Tuesday, April 2, 2013

(Some of) my (specific) thoughts on DC's Archives and Showcase volumes...

Lately, one of my various -- heh -- assorted thoughts has been, "Hmm, what keeps me from posting is that I expect myself to always write formal reviews. And that actually flies in the face of the blog's title."

So, I'm going to try something new: posting (some of) my assorted thoughts. I kind have a feeling that in doing so, this blog would become "what it's supposed to", you know what I mean? ;)

Anyway, I don't intend to have the thoughts that I'll share to be too assorted. I'll stick to specific subject matter, but casually. And the subject of today's post is ... well, see the subject line. That's what it's there for. :P

First off, I want to establish that, as someone with a strong interest in DC Comics continuity and history, and in comics history in general, I'm very grateful for DC's longstanding commitment to publishing multi-volume, complete, chronoligical collections of seemingly as many series from its 70+-year history as it can. It's not much of a surprise that that there's volume after volume of Superman and Batman material. But they've seen to give Doctor Fate, Rip Hunter, Blackhawk, and Enemy Ace their due, too. U.S. fans of duck and mouse comics can only d ream of such thoroughness and availability.I think they each have a relatively limited print run, but I would think that in the long run, that just results in fewer sales. (And, hell, Fantagrahics and IDW's newspaper strip collections use more paper and even more high-end production values, but they average $25-30 each!

But, that said, there is one snag to DC's approach to their archival publishing efforts that bothers me. 

Instead of their being only the low-budget-but-bulky Showcase collections or only the lavish-but-scantier Archives publications, the co-existence of an ongoing output under both bannerheads (in many cases, duplicating the same content), I'd consider it really ideal if from the outset, they'd found a middle ground and stayed there. (Yes, all this material is available, but I'm complaining anyway -- I must be spoiled ...) What would be the nature of that middle ground? Mid-priced, color paperbacks ... like the Chronicles collections that DC has committed a select few of its "heavy hitters" to. (Some of these mirror the content of their Archives counterparts. But in the case of Green Lantern, there's an Archives version, a Showcase version, and a Chronicles version, each starting with 1959's debut of the Silver Age/Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern. And each project is officially still ongoing, awaiting subsequent volumes ... but, depending on various factors, having made it to completely different points in the series' run!)

If there were only a Chronicles-esque version of everything collected to date under any of these brands! Did DC actually have some studies conducted that determined that it'd be more profitable to do it in the market-clogging, content-witholding way they've been proceeding for years now? Hell, Fantagraphics and IDW's newspaper strip collections use more paper stock and are produced more lavishly produced than each of DC's Archives books. But the latter are $50 a pop, while the former average $25-30! I think that each entry in the Archives has a relatively limited print run ... but even then, I would think that in the long run,  the way they're doing it would result in fewer sales than would the way I'm arguing that they should be doing it. (As if I know anything.)

Perhaps the operating philosophy is that DC's Golden Age material (which the majority of the Archives publications are devoted to) deserve such treatment. (And believe me, I agree! But not everyone can buy an original Picasso, either, if you follow me.) So, in the meantime, they're trying to compromise with two co-existing historically-documentative publishing programs. Admittedly, in certain ways, that's been a boon to fans and collectors, when you consider that to date, there's no shortage of material that's exclusive to either project. Without the Showcase compendiums, I would never have read the complete run of the original Doom Patrol, every Spectre story from the `60's and up through the early `80's, and wouldn't currently be working my way through Roy Thomas' innovative All-Star Squadron run. And there's no Showcase collection of the Golden Age adventures of the Justice Society of America, but one can own their comlete original run, spanning the first 57 issues of All-Star Comics, in an exquisite 12-volume component of the Archives output.

But, still, in all too many cases, one is faced with the choice between a badly -- sometimes inscrutably -- printed cheap version (upon flipping through my copy of the 500-plus-page Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 1, a friend commented, "It's like a giant coloring book!") or a vampiric-to-consumers deluxe edition. Really seems like a lose-lose situation. 

But, at the same time, if The Complete Topolino Archives (English edition) Vol. 1 were released and its retail price was $49.99, I think that the rice is the last thing I'd be complaining about. Hmm ... so, does that mean that as a DC fan, I don't know how good I have it ... or that as a U.S. duck-and-mouse comics fan, I've been screwed over so many times, I have Stockholm Syndrome?

-- Ryan