Conflict of interest note: I have had a business relationship with the publisher Fantagraphics on multiple Peanuts-oriented projects in the past and may well continue to do so. No review copies of these volumes were provided.
The Peanuts Every Sunday 1980s Box Set does well exactly what it’s supposed to do: reprint all of the Peanuts Sunday strips from the 1980s in full color over two hardcover volumes, encased in a decorative box. It is basically as good as you would want or hope this to be. The problem is that the 1980s is not exactly peak Peanuts, nor is it the period that makes the best visual use of color and of scale. While some of the opening panels are quite imaginative, few of them are very detailed or really need that space to breath. These books are the best way to experience the 1980s Sundays, but the 1980s Sundays are not the best way to experience Peanuts. This box is a box you get mainly if you’re trying to get all the Peanuts Every Sunday volumes (and yes, of course I am!)
It is a sign of the relative (please note, relative) weakness of the 1980s Peanuts material that of the three promotional sentences on the back of Peanuts Every Sunday volume 7: 1980-1984, one of them is dedicated to the statement “Welcome to the cast of Peanuts Snoopy’s super-smart brother Marbles, who makes his first appearance in this volume.” Now, it’s not just a matter that he wasn’t a very important character, and this shows that there wasn’t the much new going on in the early 1980s. It’s that he doesn’t even appear in this volume. Marbles never appeared on a Sunday.
The second volume in the boxed set, covering the years 1985-1989, has a similar blurb on the back cover, only for Lydia. The good news is that Lydia actually does appear in the book. It’s not her first appearance, but it’s her first appearance if you’re only reading Peanuts Every Sunday… and even then, you might miss it, because the name “Lydia” never appears in that Sunday strip (or any Sunday strip.)
There are some strips that really take advantage of the color, like the one where the baseball team has been stacked with extra outfielders painted green so that they blend in with the grass. Or even something less direct, like one where Sally is watching someone going back and forth on the swing, and the background color changes color whether she is looking forward or behind, bringing more emphasis to what she is doing.
I’ve been skipping buying the individual volumes which come out every year in favor of the boxed sets that come out every other year, giving me both a box and a bit of a discount (the individual books in this set have cover prices of $49.99, but the set is $85.) That gives me two more years to find more space on my shelf for the fifth and final box set in this series!