Hardcover Hell!

This is a bit of a rant. Forgive me.

Okay. Flashback time. It's Fall 2005. Jon Gorga has just begun his senior year of high school. He knows that the current Marvel event is "House of M", but he believes it to be an X-Men thing which qualifies it generally under the 'stay away-too complicated' category, even though the New Avengers are in it. But it's not the 'real main-continuity' Avengers, isn't it? It's the 'House of M' world Avengers. Mutants are the majority instead of a minority, Peter Parker married to Gwen Stacy and living like a celebrity and stuff like that. Case closed. I didn't need to own it. Not the story of the life of the Spider-Man I was following. Skippable! How smug I was.

Flashforward. It's late Summer 2007. And Jon Gorga finally deigns to read the first issue of House of M and discovers: "Oh, yeah it's still Spider-Man it's just that the world is different. Their memories are altered so that all this different bullshit seems normal to them. Well, I still don't know if I need to own that. It's one damn step away from an alternate Spidey." Then in "House of M" #4 immediately after it becomes clear that these are THE Avengers, a remarkably tender scene occurs between Wolverine and the young Layla Miller:

"Who are you?" "L-Layla." "Like the song?" "No." "Where'd you come from?"
"I mean I woke up and everything was all-- I thought I was crazy. My parents were the same but everything else was--I mean, what's going on? Am I crazy or not?" "You're not crazy." "You sure?" "If you are-- then we both are."

Tears. Something about this scene never fails to leave me on the verge of tears. EVERY TIME. I don't know how it happens. I don't know if it's the gorgeous art by Olivier Coipel or the simple manner in which Layla Miller expresses herself or the fact that after 48 hours of running around like he's going insane Wolverine, the big bad-ass, finds his answer in a thirteen-year-old girl. A thirteen-year-old girl who's been going through pretty much just what he has for the past two days. Probably it's the combination. It's beautiful somehow. So now a sophisticated college boy Jon Gorga says: "I NEED to own this. This is GOOD."

And that's only one of many amazing scenes that follow. In #5 Spider-Man gets the memories of his original life back. And promptly FREAKS OUT. He's looking at a dead woman he loves and the child he can't possibly have had with her, he feels the life he always wanted wiped out in an instant. He physically doubles over on a car's hood in psychic/emotional pain.

And the twist in #7? Forget it, I couldn't ruin that for you. You have to read it yourself. But that moment when Bendis pulls out the big emotional rug from under you, that was when I said: "I need to own this in hardcover. This is an amazing eight-issues-of-comics worth story. This is a great Spider-Man story, a great X-Men story, a great sci-fi story. This is a great story. Period. It deserves a nice hardcover position on my shelf." Which brings me to my point:

Hardcover comics reprint collections are the most frustrating/wonderful/stupid thing the comics industry produces.

A hardcover edition of the "House of M" mini-series was due out in January of the next year (2008), but January is too late for Christmas, so I've had a jones to own this hardcover for a long time. I thought: "It's a story I'D like to read over and over. It's a story I could put in anyone's hands and..." Oh wait. Not quite.

Most people probably don't know or care who the Scarlet Witch is. (I barely did before I read "House of M") And as she's the force that alters the world, she's pretty important. Furthermore no one will understand what's happening on the first few pages without an understanding of who she is. Then I reread the last few pages of the mini-series. They are pretty much just a set-up for another story. It wouldn't make a ton of sense. So I scrapped it. Really. I figured $30 is too much to pay for something I can read in a certain illegal format on my computer any time I want and which I am going to purchase partially in individual comics. Why have two and a half versions of something?

I then noticed that there was a collection of "New Avengers" issues that would form a perfect long epilogue to the "House of M" story. New Avengers: The Collective is the story set-up in the last pages of "House of M". So there's another thing I could buy in hardcover and have a really nice kind of a set. But still not quite worth it. Then I discovered the gorgeous "Avengers Disassembled" hardcover. This collection tells the fucking awesome story of the end of the Avengers as we knew them and is a great introduction to the Scarlet Witch and leads pretty directly into "House of M". So: Buy "Avengers: Disassembled" and "House of M" and "New Avengers: The Collective" and it will all make sense. I was beginning to have a beautiful vision of all the big Marvel events together on my shelf in hardcover. Oh wait...

Except the 'New' Avengers formed in the meantime between "Disassembled" and "House of M" and Spider-Man gets a temporary costume between "House of M" and "New Avengers: The Collective". So someone who knows nothing will say: "What? I thought The Avengers were gone. Who are the New Avengers?" AND "Why is Spider-Man wearing that thing? Is it metal?" See what I mean? When I buy individual super-hero comics I expect an incomplete story. Anything else would be impossible because Spider-Man has been published since 1962! So why not buy five thousand little nuggets of the story that add up to one mega-story. That works for me. Maybe it's just me being a control freak, but by buying these stories in 22-page installments I can make sense of them: Spider-Man shows up here, then he shows up here, then he gets a new costume and everywhere he shows up for a while afterward he's wearing the new costume. Simple.

But if Marvel and DC are going to tell stretched-out stories AND they're going to publish hardcover collections, they need to start doing it smarter. Because the way it is now, it's IMPOSSIBLE to actually read these stories in order. You've got to make goddamn flowcharts to try to make their collections work in order. Honestly, for me? It's come down to this: I don't want them. And I'm not the only one, people come into the store all the time asking for a story they can understand and fully appreciate. And they are in short order. The problem is only exacerbated by Marvel's insistence at not keeping their collections in print for more than a month.

+A "HOUSE OF M" hardcover with "Son of M" #1-6 and "New Avengers" #26 as an epilogue.
+A "ROAD TO CIVIL WAR" hardcover with everything that was a part of the lead up to "Civil War": "Amazing Spider-Man" #529-531, "New Avengers: Illuminati" #1, and so on.
+A "CIVIL WAR" hardcover with the "Civil War: Frontline" issues, (maybe just the important ones, i.e. #1, #4, and #11), the "Iron Man" tie-in issues, some of the "New Avengers" tie-in issues, the "Amazing Spider-Man" issues, and "Civil War: Casualties of War" mixed in and more importantly "Captain America" #25 and "Civil War: The Confession" as an epilogue. That one is a no brainer, guys.
+A "SECRET INVASION" hardcover with "New Avengers" #31, "New Avengers: Illuminati" #5 first and "New Avengers" #41 and #43 mixed in.

Or simply produce the "Civil War Chronicles" and "Secret Invasion Chronicles" series as paperbacks and hardcovers. I just want things to be published in order. IMPOSSIBLE you say? Yes and no. It IS impossible because Marvel and DC are corporate entities and some of these collections I'm talking about would be massive, but no it ISN'T impossible because Marvel produces those godawful beasts called Omnibuses and the story is laid out for them already, all they would need to do is go back and pick out the parts required to tell the damn story right. They've already done it once: "Secret Wars II" Omnibus Edition is exactly what I'm talking about, except apparently the order of the material is wrong in some places and most of us don't want to read that story anyway. I say play ball fair or go home. Give us a hardcover that tells the whole story or don't do it at all. If you can't enhance what you've already done, leave it alone.

UPDATE: 9/15/2oo9

I spent a far longer time than is sensible staring at the "House of M", "Avengers: Disassembled", and "Secret Wars" hardcover editions at a store today. Le sigh. They are all the same height and depth. Perfect for a shelf. They are so pretty. Damn I want them.

UPDATE: 9/24/2oo9

I own a copy of the "House of M" hardcover. It is so beautiful. It keeps me warm at night. To quote Tom Waits' song "Step Right Up": "It finds you a job. It is a job. ... It disinfects. It sanitizes for your protection. It gives you an erection! It wins the election!" I know it ain't 100% right. But like a good friend who's just a little off, I love it anyway.

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