by Michael Hutchison
Trade paperbacks from DC come out for a number of reasons.
The most obvious reason is popularity. When a mini-series or story arc in an ongoing series becomes a phenomenal hit, the encapsulated version can sell through the roof. "Dark Knight Returns," "The Nail," "The Death of Superman," even an infamous story like "Emerald Twilight" can generate beaucoup revenue from people who passed up the chance to buy the original comics.
With a special edition, they can even get the cash of people who've already bought the comics! It kills me that I spent over $20 on the Kingdom Come prestige books just for DC to release a trade paperback with extra pages and an added ending for $15. (I guess we found out where the DVD makers learned to release a Special Edition as soon as every devotee has bought their copy of the movie. Which reminds me: There's a version of "Fellowship of the Ring" coming out in November that has 30 more minutes of footage than the one coming out in August. Word to the wise.)
Then there are the classic arcs and anthologies that are released as trade paperbacks, such as the new collection of JLA/JSA crossovers, "The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told", "Strange Apparitions" or my personal favorite, the "Pulp Fiction Library: Mystery In Space" collection. You also have the trade paperbacks reprinting entire ongoing series because they're that good, like Nightwing, Hitman and Starman. And there are the books which are just packaging, like the Lois and Clark trade which put Terri Hatcher and Dean Cain on the cover and have a random assortment of stories inside.
These are all well and good. (Well, maybe not the "Lois and Clark" book.)
But there are also collections which baffle me. Did anyone need to read about the Electric Superman in "Superman: Transformed"? Or a collection of Superman's Eradicator stories? Or Superman vs. The Revenge Squad? What is this, some legal requirement to demonstrate to the public just how much Superman sucked in the late 1990s? Don't think that the Dark Knight fares any better. Batman has plenty of drek stories that get reprinted, regardless of the lack of demand.
I know that some of this is just because anything with "Superman" and "Batman" in the title has better sales odds than an extremely good story with a non-big name character. If this is the case, then maybe DC should just call their books "Batman and Superman Proudly Present..." and then you open it to find Tom Peyer's "Hourman" inside.
You Could Do Worse
Okay, I realize that there are probably dozens of invisible factors which go into how trade paperbacks are chosen. There may be matters of residual payments, contractual agreements and whatnot. And reprinting of older stories may involve numerous technical challenges. Obviously, I'm not an expert. But I'd like to offer a list of potential trade paperbacks which have at least a 50/50 shot of outselling "Superman Vs. The Revenge Squad":
Gravedigger - "Codename: Gravedigger" was the central character in the ongoing war anthology "Men of War" which lasted a little over 2 years in the 1970s. The tale of an able black soldier in World War II whose skin color was confining him to menial duties like gravedigger, Ulysses Hazard went AWOL and broke past American security to reach Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. Given the rank of Captain, "Gravedigger" becomes a one-man special ops force. The series could be easily encapsulated in a regular TPB because the stories weren't 22 pages. An alternative would be to run the best stories in a slimmer, more affordable volume. And I should mention that one selling point of republishing the stories of the 1970s and earlier is the superior quality of current printing.
New Teen Titans Greatest Hits - Isn't it bizarre that "Who Is Donna Troy?" has never been reprinted? There are any number of NTT stories which deserve to be offered to the public in a collection, and short of more installments of the New Teen Titans Archives, they won't be.
Black Lightning - One of the most impressive and underrated characters is definitely Tony Isabella's Black Lightning, and the first 8 issues of his series would combine to form one incredible, self-contained epic. The tale of an Olympic champion who returns to the slum of his roots to teach English at his old high school, Jefferson Pierce discovers he cannot oppose the local criminal organization without endangering his students. Adopting the guise of Black Lightning, Jeff begins a journey that will eventually bring an ugly truth into the open and lead to death, transformation and a final confrontation with the villainous Tobias Whale.
Phil Foglio's "Angel and the Ape" and "Stanley and his Monster" - Not much needs to be said about these, as we discussed the appeal of these two funny and appealing mini-series last month. But it should be mentioned that these could be cheaply packaged for perhaps $7 or $8, making them a fun impulse buy. Or, as Nic mentioned last month, you could slap "Sandman Presents..." in front of Stanley and his Monster and then offer it as a painted cover hardcover for $25 and the Sandman freaks would buy it. (Don't tell me they won't; DC managed to reap in the money just by packaging the covers of the comics as a book.)
Superman Team-Up, Volume 1 - Between "DC Comics Presents..." and the team-up years of "Action Comics", there are a great many team-up stories which deserve to be showcased (even those that are currently out of continuity). Enough to fill several volumes, really. Let me list just a few that come to mind:
Suicide Squad's Greatest Hits - I'll confess, if it was up to me, DC would just start reprinting the entire John Ostrander Suicide Squad series from beginning to end. But short of that, they should at least put together some of the best stories from the series.
Justice League International: Breakdowns - I'm quite surprised that this hasn't been reprinted already.
The Best of Justice League International - Between the Giffen/Dematteis stories that have yet to be reprinted and some fo the excellent tales from "Justice League Quarterly" and "Justice League Europe", there is a veritable goldmine awaiting. This could easily be three volumes...and that's not counting the major story arcs that could be packaged as separate TPBs.
Chase - This late, lamented series truly deserves the TPB route. If you were to put on the cover an image of every character who would appear in the encapsulated series, there would be something for everyone. The JLA, Rocket Reds, Suicide Squad, Construct, Clock King, Booster Gold, Teen Titans, Firehawk, Batman, Klarion the Witch Boy, the JSA, the Justice Experience, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Lantern Alan Scott, and a surprise guest. For crying out loud...there's a two-part story arc where the U.S. Government tries to discover the identity of BATMAN! This TPB would sell, baby, provided that DC gave the book a bit more promotion than it gave the series. Or just put Batman on the cover, call it "Batman: The Unmasking" and then just slide in the other seven issues after the "Shadowing the Bat" two-parter.
Ambush Bug - The first mini-series.
Son of Ambush Bug - The second mini-series.
Ambush Bug's Random Junk - All of Ambush Bug's stories from "DC Comics Presents," "Action Comics," and "Supergirl" (where AB has never heard of Supergirl and thinks it's his buddy Superman who's been changed into a woman by red Kryptonite). Plus the "Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer" and "Ambush Bug Nothing Special."
Heckler - The ad campaign was a dud, the first issue of this series was mediocre, and it was canceled by issue #6. But I've said it before and I will no doubt say it many more times before Fanzing folds: Issues 2, 3 and 4 are some of the funniest stories I have ever read, and most people are missing out. Collect the whole thing and sell it for $9.
Phantom Zone - A fantastic early 1980s mini-series in which Superman is trapped in the Phantom Zone while the freed villains run amok. His only assistance comes from Charlie Kweskill, formerly a villain known as Quex-Ul. The dark, atmospheric art by Gene Colan really makes the series work. It delves into the misdeeds of the criminals while showing the terror they wreak upon Earth in Superman's absence.
Pulp Fiction Library: Our Army At War - In the same way that the "P.F.L.: Mystery In Space" TPB offered an assortment of anthology sci-fi stories and a sampling of DC's running characters, this would be the same for DC's war comics. One story apiece for Sgt. Rock, Mme. Marie, The Losers, Enemy Ace, Codename: Gravedigger, The Creature Commandoes, The Haunted Tank, Unknown Soldier and G.I. Robot, plus a variety of other war comic stories.
Pulp Fiction Library: Weird Western Tales - Same deal as above for DC's western properties and stories. Jonah Hex, Trigger Twins, Scalphunter, Bat-Lash and so forth.
Birds Of Prey - It's about time DC started reprinting the ongoing series. Considering that issue #8 auctions off for $50 on eBay, you know the first volume has some buyers. What is the deal in not doing this already?
Mystery In Space Archives - DC might do an Adam Strange Archives someday, which would actually be something of a pity because then the rest of Mystery In Space will go unprinted. (See my personal picks below.)
The Metal Men Archives - 'Nuff said.
So far, I've listed projects that I honestly think would sell quite well. The rest of this column is just a little dreamer's wish list of things that will not happen unless I get a tumor and the Make a Wish foundation has some pull with DC:
The Collected Space Cabbie - Unless there is a Mystery In Space Archives, I'd love to see all of the Space Cabbie ten page stories in one volume.
The Dibny Mystery Casebook - All of Elongated Man's backup mystery stories from Detective Comics.
The Star Hawkins Mysteries - Another collection of backup mysteries, these being the adventures of a future private eye.
It must seem like I'm a shill for the John Broome estate, but seriously, I just want to see all these short backups without spending thousands of dollars on early Silver Age collectibles!
Finally, the "Invasion" should be packaged as a TPB, with the three-issue mini as well as some of the best crossover stories all in one handy book.
What about you? What Trade Paperbacks would you like to see from DC Comics? Write in and tell us! We'll put it on the letters page...or perhaps in a sequel article.
is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan
and runs the only EM fan site.
He lives in Rochester, MN.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Michael Hutchison.
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