> Marvel Essentials Library



by Kevin Ricci, aka Essentials Fan

1. What is the purpose of this page?

The goal is that the ESSENTIAL LIBRARY and FAQ will serve as a guide to the ESSENTIAL line of trade paperbacks, helping comic buyers see what is contained in an ESSENTIAL before ordering or buying one. There are little pieces of information scattered throughout the web on each volume, but there was seemingly no one place to find out about them. Until now…!

2. What is an ESSENTIAL?

An ESSENTIAL is a trade paperback produced by Marvel Comics that typically contains 500+ pages of black and white reprints (a few are over 600 pages!), retailing between $14.95 and $16.99, with the ESSENTIAL Godzilla costing $19.99. Each volume focuses on a certain character or team. They are printed on inexpensive paper and measure about an inch thick, akin to a small phonebook, with recent volumes even thicker. They have been released on an irregular basis in the past, sometimes twice a year and sometimes eight times per year. In 2005, they started coming out on a monthly basis, and on months that there were no Golden Age Masterwork release, Marvel often released two volumes! In 2006, there are going to be at least 24 volumes released, with no slow down in sight for 2007! All of the past volumes are currently in print with the exception of ESSENTIAL Conan, which due to legal issues, may never again be reprinted by Marvel (Dark Horse currently holds the rights to reprint the old Marvel Conan issues). Also, ESSENTIAL Godzilla is most likely not going back to press. In 2005, DC Comics, obviously enamored with the whole ESSENTIAL concept, created a virtually identical line of trades called Showcase Presents.

3. Why are they printed in black and white?

To keep the costs down. The powers that be have stated that in order to print an ESSENTIAL in color, it would almost triple the cost. Readers looking for a better quality format should look to the wonderful Masterwork line, which is a much higher quality (and much more expensive) series of color hardcover reprint books, or the line of Classic trade paperbacks, which reprints comics of an older vintage in color.

4. Why are some of the covers I see online or in the bookstore inconsistent?

After the first printing of ESSENTIAL Spider-man Volume 4, the cover design was revamped. The new spines have (from top to bottom) the Marvel Comics logo (one of the older logo designs), the word ESSENTIAL in white going down, the name of the character or team in various colors going down (usually made to resemble the title as it appeared on the actual comic), and the volume number in various colors on top of a colored circle (except Godzilla, which just features the monster on a colored circle), all on a black background. The old spines had a picture of a character that featured in the stories at the top and bottom of the spine, the Marvel Comics Logo, and the words ESSENTIAL and the title in white, sometimes going down, sometimes going up, all on a white background. In some cases, the cover art has been adjusted when a new printing has been released, in other cases all new cover art is used or an image from one of the included stories is "cut and pasted".

There are new third printings that started in 2005 with the re-release of Fantastic Four Volume 1, where the design is almost identical to the Version 2 design, but the cover art has been modified. These re-releases have been using newly colored cover art from one of the included comics contained within as opposed to newly commissioned artwork or clip art. These printings often correct errors from previous printings such as the inclusion of missing pin-ups, chronological corrections such as the placement of Annuals, and in some cases, the addition of brand new material, like ESSENTIAL X-Men Volume 4 including the graphic novel "God Loves, Man Kills". These printings are unofficially deemed as Version 3, and are what the new collector should look for when purchasing ESSENTIALS.

5. What titles are coming up?

The formal list at this website is kept at the main Essentials Libary page, on the left sidebar below the introduction. As news comes in of upcoming Essentials, it will be posted here, so check back as often as you like!

There seems to be an infinite amount of opinions on what should be coming up after these volumes, with everything from ESSENTIAL Champions to ESSENTIAL Foom, ESSENTIAL Devil Dinosaur to ESSENTIAL Sub-Mariner. Heck, who could have expected Super-Villain Team-Up or Killraven? Not me! So it seems the sky is the limit with this line of books.

6. How can I add to this page?

I am always looking for reprint oddities, especially for the Spider-Man volumes. For instance, if an issue came from Marvel Tales, or if an editorial note was modified, or if a panel was manipulated, let me know! Also, if you see an incorrect factoid, and I will correct it next time around.

7. Why do you nitpick the oddities in each volume?

In the vain hope that if and when each volume is reprinted, the powers that be correct these little mistakes, making a better ESSENTIAL. Also, they are kind of fun to try and find. They in no way take away the enjoyment of these great works!

8. What would I add to the ESSENTIALS?

Keep them coming 24 times a year! I’d also reprint the letters pages and Bullpen Bulletins, even if the room they take costs one issue per volume. The letters pages from the Silver Age were great and would add hours of reading to an ESSENTIAL. The No-Prizes, the explanations, and the like would be pretty darn cool. As for the design of the book, I would make the spines more consistent, as sometime the word ESSENTIAL is compressed, sometimes it is elongated, making for an anal-retentive-unfriendly bookshelf. Also, I would have thumbnails of all of the reprinted comic’s covers on the back cover of the ESSENTIAL to further entice prospective buyers and to give new readers a small look at the colors of the characters.

(Slightly amusing anecdote: when the ESSENTIALS were mired in a very slow release phase, I suggested in this very section of the old FAQ that Marvel should increase the price a few bucks and increase the publication rate – a few months later, wish granted!)

9. What would I like to see “Essentialized” next?

a. A first volume for any left over Silver Age titles – Sgt. Fury, Captain Marvel, and Subby to start.

b. A third volume for Uncanny X-Men, with the remainder of the X-Men run, and Amazing Adventures 11-17, the Angel tales from Ka-Zar and Marvel Tales, and all the other random X-Men stories, pre-Giant Size X-Men #1.

c. A Marvel Classic 1960’s and a Marvel Classic 1970’s volume, to grab all the one or two issue series and backups that have no chance of seeing print anywhere else.

d. ESSENTIAL Comedy starring Not Brand Ecch! If there’s not enough to fill up a volume, throw in other "comedy issues" – the famous What If issue, the Fantastic Four Roast, and even relevant Crazy Magazine features.

e. A volume of Western issues, as I’ve never read a Marvel Western story and think it would be a lot of fun.

f. A volume of Spidey Super Stories for the kiddies. This would make the coolest coloring book of all time!

g. More horror! Morbius! Creatures on the Loose! Monsters on the Prowl!

h. Anything! Just keep these gems coming!

10. What do some comic professionals think of the ESSENTIALS?

John Byrne, Artist: "I love the ESSENTIALS. They are, in many cases, the closest any of us will get to seeing the original art. (And you can quote me!)"

Tom Brevoort, Editor: "I like the ESSENTIALS books because they give me a big ol' heapin' hunk of classic comic book reading for a very affordable price, and the support for said format has allowed us to get a number of vintage series (Ant-Man, Human Torch, etc.) back into print."

If you’re a pro and you have any opinions, drop me an e-mail!

Special thanks for the development of this page go to:

Eric San Juan
Ronald J. Rickard Jr.
Kate the Short
W. Blaine Dowler
Kurt Busiek

There have been other very helpful contributors, either via newsgroups or e-mail, but some have supplied data that was already collected. Thanks anyway, you know who you are!

Website design by Doug Roberts and John Thomas. All images on this page are copyright of Marvel Comics. This site is for reference purposes and promotion of the Masterworks line of books as well as Marvel Comics and their properties.