Saturday with the Forgotten Ones
Here’s something I’ve been wondering about a lot lately.
We live in a world now where, finally, comics publishers have discovered the concept of the backlist. Major publishers like Marvel and DC, and even smaller folks like Hermes Press, have been putting stuff back in print that I’d have sworn no one would bother collecting in a trade edition.
But what I wonder about is the comics that –to me, anyway– seem like obvious omissions.
I’m not talking about stuff that has licensing issues or other legal stuff tying it up. We all know about those.
No, I’m talking about older books that don’t have any rights problems or anything like that…. they’re just ignored. Forgotten.
For example, Gotham Central from DC seems to be doing all right for them– at least, it’s been collected a couple of different ways already, hardcover, softcover… but it never seems to occur to anyone that there were a couple of other series about Gotham City’s police force, and they were good too.
Like Batman: GCPD.
GCPD was a tightly-written mini-series from Chuck Dixon, and illustrated by Jim Aparo with Bill Sienkewicz on inks. It wasn’t a world-changing event or anything, but it was good, and it certainly deserves at least as much love from DC as Gotham Central has been getting.
Especially when they could pair it with its follow-up series Batman: Gordon of Gotham. This is another little forgotten Bat-franchise gem, a Commissioner Gordon solo adventure from Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano and Klaus Janson.
Those two minis together total eight issues, a nice size for a trade paperback. Call it Gotham Central: Prelude or something if they want to trade on the name, but however DC chooses to package it, Batman fans should see those comics if they haven’t already, and they certainly deserve the collected-edition treatment.
Speaking of the street-level view of superheroics… Marvels gets one reprint edition after another, but where in the world is the collected edition of Tales of the Marvels?
These were a series of one-shots and specials done in the same style as Marvels– that is to say, they were painted superhero comics with stories told from the perspective of a non-powered bystander. I particularly liked Inner Demons by Mariano Nicieza and Bob Wakelin.
This was a story told by an alcoholic who was living in the same homeless shelter as the amnesiac bearded Sub-Mariner, in the days before Johnny Storm found him in Fantastic Four #4. The others, Blockbuster and Wonder Years, were nicely-done books as well. Putting ‘em together into a Tales of the Marvels trade paperback seems like a no-brainer to me.
Even more baffling to me, in a comics marketplace where both Gotham Central and Marvels are both apparently collected-edition evergreens for their respective publishers, is the glaring absence of a collection for Code of Honor.
A four-issue painted prestige-format miniseries that was dismissed as a ripoff of Marvels at the time… but this is actually another tightly-plotted crime story written by Chuck Dixon.
This is the tale of a rookie police officer working the streets of Marvel’s Manhattan in the 1970s. Not only does he have to deal with fallout from all the apocalyptic menaces that Thor and the FF and whoever are fighting up above, he also has to confront the corruption that the Kingpin of Crime brings to his own life at street level.
Granted, the project suffered somewhat from the fact that there were multiple painters on the book– Terese Nielsen, Brad Parker, Vincent Evans, and Tristan Shane, among others– and their styles occasionally clash. But I still liked it and I think it deserves a collected edition, especially since other, similar, series have done so well.
DC’s treatment of its backlist strikes me as especially odd, particularly when it comes to the books it chooses to reprint. Of course, I’m happy they’re doing the obscure stuff like Rip Hunter and Eclipso and so on as Showcase editions, and the Kirby and Ditko hardcover omnibus books are a joy.
Nevertheless, I don’t understand the thinking behind celebrating hacked-out crap like Secret Society of Super-Villains in a two-volume hardcover set. Or when they reprint Fire Fighters– a strip absolutely NO ONE was asking for– not once but twice, in two different SHOWCASE collections.
Meanwhile, good stuff just gets ignored. If they must reprint a 1970s series that got canceled too early, screw the Secret Society– why not Star Hunters?
This was a fun science-fiction thing from David Michelinie, with art by, variously, Rich Buckler, Larry Hama, and– sigh– the late Don Newton.
The entire run of Star Hunters consisted of a one-off in DC Super-Stars, and then seven issues in their own title. Again, that’s a nice trade collection. It’d be worth it just to see the Newton pages, but I remember the whole thing as being pretty entertaining.
But that’s not superheroes, it wouldn’t sell, I hear some people muttering. Okay, then, how about Superman: the Secret Years?
An unpretentious and entertaining story of Superman’s college years from Bob Rozakis, with very nice art by Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger. (And yes, covers by Frank Miller, but they look like sketches he knocked out on the subway during his commute. Still, this was a fun book.)
Or– come on, you know this one, say it with me– The Phantom Zone by Steve Gerber and Gene Colan?
This was a classic four-issue story that, for once, showed the Kryptonian criminals trapped in the Zone as being genuinely scary people. Pretty much the last people in the universe you want running wild on Earth…
…especially with each one of them possessing all of Superman’s powers.
This is one of the very few stories where it shows that Superman is up against a serious threat and genuinely has to work at it, as opposed to us being told that’s the case. In fact, this is one of the scariest Super stories anyone’s ever done, and the art from Gene Colan gave everything an amazing weight. It’s been said countless times in Superman stories that the fate of the world is at stake, but this was one of the few times it really felt like it.
I could do a whole column’s worth of carrying on about what’s good about it. But the bottom line is that it’s a classic and it’s a crime it’s not in print, especially since, for God’s sake, DC already did a Phantom Zone collection that omitted this four-parter… that should have anchored it.
Anyway. That’s my list of stuff Marvel and DC own, free and clear, that there’s no goddamn reason not to reprint. I’d MUCH rather have some of these than the stuff that’s getting routinely collected before the ink’s dry on the ongoing monthly issues. And I imagine you all have your own wish list as well– have at it in the comments below. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and catch the eye of an editor out there who’s wondering what to reprint next.
As for me, I’ll see you next week.