What the D'ast? Real annuals
(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of irregularly-scheduled op-ed columns by Managing Editor Byron Brewer, mainly dealing with the issues of today’s comic book world from the perspective of a 53-year-old and aging fanboy. Mr. Brewer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect that of Cosmic Book News. He welcomes both raves and opposing views in the
This may be an Op-Ed for older readers only, I don’t know. I would like to think that with the plethera of HCs, TPBs and Essentials, somewhere in there the classic material of yesterday is again available. Again, this Op-Ed may not be for the eyes of younger readers … but not for the reason you think.
No, this is a look backward to the great annuals of Marvel Comics, a look back at the books that were the events of their time.
Annuals, to my memory usually released in summer onto those old squeaky metal tiered turn stands (Can you hear them, guys?) as the kids were released from school were indeed special things, the things young fanboys’ reading dreams were made of. As the kids crowded the convenience and grocery stores of the day, packing around that poor little metal turn stand, off went the few copies of an Avengers, of Fantastic Four or Spider-Man Annual and, if your hands were not fast enough, it was onto your bike and onto the nearest store. (No LCS in those days.)
And well worth the extra muscle power they were.
For your approval: Avengers Annual#1, 1967.
As I hold its fragile pages in my hand, I remember all the excitement with which I greeted the coming of this one book. Probably even my enthusiasm for DcnU’s New 52 (and Sinistro in Green Lantern) does not equal my joy at that time.
Not only does it have a blockbuster cover in the true Marvel Manner -- some of the greatest work ever by the sometimes-great, sometimes-seedy artist Don Heck featuring all the Avengers in their first-ever team-up (new and original teams, with apologies to the Incredible One) – but it features, as its cover copy says, a “49-page free-for-all,” “the biggest continuous acton epic ever,” with “not a single reprint.”
And what bonus features! A pin-up of the break-out hero of that year, the Prince of Power, Hercules. A full two-page diagram for Avengers Mansion. (My second “thumbed” copy of this issue is practially threadbare because every time something happened in Avengers Mansion, I dug it out to make sure the villain was coming down a correct hallway, or the lab was entered from the correct side. I wanted a No-Prize badly!) Another pin-up page of the female Avengers (Wasp, Scarlet Witch) and the in-again, out-again Black Widow in her original pre-Emma Peel costume. And best of all, a pin-up of all the current Avengers roster (which I think should be a must for every annual of a team book, even today. Loved it!)
Now, I will be the first to bow my head and shed tears for the victims of 9/11 as I salute our outstanding and everyday heroes; you can even see a column penned by yours truly on the national tragedy at http://www.news-graphic.com/opinion/article_5b0ef3ee-d7ef-11e0-badd-001cc4c03286.html. But in the just-released New Avengers Annual#1 – and no disrespect to this event – that was just so much reprint material. I would rather have seen a new book from Marvel with such material in honor of 9/11’s 10th anniversary. But then in the annual, we would probably have had a four-page preview for an upcoming Marvel mag.
For your approval: Fantastic Four Annual#1, 1963.
The expectations and adventure-meter could not have been higher in this blockbuster Lee-Kirby tour de force as it captures on its very first beautiful splash page the royal pomp and pageantry of this tale as Namor, the recently resurrected Sub-Mariner, finally finds the lost people of Atlantis and is reunited with his Lady Dorma (much to the displeasure of Warlord Krang). Namor faces the United Nations for the first time, and the race is on as the Prince of Atlantis declares war … on the human race!
We then have a great retelling – not a reprint but a retelling -- of Spider-Man's first encounter with the Fantastic Four, this version extending the fight and interaction between Spidey and the FF with – get this – Lee writing, Kirby penciling and inks by Steve Ditko! The feature ends as Spider-Man leaves the Baxter Building following his rejection for membership in the group. (The more things change …)
But my favorite feature in the book, its precious pages shaking now in my very hand, was … the "Gallery of the Fantastic Four's Most Famous Foes!" – a pin-up collection of the FF's foes up to that time. I do not know, with the modern miracles that are possible with computers, laptop publishing, etc., if pin-ups mean anything to anybody anymore. I never even pinned them up, but kept them catalogued as kind of a forerunner to the yet-to-be-thought-of Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe. Still, in this annual, with those great shots of Mole Man, the Mad Thinker, Dr. Doom, Namor and others, there was something special about having them in that much-awaited big, big book.
And the cost? Five bucks like New Avengers Annual #1 (which, do not get me wrong, was a decent read; see my review on this site)? Nope. A quarter, one-fourth of a dollar.
In defense of the House of Ideas, a quarter for a kid back then might as well have been five bucks.
Bottom line, I would like to believe I am wrong, but it seems true annuals vanished with those long, long summer days of the ‘60s.