Alternate Cover: Marvel annuals – are they worth it?

Did the changes in Marvel's annuals strategy achieve what Joe Quesada intended?

Shortly after Joe Quesada was appointed as editor-in-chief of Marvel, he decreed that Marvel would no longer be publishing annuals – the yearly, bumper-sized issue of a series – in favour of adding another regular issue of the main series. The given reasoning was that annuals routinely felt like a pointless, expensive throwaway issue.

The solution, when Marvel decided to bring back annuals, was to use them sparingly, and make them count in a wider context. They dipped their toes into the water with annuals for the “Ultimate” line, with an “Ultimates” annual by regular series writer Mark Millar and an “Ultimate Spider-Man” annual that radically altered the main series by getting Peter together with a new girlfriend. A “New Avengers” annual brought the concept back to the regular Marvel universe, marrying off Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. The idea – putting out an annual only when there was an important story to tell – seemed to be working.

Skip forward briefly to 2008, and things aren’t looking quite so rosy. Let’s take a look at the current annual situation, shall we? If they turned out to fulfil the criteria of a good annual, we’ll call them a “hit” and if not, we’ll use the desperately original “miss”.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 – The story of new super-heroine “Jackpot” comes to its conclusion. A poor story, but regardless of quality, it was both important and written by a member of the core writing team. Hit.

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Black Panther Annual #1 – Designed to tie in with “Black History Month” this annual was called “Black to the Future” and set in 2057. Written by Reggie Hudlin, writer of the regular series, but still little more than a fanciful “What If?” Miss.

Ghost Rider Annual #2 – Si Spurrier puts in an enjoyable Ghost Rider story, but again, it’s another example of the kind of fun-but-forgettable annuals Marvel were supposed to be avoiding. Miss.

Ms. Marvel Annual #1 – Ms. Marvel writer Brian Reed writes a barely in-continuity Spider-Man team-up apparently designed more as an audition for Reed to write Spidey than a Ms. Marvel story. A definite miss.

New Avengers Annual #2 – Released at the very start of 2008, this was an unofficial sequel to a recently-completed Avengers arc which features the villainous Hood getting his act together, with far-reaching consequences all through the year. Hit.

Nova Annual #1 – The regular writing team writes a story that ties in with what was then Marvel’s big “cosmic” crossover, Annihilation: Conquest. Hit.

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3 – Bendis tackles a key issue in Peter and MJ’s ongoing relationship. As with the previous Ultimate Spider-Man annuals, a definite hit.

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Ultimate Captain America Annual #1 – Written by Jeph Loeb, the writer of both “Ultimates 3” and the forthcoming “Ultimatum”, and contains the origin of Ultimate Black Panther. It also explains how (but not really why) Cap pretended to be the Black Panther in “Ultimates 3”. Begrudgingly a hit, but it shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

Ultimate X-Men/Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual &

Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual/Ultimate X-Men

Together, they form a 2-part mini-series tied, ridiculously loosely, to “Ultimatum” but the stories themselves barely touch upon the core series and involve no-one from the main creative teams. It’s a definite double-miss, if only for the revelation that in the terrible future ahead, Cyclops becomes the new Captain America. Er, what?

Wolverine Annual #2 – Wolverine currently has no regular creative team, and the ongoing series is punctuated by multiple one-shots very similar to this annual. It’s not a bad story, but it utterly fails to be special or important in the wider scheme. Miss.

Now, once again, I should emphasise that the quality of the stories is not what makes an annual a hit or miss – it’s the reasons for the annual’s existence that we’re judging. Quesada’s plan was to make annuals matter, or not do them at all. That, in itself, seems to makes sense. Pointless annuals flood the market with poor-quality, expensive product, and as I believe Quesada himself observed, sell less than regular issues anyway. As you can see from this list, there have been 11 annuals released this year, and charitably speaking, only 5 have made themselves matter in the way they should.

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So, that leaves the question – is a good story enough to justify an annual, or was Quesada’s attempt to rein them in the best way to do it? Personally, I prefer the tie-ins to the throwaways, but I’m willing to admit that there could be more to the matter than that – so, what’s your opinion?

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.