13 Great Comics Treasuries That Never Were

Maybe over on Earth-Two…

Ever listen to Rob Kelly’s TreasuryCast? I you haven’t, you should. It’s an immensely entertaining look at what Rob calls the best comics format ever. (Hard to argue the point.)

The latest episode is up, featuring – yes! – Rudolph’s Summer Fun, and you can click here to hear it or listen on iTunes. (Hey, I’m a guest!)

Anyway, Rob, who also writes our REEL RETRO CINEMA column (click here), takes a look at what coulda, shoulda, woulda, mighta been, with 13 GREAT COMICS TREASURIES THAT NEVER WERE. – Dan

By ROB KELLY

As good as the classic treasury editions DC and Marvel released in the 1970s and 80s were (and they were really good), the history of the format is littered with projects that never saw the light of a newsstand. Below is a list of 13 treasury editions that almost were, might have been, and a few that should have been:

Action Comics #500. DC Comics rightfully made a big deal about Action Comics hitting its 500th issue (as they did just this year when they doubled that record), featuring a 68-page story that trip-hammers through the Man of Steel’s storied past. But it was originally designed as an issue of All-New Collectors’ Edition, tentatively titled “Superman’s Life Story.” Not that Action #500 isn’t a fine comic, but considering that 1978 was Superman’s 40th anniversary, it would have been great to celebrate that in the treasury size. As you’ll see, this is not the only missed opportunity when it comes to Superman and treasury editions.

Contest of Champions. Marvel Treasury Edition #25 stars Spider-Man and the Hulk squaring off at the Winter Olympics, and the inside back cover features an ad for a sequel to take place at the Summer Olympics. Alas, the United States would end up boycotting those Games, so Marvel rejiggered the material already commissioned and turned it into the Marvel’s Contest of Champions miniseries. A collector of some of that series’ original art pages told me you could see figures of Olympic athletes peeking through the paste-ups.

Justice League of America. “When A World Dies Screaming” was a three-part JLA Casebook story that ran in Justice League of America #’s 210-212, written by that series’ regular writer Gerry Conway and drawn by the late, great Rich Buckler with inks by Romeo Tanghal. I read JLA religiously as a kid, and wondered why we were seeing a “casebook” story, which didn’t feature newest members Zatanna and Firestorm. Well, that’s because this story was originally commissioned as an all-new DC treasury but got shoved into the inventory drawer once DC started scaling back on the format. This one is a real loss, because Conway delivers a huge, sprawling, widescreen story that is perfect for a treasury edition, and Rich Buckler does some really fine work bringing it to life. Hell, one of the alien races in this story is called the Treasurers!

JLA/Avengers. Back before the internet, you had to rely on fan magazines to get the inside scoop on what was going on behind the scenes in the world of comics. But the JLA/Avengers project had such hype around it that even the most casual fan knew it was coming, and then was left wondering why it never happened. DC Comics bigwig Dick Giordano went so far as to discuss some of the interoffice politicking with Marvel that helped kill the book in his “Meanwhile…” columns, even though artist George Perez had already produced some amazing art for it. JLA/Avengers, of course, would see the light of day many years later, but in very different form and not as a treasury edition.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Yet another Gerry Conway-related project that got scuttled, King Arthur got so far along that DC ran house ads promoting it. Artist Nestor Redondo did some amazing work on the book, and some of his original pages made their way into the hands of collectors. The book would be mentioned in DC’s in-house fanzine The Amazing World of DC Comics several times, always with the promise it was “coming soon.” The project was never finished, which probably accounts for why the material that was bought and paid for never appeared, even as a back-up in one of DC’s fantasy titles. A crying shame, King Arthur looked like a thing of beauty.

Ozma of Oz. DC and Marvel broke new ground by collaborating on a treasury-sized adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, whose yearly rebroadcast on television was always a major event (there was even a Mego toy line). Marvel would follow-up with a treasury adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz, and they started on Ozma of Oz when the company learned, to its fiduciary horror, that the rights to the third book had not yet fallen into public domain. Writer Roy Thomas and artist Alfredo Alcala were told to stop working, and they did, and Marvel never went back to it. This beautiful house ad by the great John Romita is all we have.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rudolph was a huge treasury star for DC, headlining no less than seven all-original treasury editions (Batman—Batman—only got one more). The most famous reindeer of all would close out his treasury career with 1978’s Rudolph’s Summer Fun, but it wasn’t meant to be that way. DC put together another Christmas-themed collection, but by the time they published it they were focusing less on treasuries and more on digests. The Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #4 stars Rudolph, complete with puzzle pages and the kind of activity book content that typically was seen in the treasuries. DC basically took the whole book and scaled it way, way down.  (Hey, click here to check out the new TreasuryCast! Rob and I talk about Rudolph’s Summer Fun! — Dan)

The Shadow. OK, as far as I know, a Shadow treasury was never even remotely considered, but I put it on this list because I wanted to see it so bad. In the 1970s, DC and Marvel went on a licensing frenzy, picking up movie, TV, literary, and even toy properties left and right, hoping to score big. While Marvel generally focused more on sci-fi/fantasy (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Shogun Warriors), DC gave try-outs to pulp heroes like the Shadow, the Avenger (in Justice, Inc.), and Sherlock Holmes. DC even licensed the legendary Dick Tracy for a single treasury edition, which, while superb, was a giant flop, saleswise. Their Shadow series was equally good, and it would have been amazing to see those stories by the likes of Denny O’Neil and Mike Kaluta blown up big enough to cloud men’s minds.

Superman: The Movie. It seems insane that DC Comics never produced an adaptation of 1978’s Superman, a massive critical and financial hit and one of the greatest comic-book movies ever made (the greatest, if you ask me). But due to a financially onerous contract from original screenwriter Mario Puzo (hot off The Godfather films), any material he came up with could not be adapted without forking over a huge pile of cash. So, unbelievably, DC passed, which is why there are no comic-book versions of Superman or Superman II. But, you know, DC would make up for that by producing adaptations of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and that’s just as good, right? (You should click here to check out Rob and Chris Franklin’s Superman Movie Minute podcast. It’s fab. — Dan.)

Swamp Thing. Some artists were done no favors when their work was reprinted at the larger treasury size. Other artists’ work was so superb that getting to see it up close and bigger than life only made you appreciate it more. The late Bernie Wrightson certainly falls into the latter category, and it’s a shame that his crowning achievement, the original Swamp Thing series, never got a chance to been seen as a treasury. DC knew there was a demand for reprinting these stories as a collection, and they did numerous times, like in DC Special Series #1 in 1977. If DC had still been doing treasuries in 1982, they could have released it as a movie tie-in.

Wonder Woman. It’s simply amazing that Wonder Woman never got a chance to headline a DC treasury edition all her own. Sure, she fought the Man of Steel in the all-new Superman vs. Wonder Woman (Gerry Conway again!) and her historic appearances in Sensation Comics #1 and Wonder Woman #1 were preserved for posterity thanks to DC’s Famous First Edition series of reprints, but unlike her fellow JLAers Superman and Batman, she never got the chance to have a “best of” treasury published with her name on the cover. While the Amazing Amazon was never a huge mover of comic books, she did have her own TV series in the late 1970s, and you’d think that would have been enough for DC to put something together. (Can you say Lynda Carter Photo Cover?). They never did, and when 2017’s Wonder Woman blockbuster came and went without a brand-new treasury, I put together this mock-up cover to see if it would get DC to budge. It didn’t work.

The X-Men. To comics fans of a certain age, it’s impossible to imagine a time when the Uncanny X-Men were not major stars in the Marvel Universe. But for much of the 1970s, the merry band of mutants were B-level characters at best, so that’s why when you look at Marvel’s treasury output, the X-Men are nowhere to be found, even after Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont, and John Byrne turned the title into a, er, juggernaut. The closest Marvel got to acknowledging this reality was in Marvel Treasury Edition #26, which features an all-new (read: unused inventory) back-up starring Wolverine and… Hercules?

The X-Men/Teen Titans. Like JLA/Avengers, this one really hurts. After featuring team-ups of Superman and Spider-Man and Batman and the Hulk, DC and Marvel decided to kick things up a notch by pairing their super-teams together. While the JLA and the Avengers didn’t happen at the time, X-Men/Teen Titans did, and it is a whole lot of fun. Written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Walt Simonson and Terry Austin, the only thing I would change about this book is make it a treasury! I can only assume the reason it was published as a (roughly) regular sized-book is that both companies were pretty much out of the treasury business by 1982 (though Marvel was still holding on with a few licensed properties). That’s a crime against humanity—like Bernie Wrightson, Walter Simonson is an artist whose work is crying out to be seen as big as possible.

Portraits of Villainy. Sadly, “lost” treasuries are not limited to the classic 1970s/’80s era of the format. Paul Dini and Alex Ross produced a series of outstanding treasury-sized, square-bound editions in the late 1990s/early 2000s, starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and the Justice League facing real-world problems. At the time I was hoping these books would jump-start a revival of the format, but it never quite happened. Ross has called the treasuries his “favorite form of entertainment comics have ever provided” and these books show his love for the format on every page.

Even after producing six outstanding volumes, Dini and Ross weren’t quite done—they hatched an idea called Portraits of Villainy, which would be a book of one-page portraits of DC super-villains, featuring bios written in their own twisted voices. Ross went so far as to draw a series of small sketches, which he later published on his website. According to Ross, DC wanted to do it, but decided it just didn’t have enough sales heft to make it worth the risk, so the project was dropped. While I agree Portraits of Villainy doesn’t have the instant, marketwide appeal of a Superman or Batman book, it still seems remarkable that industry superstars like Dini and Ross weren’t enough to make this happen. Now that comics fans are a lot more comfortable dropping huge sums of cash on high-end deluxe hardcover editions of various books, maybe someday these villains will get to tell their tales.

And that’s 13 Great Treasuries That Never Were! I’m happy to report that Marvel is sort of back in the treasury business, having released over-sized collections of Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Women of Marvel in the last few years. (There’s also Ed Piskor’s slightly smaller X-Men: Grand Design.) With more and more blockbuster Marvel movies on the way, I hope they can find their way to releasing more of these keepsake books, considering they have decades’ worth of material that would look great at the larger size. DC seems more resistant, but with Aquaman and Shazam movies around the corner, who knows? In an age where entertainment content is designed to be more and more disposable, I think there’s a longing to have something feel special and permanent again.

One final note: The mathematicians among you out there undoubtedly noticed the above list is 14 books, not 13. In keeping with the theme, aren’t things better when they’re bigger?

Rob Kelly is a writer/artist/comics and film historian. He is the host or co-host of several shows on The Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Aquaman and Firestorm: The Fire and Water Podcast, The Film and Water Podcast, TreasuryCast, Superman Movie Minute, MASHCast and Pod Dylan.

You can read Rob’s REEL RETRO CINEMA columns here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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6 Comments

  1. I love the treasuries so much! Such an amazing format!
    I know that over on the Wikipedia page for the Limited Collectors Edition the contests listed for the ‘Best of DC Volume 2’ are:

    The Brave and the Bold #42 (Hawkman – “Menace of the Dragonfly Raiders”);
    All-Star Western #11 I’m assuming/guessing Jonah Hex – “The Hundred Dollar Deal”;
    Superman #247 (“Must There Be A Superman?”);
    and Green Lantern #75 (“The Golden Obelisk of Qward”)

    Do we know if this is really for real and if these were the only stories considered for Volume 2?

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  2. Great stuff Rob! I would also add that its weird that The Flash never got his own treasury either. While the rest of the big JLAers’ titles came and went, Flash continued to plug along. Imagine a treasury of Earth One/Earth Two Flash team-ups!

    Of course you did have the Superman/Flash treasury, but that was probably more because of Superman.

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    • It really does show how much time has changed that WW, Flash and GL never got treasuries. I mean, the O’Neil/Adams GL/GA alone…

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  3. The X-Men did appear in The Astonishing Spider-Man treasury, which reprinted an early X-Men appearance in MTU.

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