Thursday, October 4, 2012

Giant-Size Headache

Before they diminished to being reprints of "king-sized" annuals--something even the annuals themselves shamefully did at times--Marvel's "Giant-Size" series of issues in the mid-'70s were very interesting diversions from their regular books. Meaty in content, with no shortage of creative talent, some of them were very good reads. Unfortunately, they were unsustainable. Imagine you're the editor at Marvel, and having to pull together staff to publish what amounted to annual-sized books on a quarterly basis for all your titles, in addition to their other work.

Three years earlier, Marvel tried a similar experiment with larger formats, and immediately decided it was a bad idea. This time, the company took baby steps--at first publishing an all-inclusive book called Giant-Size Super-Stars that would assumedly feature a different character with every issue (like the old Marvel Super-Heroes large format book). And this time, they struck gold. Priced at 35¢--just 10¢ above normal book pricing at the time--apparently the book sold so well (helped in no small part by a beautiful Thing vs. Hulk cover) that Marvel suspended their quarterly schedule and rushed to stores a new, renamed title, Giant-Size Super-Heroes, featuring their top-seller, Spider-Man--this time taking advantage of the horror craze and having Spider-Man battle the "team" of Morbius and the Man-Wolf. Again priced at 35¢, this book also did well at sales.

Now if you're a Marvel editor, and you saw sales like this, what would you do at this point? Would you still proceed cautiously, and stick with one book--or would you jump off a cliff and expand this format into just about all your titles?

Remember--you're a Marvel editor.

The very next month, Giant-Size Spider-Man makes its debut, with a price increase to 50¢:

Right. So much for baby steps.

Originally, Marvel's plans for these oversized books were more ambitious, with the giant-size books supplemented with super-giant titles at 60¢ apiece and clocking in at 100 pages:

At some point, sanity prevailed and that tangent to the plan died a'borning, with a decision to simply proceed with the giant-size books and notch up their price.

Marvel returns to its quarterly schedule for the series, but they expand the "Giant-Size" line to several other titles, as well as moving heaven and Earth in terms of staff to publish them. For the most part, they're able to keep up the pace--sticking to original stories, and even tying in stories to the regular books in an effort to boost exposure and sales. And as I mentioned--creatively, they pull out all the stops for these books. But after producing three or four additional quarterly 40-page stories for each title (supplementing each issue with 23 pages of reprinted material), the inevitable happens. Unable to maintain such a pace with current staff, the books shift to 100% reprints--mostly of annuals, the only stories available in the length to match this format. Amazingly, the Giant-Size titles for Thor, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Iron Man are launched with all reprinted material. In essence, the company is now trying to squeeze water from a stone.

So after just over a year of publication, the Giant-Size format comes to a disappointing end. But there were a few notable events in its short history:

Giant-Size Avengers #4
The Wedding of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch

Brings to an end the Celestial Madonna story in The Avengers, gives us a battle with Dormammu--and, oh yeah, has Immortus presiding over the joining of Vish and Wanda in marriage. Call me crazy, but Immortus isn't exactly my idea of a good luck charm.

Giant-Size X-Men #1
A New X-Men Team is Formed

The new X-Men make their first appearance ever, in order to battle--an island. A sentient, malevolent island. Okay, points deducted for concept--but the characters are well-written, and it's a good lead-in for their next appearance in the regular title.

Giant-Size Creatures #1
Werewolf By Night Meets Tigra the Were-Woman

A completely forgettable story, but it's the first appearance of Tigra, formerly The Cat. The thing is, by the time the story's over, you wonder if Tigra is a step up.

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1
The Sub-Mariner Seeks Out Dr. Doom and Proposes an Alliance

Variation on a theme, yes--but it does launch a semi-successful series, which features Doom and Namor for a time. Most of it is focused on Doom using the carrot-on-a-stick approach with Namor vis-à-vis Atlantis.

Giant-Size Avengers #2
Kang the Conqueror Makes his Final Play for the Celestial Madonna

We learn the identity of the Celestial Madonna--but the issue also marks the death of the Swordsman. Plus it's the first field test for Wanda's increased power level under the tutelage of Agatha Harkness. Let's just say meteors are involved.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

those looked great- saw some at a local comicon this past June. for what they make on comics & what they sell for now, comics companies should have enough to hire more artists to make this happen again... or would we buy them?

Comicsfan said...

In a perfect world, I'd buy the product if the quality could be maintained and the price were reasonable. But I think those are two tall orders, even if Marvel could somehow have a herd of amazing writers and artists at its beck and call. Essentially, we're talking about publishing "king-size annuals" for most of Marvel's titles four times a year, with a minimum of 40 pages each (assuming the books retain the 20+ pages of reprint material), and at a hefty price. That means pulling four above-the-norm extra stories per character out of your hat per year--and they'd better be damn important stories, given the considerable strain you'd be adding to your customers' wallets. And wouldn't it be fun to pay top dollar for reprinted material on a regular basis? :)

With the Giant-Size books, I think Marvel found success for the (very) short term--but as we saw, it didn't take long for the concept to lose the wind from its sails. There was also the feeling that it was saturating the racks with these characters--too much of a good thing. I think what might make everyone happy is to rein in the greed a little bit and return to the concept of the old annuals, assuming they could be high quality and not have any reprinted material. I have disappointing memories of some of those annuals being phoned in--and that was bad enough when it was just happening once a year!

dbutler16 said...

These came along just a little before I started collecting comics, so I was never able to buy any on the newsstand. Come to think of it, Giant-Size Marvels are something I tend to overlook, and I need to rectify that oversight, though of course I've read some, such as the Giant-Size Avenger and the Giant-Size X-Men.