Non-Fiction Book Review

DC Comics

(2004) Les Daniels, Virgin Books, 25.00, pbk, 272pp, ISBN 0-753-50905-9

This is an updated version of Daniels' 1995 book with a whole 16 new pages. Try to contain your excitement... It is basically a history of DC Comics from about 70-odd years ago to the current day. The story starts back in the mid-thirties with the creation of the modern comic book as we know it, the creation of Superman and Batman and so on. Into the early forties with the expansion of titles and the creation of some more familiar characters, including The Spectre, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, etc., and of 'team' titles such as All American Comics and Justice Society of America. This chapter also takes in the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, radio shows, Batman serials and the beginnings of serious merchandising. The chapter on the mid-forties to mid-fifties takes in TV, but also briefly details the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a self-regulating body set up in the wake of the publishing of Dr. Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that comics were a Bad Thing and were corrupting America's youth. From the mid-fifities to the mid-sixties DC updated and re-envisioned their characters, rather neatly explaining away the differences from before by introducing the idea of parallel Earths with similar, but divergent 'histories'. From the late-ish sixties through the early eighties comics, and DC Comics in particular, redifined themselves again, obviously in response to the times, becoming less a 'kid's thing' and more 'alternate culture', partly by exploring new artistic avenues and partly by writing more socially relevant plotlines. Gone were the camp days of the Batman TV serial; in came stories of social significance, including plotlines about drugs, overpopulation and pollution. Along the way there are sections detailing the transfer of characters to the big screen, Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" titles, action figures, the proliferation of comics shops and new formats for comics. The mid-eighties to early nineties of course deal with the Brit invasion, spearheaded by the gifted Alan Moore, and the creation of "Mature Readers" titles (and, ultimately, the DC imprint Vertigo) which published comics outside the approval of the Comics Code Authority. There was also the 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' which attempted to 'tidy' DC continuity after one too many alternate universes had gotten created. These periodic continuity realignments continue to this day... There was also Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman and the Sandman series; more 'graphic novels' (though a great many were, in fact, just collections of issues of ongoing titles or of mini-series. Continuing through the nineties and into the new millennium, the next chapter attempts to chart the ongoing explosion in formats, styles, subjects, merchandising, trading cards and even imprints, including Paradox, Wildstorm, ABC, etc. Also Superman's 'death' and marriage, toys and collectibles, the Brit invasion part two and (having tidied up the universe) the proliferation of alternate world, alternate future history type stories. And so on.

The whole package is lovely in a coffee-table kinda way, with a beautiful Alex Ross cover, and it's certainly true that the book is lavishly illustrated throughout but, nice as it is, there's that 25 tag on it. And I have to ask myself, "Is this 3-pages per section, lightweight, dip-into-it-now-and-again, extended advert for DC products actually worth splashing out 25 on?" The answer to that question really rather depends. At one end of the spectrum there are old farts like me who know all this stuff anyway, who will learn nothing new, for whom the price is undoubtedly steep. At the other end are younger, or at least newer, readers who really cannot be expected to have absorbed 70-odd years of history, and such people might well find this book fascinating and informative. So, basically, I would decide which end of the spectrum you are and then decide if you want to splash out? ((Of course, whichever end you might be, if you can persuade somebody else to buy the book for you, say for your birthday or Christmas, then go for it!))

Tony Chester

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