podcast. That’s one of my personal favorites from the many shows you can find at the Fire & Water network.