I’m back with #12, 11, and 10 from the Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus secret ballot by TigerEyes. I covered #13-15 in the last installment.
Today we’ll examine a pair of late-80s classics by a single writer and one modern-day epic that was at both highly enjoyable and fundamentally broken.
Why just three books? Other than my fingers being a little exhausted, I wanted to have the time to dig a little deeper both into the content of the books and how they might be collected. This three-omnibus installment wound up being just as long as some of the posts with twice the books!
Marvel has released these oversized omnibus editions for over a decade now, with a staggering amount of their most-popular material now covered in the format – from Silver Age debuts to modern classics. Is your favorite character or run of issues already in an Omnibus? My Marvel Omnibus & Oversized Hardcover Guide is the most comprehensive tool on the web for answering that question – it features every book, plus release dates, contents, and even breakdowns of $/page and what movies the books were released to support.
Alright, there’s plenty more to read below, so let’s get going with the next three most-wanted oversized hardcover omnibuses!
#12. Amazing Spider-Man by Michelinie, Vol. 1 AKA by Michelinie, Larsen, & Bagley
Last Year’s Rank: #13
Probable Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #330-360, Annuals 24-25, and probably also material from Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 10-11 and Web of Spider-Man Annual 6-7. This is the most-likely chunk to be covered, since the particular set of issues doesn’t contain a lot of thorny crossovers aside from the Annuals.
Possible Contents: If this volume mirrored its accompanying Epic collections, it could also include the Cosmic Spider-Man side plot from Spectacular Spider-Man #158-160 andWeb of Spider-Man #59-61 – but that all occurs between the end of the Michelinie/McFarlane omnibus and the start of this one and none of it is written by Michelinie. The Epics also include Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth OGN by Charles Vess, and Spider-Man: Fear Itself OGN. Yet, none of those are direct crossovers or written by Michelinie.
What is it? This immediately post-McFarlane Spider-Man was at the height of his popularity during a quick sprint through fighting Venom and the Sinister Six.
I tend to think of Spider-Man in terms of BV and AV – “Before Venom” and “After Venom.”
That’s not because Venom himself so fundamentally altered the course of Spider-Man as his opposite, but because Venom first emerged in Amazing Spider-Man #298 – just a few months after Spider-Man married Mary Jane and the 3rd issue in David Michelinie’s run on the character.
So, really, for me, Spider-Man is AM or PM – “ante MJ/Michelinie” and “post MJ/Michelinie.”
That’s for several reasons. Michelinie’s run started as big, glossy Spider-Man with fantastic artists. Spider-Man was massively popular in the middle of a crazy of comic book speculation. It’s also generally the end of Spider-Man that any fan considers “classic,” with Michelinie exiting at #388 just after the messy but popular Maximum Carnage story. Spider-Man would soon be embroiled in his Clone Saga, with Marvel trying to ape the inter-franchise action of X-titles and DC’s Superman with Spider-Man. He never quite returned to old status quo since – it’s felt like everyone wants to return him to the top of of this run, only without Mary Jane to tie him down.
Erik Larson pencils the majority of this run a nearly unbroken streak of issues – a feat made all the more remarkable for the fact that Amazing Spider-Man was a twice-monthly title in this period! His run is composed of a string of glossy, high-action stories that all connect with a few common themes continued from the first half of Michelinie’s run. Of course, there is more Venom. There is also a memorable arc called “The Return of the Sinister Six” which reunites those headline Spider-Man villains, but also oddly continues an arc about cocaine as currency. Peter and Mary Jane are on a pendulum of success, dealing with new contracts and lawsuits, and Black Cat is both a fierce ally when Peter loses his powers and a jealous former flame when she learns about his relationship with MJ.
The stories get more trivial when Mark Bagley replaces Larsen at #351 with the book heading into a long arc featuring Nova, Punisher, Night Thrasher, Dark Hawk, Moon Knight. Spider-Man’s core titles are never at their best when they focus on guest stars instead of Peter, and especially not with Punisher and Spider-Man trying to bolster the popularity of a number of lower-selling stars. (Why this story didn’t happen in their own books, which may have drawn in Spider-readers, I’ll never know).
This exact run of issues has now been hit in its entirety by three consecutive Epic collections – which is the most aggressive Marvel’s gotten with any multi-Epic run so far. Does that mean this material has endless fan support, as evidenced by it maintaining its rank despite full coverage in another format. Or, does it mean that Marvel has already covered the material to their liking (which includes a lot more than just Michelinie issues) and don’t plan to come back anytime soon? Either way, it’s actually the next bit of Michelinie’s run that’s under-collected, aside from Maximum Carnage.
Chances we see this in 2017? This married Spider-Man beset by Venom doesn’t align well to other Spider-Man depictions right now, and this would be the first time so far we’ve seen a run go from Epic to Omnibus. There’s always a chance the strong material in the first 2/3 of this run would merit an oversize volume, but for now I grade its chances a mere “maybe.”
Want to read it right now? Easy enough – pick up Spider-Man Epic Collection Volume 20, Volume 21, and Volume 22. Boom: done! Head to The Definitive Spider-Man Collecting Guide and Reading Order for other options and to understand how Spidey’s other titles thread through these stories.
#11. Iron Man by Michelinie, Vol. 2 AKA by Michelinie & Layton
Last Year’s Rank: #14
Probable contents: Iron Man #215-250 and material from Annuals 9 and 10.
What is it? David Michelinie, architect of “Demon in a Bottle,” returns to co-plotting with artist Bob Layton for a memorable sprint that includes one of Iron Man’s most memorable stories and a lot of personal drama.
Your eyes do not deceive you – this Iron Man run is actually not sequential to the Michelinie and Layton run that was already Omnibused ending with #157. Denny O’Neil writes the majority of the intervening issues.
Michelinie piles on the human drama from the start even in the midst of Tony Stark’s heroism – the first issue reveals Iron Man’s suit is killing him and sets James Rhodes on fire re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere!
While neither problem lasts for more than an issue, each is a strong metaphor for the remainder of the run. From competing businesses to armored villains to jilted lovers, Tony Stark’s actions are his own undoing (and frequently Rhodey’s too). The existence of Iron Man seems to be necessitated entirely by Tony’s behavior and its grave, sometimes life-threatening consequences.
The villains in the first half of the run are threats to both business and safety – Roxxon, Justin Hammer, and the debut of future Thunderbolt, Ghost. This comes to a head in the famous story Stark Wars (AKA Armor Wars), where Tony discovers that many of his armored foes are using technology based on his own designs. As he hunts down the various enemies his actions as Iron Man garner a public backlash, causing Stark to “fire” his bodyguard Iron Man.
After a brief conflict with Mandarin (again, due to business interests), the back half of the run gets personal again, with Stark suffering a grave injury due to a decidedly non-heroic circumstance.
On the whole, this is a brisk, enjoyable run that blurs the line between competing businesses and super-villains.
Chances we see this in 2017? The first half of this run was recently in an Epic collection, but the issues after Stark Wars ends have never before been reprinted! Given some of Marvel’s recent Epic choices, I think it’s more likely that shellhead’s mid-year Epic will finish this run off than see an omnibus of the content – which, aside from Armor Wars, doesn’t have the pedigree of the prior Michelinie tome.
Want to read it right now? See the Iron Man Guide to pick up some of this run in color via Epic Collection.
#10. Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 1
Last Year’s Rank: #16
Probable Contents: Avengers#1-34, New Avengers #1-23, and… I’ll get back to this in a moment.
What is it? Widescreen, massive-in-scope Avengers with impeccable art that’s full of heady sci-fi and low on characterization (unless you count the backstage machinations of the men who control our fate in New Avengers.
Comics fans just cannot leave well enough alone, can they? Jonathan Hickman’s run of Avengers and New Avengers has now hit a staggering three formats in as many years (including oversize hardcovers!) plus some issues in a fourth and fifth format as they were grouped with Infinity collections.
That should be enough, right? Not for comics fans! Before I lament that fact any further, let me tell you about The Avengers. Strap in – this is going to be a long one.
The Avengers have never had a shortage of world-threatening problems to solve, but never before have they had the platform and visibility of being Marvel’s premiere team they way they did after their movie version hit the screen. Would some of Roger Stern’s stories be expanded to multi-part, multi-year epics if he wrote them today. Yes, ma’am, they would.
Brian Bendis blazed this path past popularity to utter ubiquity on his New Avengers, where he exploded the prior team and turned the Avengers into Marvel’s Justice League – where anyone and everyone could be a member.
Bendis unfurled a lot of major linewide events in his run, but the arcs in between tended to be smaller in scope. That’s not just because his characters did more talking than fighting, but because he used street-level, lower-power heroes. That changed in the second portion of his run that began in 2010, but Avengers vs. X-Men aborted it and eclipsed the larger themes of time travel he was working on, which were shunted into Age of Ultron and a pair of X-Men Annuals.
Enter Jonathan Hickman in January 2013, fresh from an unbelievably hot run on Fantastic Four (seriously, it was hard to believe how popular he made it – it spawned a second title). He assembled 18 Avengers who thought they were saving the world plus a side book following The Illuminati who were doing the actual saving.
Hickman’s Avengers is the utter opposite of Bendis’s. His team’s scope is planet-wide and even intergalactic. The stakes of their battle are the very existence of the universe. They have no personal relationships (save for one) and little downtime to chatter in their Tower. His run opened with an intricate map of Avengers including who served on what team and how they connected, but it was a red herring. None of it mattered.
In fact, his nihilistic thesis is “Everything Dies.” Heroes are cardboard cutouts, endless brightly-colored lemmings leaping in front of speeding trains of increasing size and velocity until the trains are entire planets and the heroes are the entire population of the Marvel Universe.
Really, Jonathan’s Hickman’s Avengers were useless aside from turning back the tide in Infinity. The true story happened in New Avengers, which could have easily been titled “The Illuminati.” This was where the power-players (all men) actually decided the fate of our planet and the universe.
These men were decidedly not heroes, as evidenced by the fact that they need to brainwash Captain America in order to forget they exist in order to get anything done. The Illuminati uncover the real threat to Earth and furiously prepare to thwart it, blurring the line between hero and villain even further in the process.
I have two primary critiques of this run.
First, Hickman really needed to use his Avengers in other contexts, but his story was so grand and he was under such time constraints that he didn’t have the time past a pre-Infinity arc of #10-12. That’s why the sideline Avengers World title became such a thrill during the back half of the run – it continued those three stories. It was fun to see this outstanding cast tackle the occasional problem they could actually defeat.
Second, he really needed a woman on that Illuminati team other than their inherited Black Swan. Powerful men pulling all the strings isn’t a resonant subtext anymore because it’s just the damned text. While he poached Beast from The X-Men, Emma Frost as Xavier’s successor would have been a delightful and confident amoral voice in a room with Tony Stark, Namor, or Black Swan. (While Kitty Pryde is the go-to female genius of Marvel, not many other women of Marvel would fit in with the morally gray masterminds of the Illuminati crowd. But that’s own blog post.)
Ultimately, all of the mystery Hickman builds ends in a whimper, because like its heroes none of it matters. His heroes fail. That’s not to say his run was bad. He actually stuck the landing quite well on Secret Wars, which proves the thesis of his combined Fantastic Four and Avengers run isn’t nihilistic at all: “Everything dies … love conquers all.”
Now, on to the actual omnibus.
The problem with all of the many existing collections of Hickman’s run (save for Infinity) is that they do not thread Hickman’s two-title run into a proper single running order until Time Runs Out. That discontinuity between the two titles made for a jerky read in separate initial release hardcovers. When Hickman has been allowed to get things in his proper order for collections including Secret Warriors, FF, and Infinity, he does so beautifully with integrated chapter breaks so that it feels like one long, seamless story instead of just a collection of issues.
That would be pretty darn awesome with this mega run of Avengers – perhaps the biggest self-contained Avengers story ever told – and a major reason to trade in those OHCs for an Omnibus.
The current oversized hardcover collections currently look like this:
- Avengers #1-11: Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 1
- New Avengers #1-12: New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 1
- Avengers #12-23: Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 2
- New Avengers #13-23: New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 2
- Infinity: Collects Infinity #1-6 along with repeating Avengers #14-23 and New Avengers #7-12 in integrated story order (i.e., you cannot only read the Infinity issues – they’re all mashed together.
- Avengers #24-34: Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Vol. 3
- Avengers #35-44 & New Avengers #24-33: Avengers: Time Runs Out (this an omnibus in everything but name)
To meet up with the Time Runs Out pseudo-Omnibus we need to fit the first 57 issues into two volumes – 63 if we count Infinity. That probably means we’d get the following two-volume breakout:
- Avengers by Hickman, Vol. 1: 41 issues – Avengers #1-23, New Avengers #1-12, and Infinity #1-6
- Avengers by Hickman, Vol. 2: 22 issues – Avengers #24-34 and New Avengers #13-23
That’s a little imbalanced, but there’s not really a way to break up the hunk of intertwined Infinity issues without also omitting Infinity itself. What if they just leave the existing Infinity volume in the middle of two omnibuses? Then we’d get:
- Avengers by Hickman, Vol. 1: 17 issues – Avengers #1-11 and New Avengers #1-6
- Avengers by Hickman, Vol. 2: 22 issues – Avengers #24-34 and New Avengers #13-23
Not only is that first title hardly qualified to be an omnibus, but it’s barely an improvement on the first oversize collect! In fact, this is probably the approach the should have taken to the oversized books to begin with, simply splitting Vol. 2 into halves.
Okay, so let’s hang on to the idea that Volume 1 is best as a 41-issue monster that incorporates Infinity – that’s a pretty definitive first chapter of Hickman’s run. How can that second volume be better?
Hickman started out as the co-writer and plotter on Avengers World, which contained the spillover stories he wasn’t going to have time for in his main Avengers run. That was just for 5 issues, but as it continues the series aligns pretty closely with some of the main Avengers plots (particularly with AIM). Issues #1-14 are the ones that match Hickman’s run best; #15-16 align to Axis, which Hickman skips, and #17-21 pair with Time Runs Out – that OHC ship already sailed. But, they’d fit just fine…
- Avengers by Hickman, Vol. 1: 41 issues – Avengers #1-23, New Avengers #1-12, and Infinity #1-6
- Avengers by Hickman, Vol. 2: 43 issues – Avengers #24-34, New Avengers #13-23, & Avengers World #1-21
Phew. Could it ever happen? The thing is, getting this first volume wouldn’t actually tell us if it happened, because it wouldn’t ever reach Avengers World. So, even if we get this first volume in a year or two, we wouldn’t know the result until the second one.
Chances we see this in 2017? Marvel is already pushing forward with omnibus volumes of several Marvel Now runs that have already hit oversize format in Deadpool and Ms. Marvel. With Secret Wars generally deemed to be a massive success, there’s no shortage of interest in this run even if the sentiment is that it was a bit stuffy. We could see it by the end of 2017.
Want to read it right now? Like I said above – you have many options! See Avengers & New Avengers for a breakdown and some help in figuring out the right reading order.
Absolutely wonderful detailed write-ups of these comic runs, was a pleasure to read this morning! Thank so much!
As a huge X-Men fan, your site has been such an invaluable source, so Thank you!
Thank you SO MUCH, Raju! I was a little worried I went overboard with the Hickman writeup, so it means a lot to see a comment on this one ;)
As a huge X-Men fan, this site is for you, so you’re very welcome.