Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cover of the Week: Marvel's Greatest Comics 47!

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OK, I feel like rambling on a bit... any of you reading this who weren't reading comics in the 1970s are probably wondering what's up with the reprint books? While Marvel may have made it out like they were getting newer readers a chance to catch up, the real reason they existed was to take up shelf space. In the pre-comic shop days, when kids would go to the store to buy comics, there was usually just one spinner rack in place to hold all the Marvel, DC, Gold Key, Archie, and Charlton comics (and for a brief time, Atlas, too). The more titles a publisher had out, the more rack space they could get (although usually only for a week, as new stuff would come in and be stuck in front of what was left from the previous week's shipment, if any books were left, anyway).

When the Marvel Age of Comics started, Martin Goodman's distribution was the same company who distributed DC's comics, and they limited the number of titles that Marvel could produce per month. For a while, Martin and Stan got away with producing more titles by making some books bi-monthly, from what I've read... other times, books would be cancelled and new titles started willy-nilly if Martin decided a book wasn't selling up to snuff.

In the late 60s or so, when Marvel changed distributors, the number of titles they could produce went up, because they didn't have those limits anymore... and so all the two-in-one titles like Tales of Suspense, Taless to Astonish, and Strange Tales were cancelled, and the features in each book got their own titles... some took over the numbering of the original books (like Captain America, Hulk, and Dr. Strange) while others got to start with #1 (like Iron Man, Sub-Mariner and SHIELD).

Now, the original Marvel reprint books were bi-monthly (as well as giant-sized, like DC's 80-Page Giants of the 1960s)... but that wasn't an issue when the new distributor came on board. Still, it wasn't until the very early 1970s that the reprints started coming out all over the place! You had Marvel's Greatest Comics with the Fantastic Four (obviously), Marvel Super-Heroes reprinting Tales to Astonish with Sub-Mariner and the Hulk (and later, when they got to the point where the Hulk stories were from his series, Subby got a new TTA reprint title), Marvel Triple Action started out with reprinting FF tales but went to Avengers stories pretty quickly, and of course Marvel Tales continued reprinting Spider-Man stories.

These were joined later by a revived Fantasy Masterpieces reprinting the Silver Surfer series, Marvel Double Action reprinting Tales of Suspense with Iron Man and Captain America, and still later by Astonishing Tales Vol. 2 reprinting the early X-Men!

DC was no less guilty of flooding the market with reprints... by that point, the 80-Page Giants had given way to 100-Page Super-Spectaculars (although those would later be downgraded to a "giant" status), but they also had some short-lived reprint titles like Secret Origins, Wanted: The World's Most Dangerous Villains, and titles like Super-Team Family which were mostly reprints. Some titles that had been cancelled in the late 1960s came back in reprint form for a bit (like Challengers of the Unknown), and there was even a two-issue Legion of Super-Heroes reprint title, too!

But market considerations aside, for kids just starting to read comics in the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s, it was an amazing time. If you were a Fantastic Four fan, you got two titles a month to read (eventually joined by Giant-Size FF, but I don't know that those were any more frequent than bi-monthly at best... and we can't forget the short-lived Human Torch reprint book, or the later Marvel Two-In-One)! Spider-Man fans? You had Amazing Spidey, Marvel Tales, Marvel Team-Up, and by the end of the decade, Spectacular Spider-Man, as well!

Yes, it was an amazing time... especially if you were reading the books about the history of comics that were being written at the time... it seemed like you'd no sooner read about some Golden Age character than a story with that character would turn up somewhere! Or you'd read about some classic Silver Age story, and it would appear in one of the reprint books!

Today's newer comics readers don't know how great they have it now, with all the trade paperback collections constantly in print, CD-ROM colllections, too, plus the on-line stuff that's starting to happen...

...but still, for me, my personal Golden Age of Comics has to be the 70s.

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