Avengers Classic

It’s Friday plus lol does anything even matter at this point so let’s burrow into the back-issue bins for some old and/or obscure comics.

Once again, I’m admittedly writing about a big name from a big publisher, but Avengers Classic from 2007 was, relatively, a brief blip and was certainly a little odd. Maybe a lot odd.

On the surface, Avengers Classic is obvious. A serial reprinting of Marvel’s popular Avengers title. The reprints have new cover artwork, which has been fairly typical for reprints for decades. (This makes some sense, even when the original covers were iconic Jack Kirby drawings, because it has always been ordinary for publishers to fuss over different options for cover art, knowing its importance to sales. It has probably become even more reasonable as printing technology has improved, and modern coloring in particular involves rich hues and gradients which 1960s comics art was never intended to blend with.)

Also on the surface, Avengers Classic is very obviously modeled on the Classic X-Men reprint series of a couple decades earlier. That doesn’t seem so odd, but the more I examine this in detail the more odd it becomes.

Let’s start with the design, and in particular the re-use of this goofy, fussy curlicue font for “classic.” It’s taken directly from Classic X-Men of 21 years earlier. That’s kind of arbitrary right out of the gate, a reach two decades into the past, not to any kind of original material but to a 1980s design choice made for a reprint series.

I should point out, here, that Classic X-Men sold fairly well, presumably, running from 1986-1995. The selection of it as a model isn’t itself totally arbitrary, although I’ll return to this point. But fancy-curly-letter “classic” was not some kind of timeless brand. It was a product of the 1980s (recall Masterpiece Theater, and Grey Poupon commercials, and pre-divorce Charles and Diana) which Classic X-Men ditched in 1992.

Avengers Classic revived this in 2007. That’s a strange choice by itself. How clumsily the Avengers series did so seems to indicate a degree of thoughtlessness to the project. On Classic X-Men, the design was something of a whole with the fussy “classic” lettering. “X-Men” received a kind of Didone treatment, which is not really a great typographic match but it was pre-digital 1986 and effort was there at least. The same goes for the loosely complementary credits page on the inside cover. Avengers Classic had a conceptually similar credits page, though it relates in no particular way to the X-Men version or the fussy “classic.” It’s at best a first-semester college freshman effort, honestly, given the computer typography power available by 2007. The front cover approach is worse than that. Avengers Classic combines the blocky, oblique sans-serif Avengers logo with this delicate, fussy curlicue “classic.” I don’t think even good design could really make that work, but this treatment makes “classic” fit by making it fairly small and very letterspaced and containing it tightly in a trapezoid oh my god it’s bad.

Now at this point, one might think: okay, clumsy design, right, but Avengers Classic was probably just a project slapped together because Marvel was flooding the stores with Avengers product at the time to cash-in on movie promotions*, thus a series reprinting existing material was reasonable enough, as was patterning it on a previously successful reprint series, especially if the whole thing was generally slapdash.

Except there are some problems with this theory.

The use of Classic X-Men as a model is still oddly random. Yes, it sold for 11 years, but the Marvel Tales Spider-Man reprints lasted for three decades. Now, I honestly can imagine someone at Marvel referring to Classic X-Men instead because unlike Spider-Man, the X-Men are a team like the Avengers. That’s really stupid but I can imagine it.

Yet the slapdash theory starts to get complicated upon examining the unusual features of Classic X-Men which Avengers Classic repeated. It isn’t just a bad re-use of the typography. Avengers Classic hired the same artist for its new covers as Classic X-Men‘s early issues 20 years before! Yes, Art Adams is a successful cover artist, but, that still seems like a lot of effort to reuse things from Classic X-Men.

The same applies even more to the new back-up stories in both series. This is also a really precisely revived, fairly unusual feature; unlike afaik Marvel Tales, Classic X-Men had no ads, and filled out the page count with new short stories embellishing the events in each issue’s main story. Avengers Classic, same thing, which is an awful lot of new work to take on for a slapdash project.

Now, at this point, I’m sorta vaguely recalling a period when my occasional new comics pick-ups gave the appearance that publishers just couldn’t sell ads. Advertising pages were still present in the same numbers, but other than maybe back covers, all of it was “house ads,” e.g. for Marvel’s own products or others from within its parent company. Maybe that was around this time? Maybe, with what would in practice be kind of an ad-free reprint series no matter what, this was another synaptic trigger to memories of Classic X-Men?

I guess? Counting the pages of back-up stories in Classic X-Men #12, and Avengers Classic #11, I find that the Avengers back-up story is two pages shorter. Avengers Classic fills out its remaining pages with a then-44-years-old letters column. Some kind of workable meta-story is conceivable, here: Avengers product, reprint, ads problem, page-count problem, Classic X-Men, very literal if design-illiterate underling, trouble and expense of back-up stories, J. Jonah Jameson determined to cut costs, will pay for 10 pages of filler each issue this time and no more, still two pages to fill, goddammit letter column reprint, BAH.

Honestly that seems frighteningly credible.

It also seems, like I said, definitely more odd than a surface glance tells you.

* I wrote about another example a few years ago.

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