Old Online Resources

By | Tuesday, June 04, 2024 Leave a Comment
I was recently reminded of the MarvelMasterworks.com website. It was started in 2001 by John Rhett Thomas and initially just kept track of Marvel's Masterworks books, which volumes were out and reprinted which issues. He later began including info on any of Marvel's reprint volumes, and an increasingly regular news section noting what new works were coming out and when. And that news section broadened to include DC's volumes as well as some from Image and Dark Horse. At the time, I was making an active effort to familiarize myself with the early histories of Marvel's characters from the 1960s that I was less familiar with, probably most motably Daredevil and Dr. Strange. So I was trying to track down reprints of the stories from that era, as the originals were far too expensive for my interests.

Today, in 2024, that sounds a little odd that I would need a specific resource for figuring out which issues were reprinted and where. But keep in mind the state of publishing at that time. Marvel's reprint program was still pretty nacent. "Waiting for the trade" simply was not a thing because there was there was no regular trade paperback program. Sure, there were some perennial books that were in regular circulation but the pamphlet-issue-to-TPB pipeline didn't exist. If you missed any given issue, it was probably UNlikely to see it later collected. And everything from maybe 1965-1995 was a complete non-starter; you had to either get the originals or find the back issue of a specific reprint title like Marvel Tales or Marvel Triple Action. And that was only if you were looking for "name" titles like the Avengers or X-Men.

And what options did you have for looking that data up anywhere? Amazon had only been around about five years, so they did have plenty of book listings but descriptions were spotty at best if they were even present. Marvel's website had zero historical information. Comixology -- indeed digital comics in general -- wouldn't come along for several years. Wikipedia was only launched in 2001 itself, so it didn't have much information yet. There were a couple of commercial comics sites online (like Mile High Comics) but they rarely listed anything beyond the title. The Grand Comics Database was definitely a good resource in general, but it had minimal, if any, reprint information. If you wanted to find if a specific issue had been reprinted and, if so, where, you really didn't have much in the way of options. Your best bet was maybe asking a message board or Usenet and hoping someone with the answer saw your question, but given that your message might be seen by a couple dozen people at best, that was hit or miss at best.

Recall that the first web browser that didn't look like command line inputs wasn't until 1993. By 2000, while the internet had grown considerably, less than half of Americans had access to it at all and barely 5% of the population worldwide. (By way of comparison, about 97% of Americans have access today and 66% worldwide.)

The mindset of people using the internet then was different. A higher percentage of them were geeks of some sort or another, and that came with an attitude of, "Well, if this information isn't out there now, I guess I'll have to be the one to post it." And, to be fair, some of that was an early form of trying to be an influencer within a small niche. There was some measure of ego involved in trying to be THE "worldwide" (though, realisically, just North American) expert on some geek topic like, in my own case, the Fantastic Four.

But as more and more people came online, those resources became spread out. And, more significantly, more companies started realizing they could draw in users with that data and commericalize it. Much of it was/is straightforward and obvious -- "The Hulk Masterworks volume 10 includes a reprint Hulk #180, which features the debut of Wolverine. You should buy it from us!" Some of it is a little more convoluted -- "The Werewolf by Night character first showed up in Marvel Spotlight before getting his own title. Those early issues are presented in Werewolf by Night Masterworks volume 1. And if you'd like to cosplay as the character, you can check out the costumes from our sponsor..." The data that those early netizens made public freely has become shared and re-shared enough to become nearly ubiquitous, and it's mostly about companies fighting for getting the best keyword placement on related search terms to earn money from it.

Believe me, I'm not sitting here trying to wax nostalgic over what the internet used to be like. I spent YEARS scouring the internet through the early 2000s trying to prove to myself that the TV show Hot Fudge really existed and wasn't just some weird fever dream I had. I could find literally no mention of it at all anywhere and was genuinely beginning to believe I had imagined the whole thing! (If you don't know Hot Fudge, imagine if Sid and Marty Krofft tried to remake Seasame Street in 1976 but made the focus on teaching about feelings instead of letters and numbers. It was trippy AF!) The internet was indeed a kind of Wild West back then, and frequently not in an idyllic way. Vast empty spaces where you think there should be something, but there simply was a void. But my point here is that, for those of you who weren't online 25 years ago, it's worth tooling around on "outdated" sites like MarvelMasterworks.com when you come across them. Rather than looking them as a dated relic of days-gone-by, try to imagine what the internet would've been like that such a site needed to be created in the first place. There is indeed a lot of negative things about the internet today in 2024, but there was a different set of negative things about it a quarter century ago too, not the least of which is that some information was largely dependent on a single person making sites like that just because literally no one else bothered with it.
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