For decades, comics publishers including DC and Marvel have been reprinting their vintage stories in different formats, ranging from low-cost trade paperback collections to massive hardcover Omnibus editions. Recently, high-end imprints like Penguin Classics and German-based art book publisher Taschen have joined the fray with curated collections and deluxe volumes featuring key works from Marvel’s long history, expanding the market beyond core comics fans. London’s Folio Society has raised the bar even higher with the release of DC: Batman (Feb. 20, US$100), a slipcased hardcover gathering some of the Dark Knight’s most iconic stories.

DC: Batman features nearly 300 color pages printed in a 10x7” format very close to the dimensions of the original printed comics, plus a separate facsimile edition of Batman #1 (1940). The stories sample from three main periods of the Dark Knight’s long career including several from the early days, such as Batman’s first appearance (1939), the 1970s—when the title attracted such top artists as Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers—and the stretch from the mid-1980s to early 1990s, featuring the groundbreaking work of Brian Bolland, Norm Breyfogle, Alan Grant, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and others.

Former DC president and publisher Jennette Kahn wrote an informative introduction explaining the stories she chose and omitted in the context of the enduring appeal of the character. Older stories are reproduced as photographic facsimiles of the printed comics pages; more recent ones such as Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke (1988) appear to come directly from the digital production files.

The Folio Society edition highlights one of the challenges that publishers face with these kinds of projects: how to present material that was originally printed cheaply on newsprint in a high-end, readable format. Some have chosen to digitally recolor the original line art and print on white, glossy paper that offers brighter, more saturated colors. That offers a clean reading experience but can sacrifice the ambiance of the original, and sometimes rides roughshod over the choices of the original color artists.

Others, including DC: Batman, have scanned or photographed the newsprint pages from the comic and printed on matte finish paper, bringing the reader closer to the context in which the material originally appeared, but at the risk of looking muddy if the art is not carefully tweaked in production. Some have done a little of each, with varying levels of success.

Longtime color artist José Villarrubia, who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art, has worked on a number of archival comic restoration projects. He said that the best results come from a combination of good materials, proper techniques, and publishers having the right priorities with the project.

“With the Taschen books, the choice of paper is excellent; it really mimics newsprint but it’s much thicker and sturdier,” Villarrubia explained. “The problem is, the quality of the scans is subpar, so the line art does not look crisp. Readers might think that those imperfections were in the original, but they’re not. But I don’t think they are meant to be read closely, because they are so uncomfortable to hold.”

On other archival projects, such as Omnibus editions or Marvel’s “King Size” collections, Villarrubia said, publishers prioritize bright, highly saturated colors as part of the brand look of the books—irrespective of the creative intentions of the original artists. He added that he was disappointed in the reproduction in the Penguin Classics Marvel series, noting that the highly saturated colors made the stories hard to read. However, he had high praise for reprints done by comics-oriented publishers known for their attention to detail, such as Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, IDW Publishing, and Sunday Press.

Villarrubia said that he has not looked closely at the Folio Society book, but noted that the classic story “Daughter of the Demon” (1972), which has been reprinted many times with many different color treatments, exhibited high fidelity to the original printed version without sacrificing the fine details of artist Neal Adams’s inking. Done properly, he explained, this approach can recapture the sense of wonder that surrounds vintage comic classics while using modern techniques to subtly improve readability.

These may seem like technical issues, but with editions costing $100 or more, readers have a right to expect the best. It is indicative of the strength of the comics market that readers now have so many choices, ranging from the academically-curated Penguin Classics to Taschen’s massive coffee table collections that chronologically reprint early Marvels to the Folio Society’s meticulously crafted DC: Batman, in addition to the perennial editions aimed at fans. Which reproduction strategy is best, and whose introductions add the most to the material? Fans, readers, and connoisseurs now have more ways than ever to vote with their wallets.