Monday, December 31, 2007

Archival Absence

Looking through DC's offerings for May through August, I see that there are virtually no Archive editions listed--one Seven Soldiers of Victory, one final Doom Patrol, and then nada.

It's a shame. I have a genuine affection for DC's Archives and Marvel's Masterworks line; it's an affordable way to accumulate a collection of some of comics' finest reading without going broke in the process. However, I can also see why the line might be coming to an end; DC has collected much of their finest material, and the $50 pricetag makes it difficult for casual readers to justify the expense when they can enjoy twice as much material (in black and white, alas) for a third of the price in DC's Showcase Presents line.

DC has also learned that some material is better packaged in its own sub-line rather than in the Archives series--Jack Kirby's Fourth World, for instance, is being collected in four self-contained hardcovers rather than offered as a quartet of Archives editions. The same was done with Neal Adams' Batman, Deadman, and Green Lantern/Green Arrow. The packages are great, but they're not Archives--and their existence guarantees that the same material won't be offered in Archives editions. That means that some of their best Silver Age material will never be offered in the collectors' format used for the bulk of their most desirable comics.

Marvel seems to be continuing their Masterworks line full-speed-ahead, with two books per month for the foreseeable future--but even Marvel has run through its prime material and is left with some books that have a strong appeal to me but a lesser appeal to most contemporary readers. I love Marvel's pre-hero stuff like Tales to Astonish #s 1-10, but I can see that sales are far slower on these volumes than on the prime material like the first fifty issues of Fantastic Four.

Marvel has discovered something that the movie and music industries learned a long time ago, however: if you can't keep putting out more great material, then put out the same great material in enhanced packages. Their Omnibus volumes, featuring twenty-five, thirty, or more issues of a classic comic, complete with letters columns, house ads, and more in an oversized format, is actually a better deal and a more appealing package than the Masterworks. I enjoy the Masterworks, but I get more excited about the Omnibus books because they collect so much more, and add extras that I can't get in the Masterworks editions... so I re-buy the same material in an enhanced format.

DC has yet to figure out how to make that jump with their classic material, although they are doing something similar with more recent best-sellers via their Absolute line. These are upscale, high-production-value, enhanced slipcased versions of books like Sandman, Batman: Hush, or Crisis on Infinite Earths--and they have been successful in convincing readers who already have the material to re-buy it in an improved edition. The only catch is, DC is focusing on more recent material with its Absolute line, not on premiere Silver Age material.

(One other drawback to DC's line is one noticed only by those of us in the retail community: Marvel offers their Masterworks and Omnibus volumes at full discount, while DC cuts the discount to retailers by a full 10% on these books, making them more expensive initially and less profitable. DC gets their price on the books, customers get a price competitive with Marvel's Masterworks line... and retailers get pinched in the middle, forced to pay more and make less when they sell the books. And it does hurt; I know many retailer who won't carry a full line of Archives or Absolute editions for just that reason.)

Do I know for certain that the Archives line is going away? No--it's just a suspicion based on rumor and reduced output in mid-2008. If it is coming to an end, though, then I hope that DC has something better in the works... because I'm willing to re-buy and re-sell those same stories if they can find a way to make it worthwhile!

No comments: