In praise of Panini Pocketbooks

As a sort of follow-up to my last post about Marvel-by-way-of-Archie-Comics digests and, I suppose, to underscore the initial point made here not too long ago by frasersherman about the present-day easy access to so much older comic material in a number of formats, I wanted to give a little shout-out to some books that have been a real boon to me in since I got back into comics in a big way in the mid-‘00s: the Panini digests, or pocketbooks as they’re called on their covers. (Also, since it’s still the holiday season – Orthodox Christmas is on Jan. 7 – there might be some gift ideas in here.)

Readers in the North America are probably less familiar with these, as they’re published by Panini UK, which otherwise prints a lot of Marvel trade collections for the British – and wider European – market.

These books aren’t as exhaustive or systematic as the Essentials or the more recent Epic collections, but they still collect big chunks of continuity and/or major story-lines of some of Marvel’s main characters, mostly from the ‘60s through the ‘80s. Here’s a really helpful list of all of the ones that have been released. As you can see by that list, Spider-man got the most extensive treatment, basically everything from the beginning of John Romita’s tenure as artist to the end of Len Wein’s run.

I stumbled onto these sometime in 2007 or 2008, when I found an eBay seller in the UK offering the Silver Surfer book for really cheap (like about $5 total, i.e., with free postage). I figured what the heck and bought it…

…and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in the mail about a week and a half later. It collects the first five issues of the Silver Surfer series from the late ‘60s – in full color, unlike the Essentials phonebooks. I started looking for more of these and at this point I have a pretty big stack of them.

I was actually a bit shocked at the size of that stack, as I normally don’t have them shelved in the same place.

Anyway, the best thing for me was that I was able to acquire pretty much the entire run of X-men from Giant-size #1 through the end of the Byrne/Austin tenure as the art team without breaking my bank. There’s also a significant (for me) run of Avengers and, as mentioned, the entire Len Wein run on Amazing Spider-man.

Another crucial aspect for me: they’re cheap. I’ve never paid more than about $9 (total) for one of these, and on average I think I paid around $7 for most of them.

Also, the format is slightly larger than the Archie-type digests:

Some of the individual, one-off, volumes are really nice as well; I like the Daredevil book that collects the initial run of issues after Frank Miller took over the art chores.  The only thing that makes me a bit irate is that Roger McKenzie, who wrote all but one of the stories in the book, is not given a credit on the cover.

The Ant Man volume – released a few months before the movie came out if memory serves – is also nice. It not only contains Scott Lang’s debut in Marvel Premiere, but also a bunch of his later appearances in Avengers, Marvel Team-up and Iron Man.

And speaking of Iron Man, I have two nice collections featuring key storylines, i.e., Demon in a Bottle and Armor Wars.

But this is where I’d make my only criticism of the Panini pocketbook line; I would have loved some more books collecting material from the original Michelinie/Layton run. It’s kind of the same situation with the Avengers books. These three collect most of my personal sweet-spot for that title:

Everything from issue #158 through #187 – it’s so frustrating that at least one more wasn’t released to collect the issues up to #200 (at least the Ant Man book mentioned above has #s 195-196, the Taskmaster story).

However, though, this is the cheapest way to get the entire run of Byrne’s X-men: The Hidden Years – if that’s something you want.

Unfortunately, though, it looks like this line has ended; as far I can tell, there’ve been no new releases for well over a year now. But while it lasted, a lot of good stuff was collected at affordable prices. A lot of online sellers still have some of the new copies in stock, and the rest can often be found used (at even lower cost) pretty easily.

And that’s why I didn’t put any links to the individual titles mentioned herein. Instead, if anyone’s interested, I’d recommend that they first check with Amazon and also Amazon UK, but also the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping!). For any that are harder to find, there’s always Book Finder, which has been an indispensable resource to me for years now.


    1. Edo Bosnar

      Well, if you don’t mind the format, these are the way to go. Since you’re in Australia, I would check the Book Depository as they’re still available new – that’s how I bought them, and if I recall correctly, I think I paid a little over $20 (US) total.

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