SUPERMAN BY THE TRADE

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As many of you know I co-host a show called From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast with my buddy Jeffrey Taylor.  For the uninitiated FCTC covers, month by month, most of the Superman books published between lMan of Steel #1 in 1986 and Adventures of Superman #649 in 2006.  That’s a huge chunk of time and some people have expressed a desire to follow along with us.  I was wondering how feasible it would be for someone that doesn’t own  a complete run to find one or at the very least find most of them in trade.  I’m pretty sure if you had the time, money and energy you could do it, but it wouldn’t be easy.

And that got me to thinking.

Since February of 2004 (release date not cover date) every mainstream Superman book (Superman, Adventures of Superman and Action Comics along with Superman/Batman) has been released as a collected edition of some sort.  Usually in hardcover at first and then in softcover and in the case of Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s For Tomorrow even an Absolute Edition.  The Godfall arc, all of the Greg Rucka run on Adventures of Superman, the just mentioned For Tomorrow, all of Mark Verheiden’s run on Superman, Chuck Austen’s run on Action Comics, Gail Simone’s work on Action Comics, Sacrifice, the Infinite Crisis crossovers, Up, Up and Away, Last Son, Camelot Falls Parts 1 and 2, the rest of Kurt Busiek’s run, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac, The Coming of Atlas and right up to the current New Krypton stuff.  Five years worth of stories are pretty much all there give or take a once and done story here and there.  Someone getting into Superman today would have a very easy time getting caught up without having to track down the individual issues.

But what about that Crisis to Crisis era?

Well, the early stuff is pretty easy to find.  Superman: The Man of Steel Volumes 1 through 6 reprint Man of Steel and all of the main Superman books coming out at the time, including the annuals.  The next trade chronologically, Superman: Exile, jumps ahead about a year and reprints the Superman titles published from the end of 1988 to late spring of 1989 with the exception of a four part back up feature and issue 31 of Superman .  From there time leaps forwards more and more trade paperback wise.  Here is a list of the trades which reprint material from Superman, Adventures of Superman, Action Comics and/or Superman: The Man of Steel in chronological order.

  • Eradication (1990)
  • Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite (1990)
  • Time and Time Again (1991)
  • They Saved Luthor’s Brain (various)
  • Panic in the Sky (1992)
  • Death of Superman (1992)
  • World Without Superman/Funeral For a Friend (1992/93)
  • The Return of Superman/Reign of the Supermen (1993)
  • Bizarro’s World (1994)
  • The Death of Clark Kent (1995)
  • The Trial of Superman (1995/96)
  • The Wedding and Beyond (1996)
  • Superman vs. the Revenge Squad (1996)
  • Superman Transformed! (1997)
  • No Limits (1999)
  • Endgame (1999)
  • Till Death Do Us Part (2000)
  • Critical Condition (2000)
  • Emperor Joker (2000)
  • President Lex (2000)
  • Return to Krypton (2001/2002)
  • Our Worlds at War (2001)
  • Superman: Ending Battle (2002)

That’s an impressive list of collections by any stretch of the imagination and that doesn’t even count the  plethora of Elseworlds and other type of mini-series that were traded over the years.  What is more impressive is that most of these came out during a time when trades and hardcovers were not as common in places like Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders and so on as they are today.

For about five second this led me to the question, “Why isn’t more of this era being reprinted?” but several reasons immediately sprang to mind.

1. Demand might not be there.

Sad to say as much as I love this era and as much as the six hundred or so people a week that listen to From Crisis to Crisis seem to also dig on this era that doesn’t mean they would sell.  I’m pretty cool with that too.  It is very common in comic book fandom to have a small yet vocal group of people loudly demanding a certain product even though most of them may never even buy it if DC or Marvel did put it out.  I would like to see a comparison numbers wise between readers that say they want a particular trade versus those that would actually buy it.  No matter the case not everything is going to be collected into a trade paperback or hardcover just because someone thinks it should be.

2. It might be cost prohibitive to produce the trades.

Here’s a fun bit of business posted by Robert Greenberger, former DC Collected Editions Editor, on to the DC Message Boards some years back.  Thanks to the defunct Earth-B for posting this so I could cut and paste.

DC pays a royalty based on a percentage of the cover price to writers, pencillers,and inkers to all material published prior to 1976 and after 1997. For the period in between, the vouchers that were in use called for a set reprint fee to be paid. In some cases, the amount of contractually obligated reprint fees makes the budget for a proposed collection unprofitable. In those cases, DC will either scrap the project or ask the talent involved to waive the reprint fee in lieu of the standard royalty arrangement. If the parties agree, then everyone benefits.

Essentially if a creator doesn’t want to waive the reprint fee DC would then have to pay said creator a whole heck of a lot of money to publish the trade and I feel pretty confident in writing that DC wants to make as much money off their collected editions as possible and more power to them I say.  Capitalism rocks as far as I am concerned.  At the same time I understand a writer or artists wanting to get what is contractually due to them.  So until something drastic happens, and I don’t foresee that coming to pass, there are going to be some books that will probably never get the trade paperback or hardcover of Absolute treatment.

Them’s the breaks.

3. Do we really need all of that to be collected into a trade or hardcover?

A completest would say, “Hell yes we do!” but I am not so sure and most of that not being sure comes from a practical standpoint.  With the exception of Ending Battle I have every single trade listed above.  In fact I have five different editions of Man of Steel.  They don’t take up a whole heck of a lot of space but when you add those to all of the Showcases, Chronicles, and other Superman collected editions and it is well over six feet of collected editions.  So bookshelf space is a factor.

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Yes, this is my book case. Circa October 2008.

And then there’s cost.  Right now the average trade is $20.  That’s a softcover, full color, no frills edition.  It took five trades to reprint all of 1987 Superman books.  So that’s a hundred bucks on average.  Now let’s assume that the following years of Superman stories (those published in 1988, 1989 and so on) would need six volumes apiece to collect everything factoring in the addition and subtraction of titles down the line.  19 years x 6 volumes = 114 volumes x $20 a pop = $2,280.  Now sure it would be easy for me someone to order and buy the volumes as they come out and maybe even use an online service like In Stock Trades which would save me them some cash to avoid having the shell all of that money out at once.  The question then becomes what would happen when someone picks up volume 97 and wants the previous 96?  Could they afford them and more importantly would they even be available?

4. Is it too paranoid to think that the current regime at DC wants us to forget that era of Superman?

Maybe a little bit and there are a few holes in my theory, namely they reprinted John Byrne and Mike Mignola’s World of Krypton mini-series last year right around the same time they were pushing the New Krypton storyline.  Still, you have to wonder if maybe the current regime wants their version of the character to be the one that stays in prints through trades and hardcovers and let the Crisis to Crisis version waste away in back issue bins and eBay lots.

I am not saying this is the case.  I am simply putting forth the theory.

To quote George Carlin, “These are the things I think about when I’m sitting at home and the power goes out.”

No matter the case I think two things are certain; only the really big Superman story lines from the past are going to get a full color collected edition (with the possible exception of the Chronicles line) and that anything coming out now is going to be in a collected edition micro-seconds after the last part of the story is published and collected in a variety of formats too and really there is nothing wrong with that.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Frankly I think we’re lucky to have what we have.

I also think I am lucky that I have purchased most of the trades listed above well after they were first published and because of that I can get them at deep, deep discounts.

What?  I’m cheap.  That’s how it works.

More to follow…

This entry was posted in 1986-2006, Collected Editions, Superman and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to SUPERMAN BY THE TRADE

  1. Jose says:

    A fun alternative I’ve discovered is book binding. It’s the process in which you send your single issues to a book bindery and have them sewn and put into hardcover. So, basically, you’re making your own trade. If you do a barebones binding it comes out to $15 to have 25 issues bound. This is of course minus die stamps of logos. But if you have all the issues, or if you frequent 50 cent bins, you can just make your own trades/hardcovers.

    I did this with Joe Kelly’s Zod storyline and Return To Krypton 1 and 2 (along with various elseworlds stories) and they came out really well. I have non-Superman bindings, as well; some that DC will never seem to put into trade for one reason or another. The Janus Directive crossover, Young All-Stars, Chain Lightning/Dark Flash saga.

    There are drawbacks in that it costs money to ship to the good place in Texas, and the turnover period is about four weeks. But in the end it’s a fun hobby and I’ve seen a lot of people do creative collections.

  2. Michael Bailey says:

    I have heard about the book binding before and it seems like a good idea but I am just a weirdo and like to have the issues the way they are. But I do agree that it is a great alternative to waiting for DC to put out a trade.

  3. Jose says:

    I was wary of it before, myself. But, I chose it because I really do need space, so this helps. I’ve also picked books that I could stand to not be in perfect condition. It helps in that I don’t have to go through my long boxes, pull out the issue, take them out of the bags and boards, then go through the process of doing all that work to put it back in the small space I have.

    I’ve been saving up my issues to do hardcovers of the current happenings in the Superman universe from Up, Up and Away to World Without Superman. I’ve excluded the Busiek stuff and the done in one issues. Mainly the Johns stuff, adding Lightning Saga and Legion of Three Worlds.

    I was lucky enough to read most of the afformentioned trades through my library. I got to read Exile and Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite that way. And, I was even luckier in that the people who borrowed them before me took amazing care of them.

    The best way to get trades of this era or the single issues are comic conventions. As you and Jeffrey have said many times on the show, you can find these comics pretty easily in the 50 cent bin, and the conventions I go to have TONS of 50 cent bins. They have a pretty good supply, too. And, you can also get trades anywhere from 30-80% off depending on who you go to and what day. While DC isn’t reprinting a lot of these stories, they aren’t that hard to find. And the hunt makes it more fun.

  4. James Hickson says:

    For some reason the comic trades at my local library are very popular among the …. indefinitely permanent residence-impaired patrons of the libary…. and snotty tweeners, so they are not always the best condition when they get in my hands. I will give the library staff credit though, they do do the best they can to repair what damage is done.

  5. tbore says:

    And some of us just resort to illegal downloads. It’s all out there — every issue.

  6. Jose says:

    @James Hickson

    Thankfully, I live in Manhattan and we have A LOT of libraries. So if my local library doesn’t have it, I can have a trade sent from another library to mine.
    They’ve actually been pretty good with the oversized trades,too. I got Absolute Kingdom Come that way and it was in pretty good condition.

    They’re well stocked in Superman tpb’s too. I really enjoyed reading Exile. I didn’t enjoy The Trial of Superman, but Exile was amazing. I can’t wait until they get to it on From Crisis to Crisis. Actually, there’s a lot I can’t wait for them to get to…though Millenium Giants can wait.

  7. Poddington says:

    i wish i could get all the trades i want. living in the uk it can be hard sometimes to find them in stores. i can buy online but international shipping is a killer.

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  9. penfold says:

    Not precisely on topic but I wish DC would support the Bronze Age a bit more. O’Neil’s Kryptonite Nevermore/Sandman saga has been collected into a single volume (and it looks absolute dog crap too but that’s another rant) and there’s the older Superman in the 70’s collection (which was underwhelming in many ways), and that’s about it.

    As to the Byrne/Post-Byrne/FC2C era, I think DC is to be commended for supporting it as well as they have, esp as it’s gotta be harder to compile that period into a TPB. I’ve got no complaints against them whatsoever in that respect. They’re honoring that period even as they build a new future. What more could you ask for?

    Besides some freaking Bronze Age love, that is.

    The only risk here is the TPB of FC2C era costing more than the individual issues would. That could be unavoidable given the relative cheapness and plentiful availability of the majority of the back issues but there’s an argument that DC shouldn’t be held hostage by the aftermarket (specifically the lack thereof).

    Overall though, I dig the way DC is handling Superman’s history. They’re showing the character and the fans a lot of respect, as far as I’m concerned.

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