Annuals, milestone and anniversary issues

Like usual, I got behind in my reading, so this weekend I ended up reading the recent milestone issues for both Superman and Wonder Woman.  Like the Batman milestone before them, they consisted of a collection of short stories, written and drawn by various people, many of whom have a connection to the series.  At best, all three of these issues were mediocre, featuring unimportant stories as well as serving to introduce new teams (in the case of Superman and Wonder Woman) and whole new series (in the case of Batman/Batman Beyond).  It makes me long for the Silver Age, when milestones, anniversaries and annuals featured special stories, ones that needed the extra pages that were always given to these types of occasions.

Take Action Comics #544.  A true anniversary issue, it celebrated Action Comics' 45th year by introducing changes to both Lex Luthor and Brainiac in the form of a power suit for Lex and a whole new body for Brainiac.  Admittedly, this issue did have multiple stories (two, as opposed to the recent milestone books having three), but they weren't serving as prologues for new series, nor were they introducing new creative teams: three of the four creators were the regular writers and artist of either Action Comics or Superman.  What was special about these stories was the changes they introduced.  Lex had been relatively unchanged since the '40s, and Brainiac was unchanged since near his introduction in the early '60s.

How about Brave and the Bold #200? This milestone issue teamed up Batman with, well, Batman, umm, sort of.  The first part of the story, with art meant to invoke a Golden Age style, chronicled a showdown between the Golden Age Batman (of Earth-2) and one of his villains.  When that villain is defeated, he takes over the body of his Earth-1 counterpart in our present, facing off against the modern-day Batman.  By this time, the Golden Age Batman was long-dead, so stories starring him were rare, and Brave and the Bold was almost the only place outside of Justice League of America where we could get stories of Earth-2.  Admittedly, this was the final issue of the series, and it had a "pull-out preview" (a bit of a joke, since the book was perfect-bound, meaning that pulling out the preview was nearly impossible) for the series it was effectively becoming, Batman and the Outsiders, but the star of the issue is truly the "team-up" story.

The early and mid-'80s also saw the return of the annual at DC Comics.  And those early annuals were special.  Take All-Star Squadron Annual #1.  In it, Roy Thomas linked together the origins of three golden-age heroes with boxing in their pasts, retelling their origins along the way.  Such a large story demanded the space given in an annual in order to tell its story.  And Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #2 featured a marriage between two long-time characters.  Justice League of America Annual #2, for better or for worse, featured a new direction for the team, bringing them back down to Earth and moving the team to Detroit. 

One thing to notice about all of these annuals is that they featured the creative team of the regular book.  There was also little "padding" in these books.  There were few, if any, pinups or backup stories or diagrams of headquarters.  They just had a great, important story that seemed like a special issue of the regular series.

I miss these events being treated as they used to.  I believe the recent special issues could have been so much better if they had focussed a bit more on one special story, rather than the three each that we were given.  It would also have been nice if the books celebrated the milestone rather than the fact that the books can't keep a steady team of creators.  Hopefully, DC and Marvel will one again treat these issues as the grand occasions that they should be, but until then, seek out earlier special issues.