“Best Of” CDs are ubiquitous in the music industry. I can understand the desire to have an album appreciated as a finished product in which the songs are all interrelated, but when done right, or even when done in a half-assed way, a greatest hits collection can serve as an introduction to a singer or a band. It’s also a reliable purchase, in that you know that most, if not all, of the songs are going to be worthwhile. It’s such an obvious thing to do for all the new customers who can be overwhelmed by all the material available at stores.
Likewise, if a writer is known for short stories, there will usually be anthologies with their best or best-known material. Someone interested in Chekhov’s short stories will have several introductory volumes to choose from (I would recommend Pevear/ Volokhonsky’s translation of Selected Stories.)
Newcomers to comics have similar concerns, and “Best Of” collections would be one way to introduce them to notable comic book runs. Someone who has heard great things about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four, or John Byrne’s Superman should have an introductory volume to choose from.
Currently, reprints of older work tend to be comprehensive, which may be problematic for someone who isn’t looking for something quite that extensive. Marvel’s Essential books include filler issues and below average material, which makes the moniker somewhat ironic. DC’s Showcase volumes are also going to take up a lot of space on your bookshelves. DC’s Archives and Marvel’s Masterworks hardcovers also don’t skip anything, even with the cover price ranging from $50-$60 for ten issues of material.
There are often comprehensive volumes of short stories, although that sometimes occurs for reasons that don’t apply to comic books. The Complete Father Brown is going to take up less space on your bookshelf than the complete Siegel/ Shuster Superman. HP Lovecraft’s short stories can fit in a $13 hardcover, although there are slimmer volumes available for someone who may not have time to read it all.
DC has “Best Of” trades, although those focus on franchises rather than lengthy creative team runs. So the goal is usually to get a representative sample from decades of material, with hundreds, if not thousands, of issues to choose from, as well as the work of dozens of artists. I can understand the appeal of the Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told TPB, but I’d also like to see an introductory collection to writer Cary Bates’s work on the character, Legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, or the era of Editor Mort Weisinger.
The format wouldn’t work for every series, character or storyline. A best of Preacher collection would be as ridiculous as a Best of The Wire DVD, as the stories tend to be long and part of a larger arc with a complete beginning, middle and end. The best of JM Dematteis’s Spider-Man would probably be Kraven’s Last Hunt, already collected as a trade paperback.
But this is an episodic artform, so anthologies are often sensible. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko worked on 41 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, mostly with self-contained single issue stories. There should be one volume for a new reader interested in their most popular work, like Amazing Fantasy #15, The Master Planner Saga, the first appearance of the Lizard and 2-3 more issues. There should be a similar volume for Stan Lee and John Romita’s run, as well as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s runs on Fantastic Four and Thor.
Considering the thousands of stories available, usually entirely self-contained and each under ten pages, I’m astounded that there isn’t a $20 Best of EC Comics trade paperback. And then there could be follow-ups based on genre (War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction). Fantagraphics is collecting work by notable EC talent like Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman, although these are solicited as including their entrie ouvre in a particular genre. I’m likely to purchase all four, but this isn’t quite a “Best Of.” If they reprinted EC Greatest Hits volumes, there would still be room for their EC Comics library series, as well as comprehensive hardcover collections of complete runs, which have been the usual method of reprinting EC Comics. And there would likely be new customers for those collections, when readers are introduced to the work through the Best Of volumes.