I remember the first times I saw hardcover Marvel collections, and I still have one of the two original volumes: Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt and Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 1: The Amazing Spider-Man. I couldn't believe a company would actually make these available in such a superlative format. They were a rarity, to be sure, and I had to beg and plead Mom and Dad to buy them for me (I was 8 or 9, I think, and these books were $20-$30 when the average comic cost only 75 cents). These things were keepsakes!
Only periodically would I buy any softcover or hardcover edition over the intervening years. A Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 8: The Incredible Hulk here, a Wolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller trade there. It's hard to believe that now, hardcovers are overwhelming the apartment, burgeoned by the Marvel Masterworks program that has just released its 128th volume (!) and oversize hardcovers I've bought and had autographed and sketched by the likes of John Romita Jr., Kaare Andrews, Khoi Pham, Dan Brereton, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Wagner, Joe Quesada, and even Stan Lee.
And you know, 2009 has been a banner year for these hardcovers!
Keep in mind, I've often thought certain collections should be published, but to see the Masterworks program pick up to the point where these books would become available, it's just a dream come true. (An expensive dream, but one onetheless.) Of course, back in the day I first wanted these, I wanted softcovers in color, then later Essentials in B&W, but now that I've been bitten by the hardcover bug...well, things just don't get better than the below:
I remember reading The Infinity Gauntlet back in the 1990s, and around the time of its first sequel, The Infinity War, Marvel rereleased the Warlock special editions from the early 1980s that collected Jim Starlin's first cosmic opus. I had to wonder why these books weren't in a trade collection much like the Life of Captain Marvel trade that I'd picked up to catch up on the character of Thanos some months previous--after all, those books were first collected in a similar 5-issue series in the 80s.
Back in 2007, I bought the first collection of Warlock, the original incarnation revamped by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. I have had a soft spot over the years for "Counter-Earth," the world created by the High Evolutionary on the opposite side of the sun from the regular Marvel-Earth, and that first collection had the tale of its creation and development. It's also a Marvel riff on "Jesus Christ Superstar." I still heartily recommend that first Marvel Masterworks volume starring Warlock, but volume 2, Starlin's, is where the series and character hit their stride. I highly recommend it.
Then, of course, there's the next little gem, even more remarkable for its release last month.
Deathlok--a book far ahead of its time. Before Gibson's Neuromancer, before Blade Runner, before Robocop or Terminator came this guy, the original soldier trapped inside the body of a cybernetic killing machine, against the backdrop of a dystopic, not-too-distant future. Remarkably, this book includes every appearance of Deathlok from his debut in 1974 through the conclusion of his adventures, alongside the Star-Spangled Avenger himself in Captain America #288. (The alternate timeline was, apparently, finally closed off in the next issue of Cap, #289, which is not included herein, chiefly because it doesn't feature Deathlok.)
These books are a lot of fun, and it shows the strength of the Marvel line that some of the new Masterworks featuring material from the 1970s are some of the series' strongest offerings. I look forward to seeing the inevitable release of future volumes like Iron Fist Vol. 1 and Black Panther Vol. 1 (the latter because I have always wanted to read the old Jungle Action stories by Don McGregor and Billy Graham). (By the same token, I'm not holding my breath for Man-Wolf Vol. 1.)
I heart my Masterworks!