Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Marvel Transformers trade paperbacks

I just can't give up on this series of posts.  Thursdays roll around I and feel compelled to talk about the Marvel Transformers comics!  I figured this week I'd tackle the trades collecting Transformers that have come out in recent years.  (I.E. I'm not going to go in-depth on the G.I. Joe and the Transformers trade from 1993, nor the Transformers Universe trade from 1987.)  Two companies have tackled this problem, Titan Books and IDW Publishing.  Since Titan Books did it first, I'll start with them.

Back in 2001, Geewun fans were having a ball.  Dreamwave Productions had the Transformers comics and were selling insane numbers of books, so the time seemed ripe to revisit some of the old Marvel material.   Titan Books deigned to do so.  However, they didn't start at issue number 1, no.  You see, most comics that have runs in the dozens don't have every story reprinted.  Instead, publishers opt for highlights.  Since Furman was involved, it's unsurprising that they started with what he considered to be his best work, The Unicron War.  And so, come summer of 2001, All Fall Down was published, containing issues #69-74.  Shortly thereafter, End of the Road came out and collected #75-80.

It's clear that titan was pleased with the sales on these books, because by the end of 2002, the rest of Furman's US run was collected.  Issue 56-68, and G2 #1-12 were collected over four volumes.  (Sadly, the Halloween Special from G2 was skipped, as was the G2 G.I. Joe crossover.  The latter I can understand, since it was probably a separate license, but the former chafes.)  Since these apparently sold well, Titan drew up plans to reprint the rest of the G1 Marvel run, issues #1-55.  The out-of-continuity stuff, Man of Iron and The Big Broadcast of 2006, was skipped.  The Headmasters mini-series was folded into the run, but the out-of continuity movie adaptation was skipped.  This wasn't too problematic, though G.I. Joe and the Transformers mini-series was likewise skipped, with slightly more serious continuity implications for the book.

Generally 5 to 7 issues were printed per book.  Each book came out in a softcover edition first, followed shortly thereafter by a Diamond edition.  An exception was the first (chronological) volume published, All Fall Down.  This first appeared as a Botcon exclusive hardcover with a Geoff Senior cover.  Actually, it's good that I've gotten to the covers.  The softcovers had some pretty nifty CGI / pen&ink designs by Andrew Wildman.  Each featured a few characters that were prominent in the story, along with some large background element.  Book were published in pairs, so All Fall Down's cover linked up strongly with that of End of the Road.  What was really fun, though, was that all the books linked weakly together, and the final book from G2 (Rage in Heaven) linked up with that from the first G1 book, Beginnings.  Slick.  The choice of background elements ranges from the likes of Unicron and Primus to the Space Bridge to the Mecannibals.  The Diamond hardcovers were by an impressively large number of artists, including familiar names like Don Figueroa and Pat Lee, and more well-known comic artists like Dave Gibbons and Howard Chaykin.

Titan didn't skimp on the extras either.  Given that the project started off as a few isolated stories, they took care to frame the stories in the proper context.  Many of the books had newly-commissioned forewords, from guys like Greg Berger and Bob Forward and of course Simon Furman and Bob Budiansky.  Also included were sketches, original treatments, and in two of the later, shorter books, galleries of the Titan covers.  Slightly meta, maybe, but since I had all the hardcovers I liked getting a gallery of the softcover covers.

All in all, it was an excellent collection.  Sixteen volumes, available at $19.95 each for softcover or $24.95 each for hardcover, came out to $320-$400 for the collection.  Pricey, yes, but far less than purchasing the 93 issues individually would have been.  The collection was not, however, without problems.  It was clear that some of the originals had degraded, leading to a few issues with washed-out colors or a VERY slight blurriness to the lines.  This mostly impacted the earlier volumes, later volumes tended to be of higher quality.  Also, the original covers were all present but they tended to be presented two to a page.  I'd have preferred a whole page each.  Finally, and this is a nitpick but it's always bothered me so I'll say it, it annoys me that every one of the 16 books uses the latter-half of G1 logo.  (There were three logos, the classic G1, the *Masters G1, and then the G2 logo.  All sixteen volumes use the *Masters G1 logo.)

The last of the Titan trades came out in early 2005.  By this point, Dreamwave had declared bankruptcy and the future of the Transformers comics was uncertain.  Enter IDW Publishing, a much more professional outfit who swooped in and started publishing some really excellent stories.  In early 2008, they published the first of six omnibus editions collecting the G1 Marvel Comics run on Transformers.  Each one covered thirteen to sixteen issues.  At a $20 price point, they are a much better value for your dollar than the Titan collection.

However, as nice as they are, they too are sadly not perfect.  Circuit-Breaker, a fairly prominent character, was owned by Marvel Comics, a competitor to IDW.  Whereas Titan was able to reprint her stories, IDW was not.  (Issue #3, with the infamous Spider-Man guest appearance, was likewise stricken from this collection.)  A guy named Stuart Denyer wrote up some pretty decent summaries to fill the gap, but of course it's not the same.  (Thankfully, by volume 5, this issue appears to have been resolved, as Circuit-Breaker stories are included.)  Secondly, while the Headmasters mini is printed in this collection, it's not printed until Collection #6.   Thus, it's far out of place from the reading order.  Third, this collection ends at G1 #80, skipping the entire G2 saga.  Finally, the collections are pretty bare-bones.  No new forewords, no sketches, none of the sizzle.  They didn't even spring for new covers, instead making a collage from existing comic panels.  This is a shame, because IDW has a terrific stable of talented artists who could have done amazing things with it.  Remember that Nich Roche cover to Buster Witwicky and the Carwash of Doom?  (I'll admit that I don't have any of these books in front of me right now, and I don't quite remember how they handled the original covers.)

Comparing the two, it's apparent that neither one is perfect, but the Titan editions get a whole lot closer.  They just put a lot more effort into them.  The few Titan omissions that IDW fixes are hardly critical, and the extras are very nice.  However, even at retail the Titan Books books were more than twice the price of the IDW books, and the IDW books are considerably easier to find today.  For someone who is looking to just read the comics, IDW is the clear winner.  Plus, it's always possible that IDW will come out with a volume 7 covering G2 and, who knows, maybe even the Halloween Special or the G.I. Joe crossover that was skipped by Titan.  But if you're looking for a display collection, I think Titan edges it out.

By the way, as the lead photo indicates, I went with Titan hardcovers, including the Botcon exclusive version of All Fall Down.  Moreover, I've been fortunate enough to get each of them autographed by either Bob Budiansky or Simon Furman.  Normally I don't go for autographs, but this run of comics meant so much to me that I felt it appropriate.  It sits proudly in my living room, and I frequently pick one at random to peruse.

Next week is, I think, my very last formal post on the subject.  I'll try to gather up all my thoughts and recollection from the run and turn that into something coherent.  Hope you enjoy!


Hans said...

I have the Titan collection myself (twice), and always wondered why they didn't do a final "out of continuity" collection reprinting the "leftovers", such as the Movie adaptation, Joe crossover, and Universe Profiles, for instance...

There's a big difference between the Titan and IDW reprints that you didn't cover, Jim: the (re)print quality.
While the paper stock of both collections is generally the same, I think the Titan reprints are far superior, as most of them even do away with the "dot" coloring in favour of more even (re)colors.
The IDW reprints on the other hand, seem to be simple photocopies from the actual comics, which were originally printed very poorly on a sort of newspaper stock. I find it hard even looking at the IDW books...

So... um... I actually think it's worth paying twice as much for the Titan reprints ;)

Bishbot said...

It can be a lot more than twice as much these days unfortunately. I completed my Titan collection (softcover) last year and some of the last few volumes were pretty tough to get hold of - I remember Dark Star, in particular, set me back a fair bit.

If it's important enough to them and they can afford it, people should definitely look for Titan, but it's still great that the IDW option exists for these old comics.

Anonymous said...

I'm always been tempted by those Titan reprints, but since I own all the original issues, I can't bring myself to buy them.

What I really wish is that someone would reprint all the UK issues in order, instead of the "best of UK" volumes. Or heck, if someone did a massive series weaving the US and UK together in publication order, I'd probably be unable to resist.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Do you know anything about these new volumes IDW is putting out? They claim to be UK reprints but also list Ralph Macchio and a few others who worked on the US comic as credits for the first volume.. so I'm wondering if it isn't a reprint of everything?

That would be cool.. but I'd like to see it all reprinted the way Dark Horse is reprinting Conan.. totally re-coloured and re-lettered.

Hans said...

Anonymous: I also have a complete and mint collection of the original comics, but those are bagged and boarded. The Trades would fit well on the bookshelf, and are easier to peruse. Also, the print quality of the trades (in any case the Titan trades) is a lot higher than the quality of the comics. Those could be reasons to buy the trades as well, I suppose.

As for the upcoming UK trades from IDW: it's going reprint the UK issues with UK-only material I believe, but it will be in chronologial order and recolored. The US credits on Amazon are a mistake, apparently.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Well that's a shame, especially since the UK only stuff won't make much sense without the US issues.. and because it would be a good opportunity to print the first few missing issues from the US run..

Hans said...

I believe James Roberts will write bookends and in-between-story synopsis for these trades, if it helps any :)

Jimtron said...

Roberts, eh? Exciting.

It seems that, when Bish gets to the point of reviewing UK TPB collections, he'll have a more interesting comparison. After all, i doubt IDW will be oversized, the order will be different, they'll have more extras...

BTW, it didn't bother me even a little that Big Broadcast was left out of the US TPB collection... but I was very disappointed that it didn't show up in the Space Pirates collection. Sure, the framing story did, but it would have been very nice.

I'm still kind of hoping that IDW comes out with a collection containing GI Joe and the Transformers, the Action Force / TF 31 page story, and the G2 GI Joe Crossover. Maybe they could throw in the 4 issues preceding the crossover as well. It'd be about 13.5 issues. Classic Transformers Volume 7 featuring G.I. Joe! Heck, throw in the Halloween special too and then I'm totally happy.

Hans said...

"Here are the contents of volume 1 as I understand it.

All re-colored and with James Roberts "commentary".

Also, yes, we have worked out a deal with Marvel so that we can reprint Death's Head's issues--thank you, Marvel.

Man of Iron
The Enemy Within
Raiders of the Last Ark
Decepticon Dambusters
Wrath of Guardian/Wrath of Grimlock
Christmas Breaker!
Crisis of Command
A Plague of Insecticons
...And There Shall Come A Leader
Missing In Action (text story)
Hunted! (text story)

Hope this gets you guys excited. i know I am as I have never had the chance to read some of this before!"

Posted by Andy Schmidt here:

Bishbot said...

Wow, that's potentially very exciting. I was always kind of sad that the Titan UK books were grouped thematically rather than chronologically, although the oversized format was very nice. I trust James Roberts to provide was good insights as well.