The Star Wars Dissection: The Omnibus Program

Hello everyone, it’s Andrew again with a new Star Wars Dissection. Today, I’d like to look at what I believe is one of the best publication programs in Star Wars right now: the Omnibus program. This program, run by Dark Horse Comics, seeks to collect older, rarer, uncollected, and/or out-of-print comics into easy-to-read and inexpensive paperback books. They are roughly 6″ x 9″ in size, which is slightly smaller than most comics or Trade Paperbacks (TPBs, 7″ x 10″) and larger than digests (roughly 5″ x 7″).

First, I should indicate that my article includes reference to omnibuses that are yet-unpublished but solicited, as of 6 March 2012. I treat those books as if they have been released already. Also, I’d like to note that all prices are in US dollars.

Definition:

The word Omnibus is defined as “a book containing reprints of a number of works” (Merriam-Webster) or “a printed anthology of the works of one author or of writings on related subjects (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). It comes from the latin; its literal latin definition is “For all,” omnis meaning all. The word has other definitions too; it can refer to a type of motor vehicle (a bus), or, as an adjective, can mean “including or covering many things or classes (American Heritage Dictionary). We often hear the adjective used in term of an “Omnibus Bill” being considered by the legislature. Those other definitions are irrelevant in this situation; we are only talking about collected works.

The Dark Horse Comics’ omnibus books do fit the above-mentioned definition. They are compilations of previously-printed works, sometimes by the same one or two authors, and always related to the same subject or topic.

There is some debate as to the correct plural of the word Omnibus. All sources I could find online, including Dictionary.com, state that the correct plural is omnibuses. This makes sense to me. After all, I take two buses to get to work, not two bi, and they have the same root word. Only one dictionary-related source claims that omnibi is a legitimate plural, and that is Wiktionary, which I find suspect (it is unsourced). According to a wordsmith answering a question on Quora.com, omnibi is “an assumed or (humourously) confected ‘plural’ of classical Latin ‘omnibus’, after Latin plurals in -i.”  He cites the Oxford English Dictionary. Doing a Google search for the word “Omnibi” yields almost exclusively references to comic books, meaning that “omnibi” has been, in some way, taken up by the comic book industry as a plural for its omnibus collections. While this is how languages grow and evolve (people begin using an invented word, it sticks, and one day enters the dictionary), I object to this usage. Therefore, I will use omnibuses as the plural throughout this article.

History:

Dark Horse Comics has published no less than 74 omnibuses over the past few years. The first such book was Omnibus: Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Volume 1, published on 7 June 2006.

Table 1: Franchises collected by Dark Horse Comics omnibuses

As you can see, no less than 23 of the 74 omnibuses are Star Wars. Dark Horse has also published omnibuses collecting both its other licensed properties (BuffyAngelAliensPredatorIndiana JonesThe MaskBarb WireTerminator, and Jeremiah) and several of its own properties (Dark Horse HeroesXGhostAlien LegionAge of ReptilesCriminal MacabreToo Much Coffee Man, and Grendel). It also has collected seven volumes worth of Manga from various series (none of which are Star Wars…yet).

The case of Buffy comics is interesting: Dark Horse Comics published their entire line of Buffy The Vampire Slayer comics, excluding Season 8 (which at the time was ongoing) and their Tales comics. Rather than group them by miniseries or topic (e.g. “Omnibus: Willow“), they simply published them all in in-universe chronological order. Volume 1 starts shortly before the events of the film, and Volume 7 ends somewhere around Season 6 (when the comic line ended). These comics are also interesting as they are the only sources to portray the character of Dawn before her introduction in Season 5 (for those who are not fans: in Seasons 1-4, Buffy was an only child; her sister Dawn was added retroactively, through magic, and is the central plot of Season 5. Joss Whedon made the decision to include Dawn in pre-Season 5 comics, as characters remember Dawn as being part of previous events). Another interesting fact here is regarding Angel (the spinoff series to Buffy). Angel comics were originally published by Dark Horse, but the license was then given to IDW Publishing. In 2011, the rights to Angel fell back to Dark Horse, and the first thing they did was published Omnibus: Angel, collecting the entire Dark Horse line (except those crossover issues already published in Buffy omnibuses.) Presumably, future omnibuses may cover books published by IDW, as I understand ALL publishing rights fall to Dark Horse (just how Dark Horse can reprint comics originally published by Marvel, be they Star Wars or any other license).

Pricing:

Dark Horse Comics omnibuses in general have the price of either $24.95 or $24.99, except for some volumes of Manga, which were $19.99. This allows for the material to be sold and distributed to as wide an audience as possible. Note that some Trade Paperbacks, which collect only 4-6 issues, might be up to $20, so buying a single book that contains 15-20 issues for the price of one and a half TPBs is an excellent deal.

What I find interesting is the price difference between Dark Horse Comics omnibuses and omnibuses put out by other publishers. Marvel and DC both have omnibus lines. I own one Marvel Omnibus, called Omnibus: The Evolutionary War. It collects 11 Annual issues from different series, which combine/cross-over to tell the story of the war against the High Evolutionary back in the late 1980s. It is full-sized and hardcover, and in full color. Its cover price is $74.99. This is inexpensive for a Marvel Omnibus. Omnibus: Secret Wars II cost $118.99 USD. Admittedly, some of these are very thick (Secret Wars II is almost 1200 pages), but the cost is still excessive. DC Comics has a similar line, called DC Archive Editions, which tend to cost around $59.99. With some specific exceptions, Marvel omnibuses go back only to the Silver Age of comics (1960s), whereas DC Archive Editions go all the way back to the Golden Age of comics (1930s).

To address the price issue, Marvel and DC both also have lines of cheaper alternatives. My personal favorite, which I have been collecting, is the Marvel Essential line. Essential books are black-and-white, on newsprint paper, with soft covers. They collect many of the old Marvel series from the beginning (example: Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1 starts with Spidey’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, and then goes on to collect Amazing Spider-Man 1-20 and Annual #1). Nowadays they cost $19.99 USD each, and contain between 20 and 30 issues of content (sometimes more, as certain characters originated in split titles, and so their stories were 10-12 pages instead of 21-23).

Figure 1: A. Omnibus: Emissaries and Assassins, collects 21 issues (color, paperback), costs $24.95. B. Essential Avengers Volume 1, collects 24 issues (black-and-white, paperback), costs $19.99 (older editions cost $16.99). C. The Avengers Omnibus Volume 1, collects 30 issues (color, hardcover), costs $99.99

I have read online that the reason Essential Marvel books are in black and white is to keep the price low, and that the same volume, in color with glossy paper, would triple the manufacturing cost (and presumably the price too). But that raises the question: how can Dark Horse produce omnibuses in full color with glossy paper and sell them for $24.99, and still make a profit, while Marvel has to resort to black-and-white, newsprint paper to sell at a comparable price? One aspect might be size: Dark Horse omnibuses are smaller than most other TPBs; each piece of paper must cost less than a full-size sheet. But I think a more reasonable explanation has to do with market share. Dark Horse Comics sell significantly fewer books than Marvel or DC. In a given month, among the top 300 comics, Star Wars titles tend to place in the 60-110 range. Buffy is sometimes higher, but still not anywhere near the top 10. The bulk of the top 50 (indeed, the bulk of the top 300) are Marvel or DC. Dark Horse needs to get its products out there into the market, drawing in new readers and keeping the attention of old ones, and having lower prices is one way to do that. Marvel and DC, on the other hand, have no trouble attracting new readers. Superhero comics represent the vast majority of comic titles, and their characters are arguably more mainstream that Star Wars. A casual reader is significantly more likely to buy Batman Vol 2 #1 than they are to event glance at Star Wars: Agent of the Empire #1. As a result, whereas Marvel and DC can afford to set their Omnibus prices as high as they want, Dark Horse risks alienating its readers if they feel gouged, and so keeps its omnibus prices low. Regardless, prices of most TPB collections are comparable among all companies ($15-25, dependent on the number of issues therein). In conclusion, it appears as it Dark Horse places more value on the reader (who may buy more books later if they’re kept happy), whereas Marvel and DC place more value on the product itself (price is irrelevant, people will buy anyway). This is all conjecture, and if anyone in the Powers That Be have further insight, I would be happy to hear it.

Savings:

One of the benefits of the omnibus program is that it is universally less expensive to purchase your comics through omnibuses, taking into account the changing price of comics over time.

Figure 2: Money saved per omnibus. The Red lines account somewhat for inflation; they represent listed purchase price of all Dark Horse books, and inflated prices for Marvel books ($2.99, $3.99, or $4.99, based on size). The blue lines only appear for certain books, and they assume you purchased the book at list price, on the day of release. (Click for larger image)

Assuming you account for modern pricing (red lines), then you get universal savings by purchasing omnibuses. The lowest you would save is $10.43 (Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Volume 2), and the most you would save is $56.43 (Omnibus: The Complete Saga). The blue lines in Figure 2 represent cases where the actual list price is different from the inflated calculations. Marvel Star Wars comics, which were released between 1977 and 1986, all had significantly lower list prices, which were consistent for the era. Prices slowly raised from 30 to 75 cents per issue, with occasional special issues costing up to $1.25. If you purchased your comics as they were originally released, and managed to maintain them perfectly over the previous three decades, then you actually lose money by buying the Omnibus, as little as $8.59 (Omnibus: Droids and Ewoks) but as much as $15.49 (Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…. Volume 1). The amount you lose decreases steadily over time, as the issues in latter omnibuses are more expensive than in earlier ones. But I think it’s fair to say that your average fan does not own Marvel Star Wars #1-107, Annual #1-3, Return of the Jedi #1-4, Droids #1-8 and Ewoks #1-14, in readable condition (though some fans do, but it’s rare). The other two blue blips are for Omnibus: Boba Fett and Omnibus: The Complete Saga. In the case of Boba Fett, one of the stories (Boba Fett #1/2: Salvage) was originally published in Wizard magazine ($10.00 on the newstand), which also included Episode I: The Phantom Menace #1/2, which was subsequently published in Omnibus: Emissaries and Assassins. Since you probably only bought one copy of Wizard Magazine, then there was no need to include it in both entries. Ergo, the blue line assumes you bought BOTH Omnibus: Emissaries and Assassins and Omnibus: Boba Fett, and is priced accordingly. Use the red one if you only bought one or the other. For Omnibus: The Complete Saga, 10 of the issues it collects are Marvel reprints, but the other 16 are Dark Horse originals. The blue line uses the original prices, and the red line assigns inflated, modern prices for the Marvel reprints.

If you purchased every single Omnibus then you paid $574.45. If you paid retail, newstand price (blue lines, if there is a conflict) for every issue therein, you paid $963.04 (assumes you only bought Wizard magazine once). If you take into account inflation on the older Marvel books (red lines in all cases, assumes you had to find those issues in comic book shops or eBay and paid around $2.99 for older books), then you paid $1,323.83. As a result, if you bought the omnibuses instead, then you saved $388.59 (original prices, taking losses on some individual omnibuses, but saving overall) OR $759.38 (updated prices).

Content:

Star Wars omnibuses contain no less than 450 issues, spread across 23 volumes.

Figure 3: Number of issues contained in each Omnibus. (Click for larger image)

For clarity, I will point out two important features of the above figure. First, I count individual books as issues, even if only a small fraction of the issue is devoted to the Star Wars comic in question (I’m looking at Aurra’s Song in Omnibus: Rise of the Sith andRebellion #0 in Omnibus: The Other Sons of Tatooine, which were both flipbooks, and Heart of Fire and Poison Moon in Omnibus: Menace Revealed, which were both spread across numerous issues of Dark Horse Extra.)  Second, this figure is per individual omnibus, and so it lists Wizard Magazine twice. If you bought it only once (and there’s no reason to buy it twice), then there are only 449 issues.

The book containing the most issues is Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…. Volume 1, which included the first 27 issues of Marvel Star Wars (comics were thinner then, at 17-23 pages instead of today’s 32). Coming in second with 26 issues are Omnibus: The Complete Saga (film adaptations of Episodes I, II, III, IV, and VI had four issues each, Episode V had six) and Omnibus: Menace Revealed (includes various stories taking place between Episodes I and II, and includes 7 issues of Dark Horse Extra, which only contained 1-2 pages of Star Wars each, and the thin Hasbro/Toys’R’Us comics). The red line in the figure shows that the average number of comics contained in omnibuses has been steadily increasing over the years. Of course, the book binding and the price both limit the thickness and therefore number of issues that can be put into the omnibus, so I assume that the number of issues will not increase above what it is now.

One interesting thing is to look at the red bars in Figure 2 and compare them to the green bars in Figure 3. While the amplitudes are different, the ups and downs are very similar. This clearly shows that the money saved in each omnibus is directly proportional to the number of issues it contains. This makes sense, as all omnibuses are the same price regardless of content. A book that contains 20 issues is more “valuable” than one containing 12 issues.

My last point on this subject is pre-collected material. One of the original goals of the omnibus program was to collect odd issues that may have never been collected in TPBs before. Of the 450 issues contained in the omnibuses (I count Wizard twice, since I’m looking at both stories individually), 72 of them have never been included in a TPB. These include, for example, Rogue Leader#1-3, X-Wing Rogue Squadron #1-4, River of Chaos #1-4, the Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stories, Marvel DroidsMarvel Ewoks, and a scattering of issues of Republic. Those 72 issues were wholly inaccessible to those who got into Star Wars late in the game, or to those who choose to only by TPBs.

Redundancy:

The only problem with the omnibus program is redundancy: buying things that you already own. There are two types of redundancy here: buying an omnibus that contains stories that are in another omnibus, or buying an omnibus that includes stories that you already own in another format (issue, TPB, digital, etc.)

There is only one case of overlap between omnibuses: the comic adaptations for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jediwere collected in Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…. Volumes 2 and 4, respectively, but were also included with Omnibus: The Complete Saga. The adaptation of A New Hope was not reprinted, as the one in Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…. Volume 1 (Marvel) is different from the one in Omnibus: The Complete Saga (Special Edition, Dark Horse). This was an unfortunate corner that Dark Horse painted itself into. They chose to include the comic adaptations of the films in the A Long Time Ago…. omnibuses, which is a very good choice. The series would appear odd if it did not include them. But as there is only one adaptation each of Episode V and VI, then there was no choice but to collect it a second time with the other adaptations of movies. The only alternative would be to have published each other adaptation in the relevant omnibus too (Episode I would go with Omnibus: Rise of the Sith orOmnibus: Emissaries and Assassins, Episode II would go with Omnibus: Menace Revealed, Episode III would be yet-uncollected, and Episode IV Special Edition would be shoe-horned into Omnibus: At War with the Empire Volume 1. That way, Omnibus: The Complete Saga could be skipped completely, or be released in a limited fashion for those who want those comics, but not others.

The other issue is buying omnibuses which contains stories you bought elsewhere. This was a problem for me. I got into Star Wars comics in 2006, when Knights of the Old Republic and Legacy came out. When I realized how much I like Star Wars comics, I chose to start buying TPBs of older series and miniseries. Then, in the coming years, omnibuses began containing those TPBs I already bought. Omnibus: Shadows of the Empire and Omnibus: Boba Fett were completely redundant for me; I had every story as either an issue or a TPB. Of course, that did not stop me from buying it again. But there are many fans who are in the same position as I. Some choose not to buy omnibuses that are wholly redundant. Others are completionists, like me, who want it all. And then there’s the difficult gray area, where you own everything inside an omnibus EXCEPT one book. Thus, you must shell out another $24.99, despite having already paid maybe $50.00 on the rest. This is by no means the fault of Dark Horse, this is fandom getting ahead of itself. Although it is somewhat alienating. Casual fans may have purchased TPBs that they thought looked good, and then wanted to improve their collection with omnibuses later. The omnibus program allows for that, but occassionally means that money spent on older material is “wasted”. Nevertheless, I choose to buy the omnibuses, knowing that I can get rid of the TPB later (mayhap give it to my eventual/theoretical children, or my actual-but-too-young niece or nephew, or donate them to charity).

Future Forecasting:

Dark Horse has been publishing roughly 4 to 5 omnibuses per year. I expect that this trend will continue for the next while, until all material published pre-2006 is collected (I use this as a benchmark because Star Wars comic series were revitalized in 2006;Empire and Republic ended, and we got LegacyDark TimesRebellion, and Knights of the Old Republic). A recent interview with Randy Stradley specified that the next omnibus will be called Omnibus: Republic Goes To War, and that it will be the first of three titles that will look at the Clone Wars from a different point of view than the animated series. This leads me to believe that it will begin collecting the post-Episode II issues of Republic and its tie-ins (JediObsessionPurgeGeneral Grievous, etc.), without collecting any of the cartoon tie-ins (Slaves of the RepublicIn Service of the RepublicHero of the Confederacy, etc.)

Following that (or in conjunction with that), I suspect that the next round of omnibuses will contain more of the old material from the 1970s and 1980s, such as the three Star Wars 3-D comics and the stories published by Marvel UK (some of which were collected in the two Devilworlds comics, but several remain lost, including Death-Masque, the stories in the Marvel Illustrated digests, and other stories originally published in Pizzazz magazine). Another set of omnibuses will contain the newstrip comics, most of which were reprinted by Dark Horse in the early 1990s as Classic Star Wars. Putting these in omnibuses (probably over two volumes) will allow fans to collect these older comics, and would include some that have never been collected before, such as The Kashyyyk Depths and Planet of Kadril (never reprinted as issues) and The Constancia Affair (published as a special issue, but never collected).

At some point in the next few years, I believe the omnibus program will begin collecting post-2006 comics, starting with Knights of the Old Republic and Legacy, both of which have runs of 50 issues plus tie-ins (KOTOR: WarLegacy: War, 0-issues, handbooks, etc.)  Dark Times will be collected later, as it is has taken several hiatuses over the past six years and has had much longer delays between releases. As a result, it is only at issue 22 (to be released in April 2012). Rebellion is already fully collected in bothOmnibus: At War with the Empire Volume 2 and Omnibus: The Other Sons of Tatooine. The series Empire and Rebellion were so closely linked that collecting them together was logical.

There are numerous stories from the Star Wars Tales comics that would have fit neatly in other omnibuses, due to the era presented (e.g. Darth Maul stories in Omnibus: Rise of the Sith) or the character of focus (e.g. Boba Fett stories in Omnibus: Boba Fett). Dark Horse made the decision to keep such stories out of those omnibuses. Therefore, I can only assume that they plan to, one day, collect the stories from Star Wars Tales into a few omnibuses, possibly together with other shorts or other non-canon/questionably canon stories, such as the Star Wars Infinities adaptations and Star Wars Visionaries. There is also the distinct possibility that these comics will never be collected in omnibuses, noting that the various Tales comics for Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Tales of the VampiresTales of the Slayers, etc.) were intentionally left uncollected.

Star Wars Manga also needs to be collected, as neither the film adaptations (Episode IV, V, VI, and I), nor Tokyopop’s Manga: Silver or Manga: Black have ever been collected in larger TPBs. Though this raises a question on collecting digests in general. Material originally printed in a digest-sized book are formatted for that smaller size. While it is easier to shrink a full-sized comic down to omnibus without loss of detail, it does not work in reverse. They might have problems re-sizing the text for an omnibus that contains digest material. That said, all omnibuses do not need to be the same size. Some of the Dark Horse manga omnibuses, such as the soon-to-be-released FLCL Omnibus, are much smaller than the rest, about the same size as a digest, but considerably thicker. In the end, a smaller omnibus or re-sized art is required for collecting the Star Wars manga and other digest-sized comics, such as the PhotoComics, Clone Wars AdventuresStar Wars Adventures (e.g. Han Solo and the Hollow Moon of Khorya), or The Clone Wars digests (e.g. Shipyards of Doom).

Another problem that the editors over at Dark Horse have is regarding collecting webstrip comics, such as Reversal of Fortune, the Evasive Action series, the Rookies series, and the webcomic adaptation of A Hunter’s Fate: Greedo’s Tale. These were originally printed as black-and-white 3-panel strips, which were printed daily, and after a number of weeks composed one large story. These were available on StarWars.com’s Hyperspace section, but appear to be lost after the website was revamped. One would think that these would be ideal candidates for omnibus collection. But because of their original release format (3-panel strips), then they might be difficult to properly arrange in an omnibus page. It is not simply a matter of placing the strips one on top of the other; there must be some logical flow. I imagine it was difficult to convert the old newstrip comics into proper comic issues; Dark Horse would need to commit to something similar. I seem to recall Randy Stradley (or another official at Dark Horse or Lucasfilm) saying that it was a difficult process, and that they did not foresee it happening any time soon. Instead, I believe it would be better for everyone if they simply made those webstrips, in addition to other web-exclusive material (The Clone Wars webcomics, Pablo Hidalgo articles, etc.) available for free on the revamped StarWars.com. Alternatively, I could accept Dark Horse making these webcomics available for sale on Dark Horse Digital.

Last, there are some books which Dark Horse will likely never collect in omnibus form, because they have selected to publish them in other, similar ways. The comic adaptations of Timothy Zahn’s The Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire #1-6, Dark Force Rising#1-6, and The Last Command #1-6) were collected as a hardcover, as was the Dark Empire Trilogy (Dark Empire #1-6, Dark Empire II #1-6, Empire’s End #1-2, and Handbook #3: Dark Empire). These books are more expensive (The Thrawn Trilogy was $34.99; Dark Empire Trilogy was $29.99), due to their larger size and hard cover. But otherwise they are almost identical to omnibuses. It seems unlikely that they will re-release these as omnibuses later. To that end, I also believe that the Crimson Empire series will be released as a similar hardcover, collecting Crimson Empire #1-6, Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood #1-6, and Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost #1-6 (and possibly also The Bounty Hunters: Kenix Kil and the tie-in story from Dark Horse Presents #1). This will not be for several years though, as Crimson Empire III is not yet finished its original run.

One day, in year X, the omnibus program will have fully caught up with publication, and every Star Wars comic released before year X-1 will have been collected. The omnibus program at this stage will slow down considerably. I highly doubt that there will ever come a time when new issues are immediately collected in an omnibus. Instead, I believe several TPBs will be allowed to accumulate, and then maybe an omnibus will collect those later. For example, the Buffy series was fully collected in seven volumes, but Buffy Season 8 was intentionally uncollected. In theory, the 40 issues and various tie-ins (Willow one-shot, Rileyone-shot, etc). could be collected in 2 more omnibuses, and Dark Hose may yet make that choice. The same thing will, one day, happen to Star Wars, though with numerous ongoing titles, it will not be for many years.

Conclusion

Dark Horse Comics’ omnibus program is probably the greatest achievement in modern comics. It allows fans to collect older material at a reasonable price, and can attract new fans who have never considered reading comics before. I strongly encourage all Star Wars fans, young and old, regardless of your past experience or attitudes with comics, to look at the Star Wars omnibus program, and mayhap purchase one or two. Who knows? You may like it.

For the next issue of The Star Wars Dissection: I need your help! In the coming days, I will be posting some polls on Facebook and the EUCantina.net forums, to collect data on Star Wars fan reader habits. I ask everyone to check those out, and please give me your honest feedback! Instructions will be provided in the relevant section. Thank you!

Written by Andrew Halliday
All staff members can be contacted at staff@eucantina.net

About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the SoloSound.net podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.