Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Review: DC Comics - The 75th Anniversary Poster Book

Featuring a collection of the most memorable DC comic covers from their history, this collects an amazing variety and wealth of comic art in one book. From the first appearance of Superman – much copied, and the most expensive comic ever sold at auction – in Action Comics # 1, 1938, to Batman’s first swooping appearance in Detective Comics, and further ‘tights and capes’ character introductions, to the relative innocence of Falling In Love, the creepy House of Mystery, Mr District Attourney, up to 100 Bullets, Ronin, and the Vertigo titles, this covers the evolution of artwork, characters, development of themes, introduction of ‘social comment', the taboo-breaking Swamp-Thing and Abby falling in love, and much more, for 500 comic covers.

Wow! As books go this has to be the most stunning looking book I have received since I started this blog, and at 36cm by 28 cm it is certainly the biggest. Whether you are a DC fan, a Marvel fan, or just a fan of comics in general then this is a book that you could spend many hours looking through, admiring the quality of the various comic covers within.

I came quite late to US comics. As I mentioned back in March when I had a graphic novel themed month on the blog, I grew up reading The Beano, then moved on to Marvel's Star Wars Weekly and then the re-launched Eagle. Comics from the DC and Marvel stables were only read whilst waiting to have my hair cut at the barber and the occasional Spiderman or Batman annual received as Christmas presents. I was always aware of the rivalry between the two companies, and also enjoyed the various cartoons and TV series such as Wonder Woman, Batman and Spiderman (which as they were made in the 1970s were all very high camp). I honestly couldn't tell you who my favourite superhero was back then, although I do remember that I always favoured Batman over Superman.

And then....... in 1989 Tim Burton released his movie version of Batman and not long after I discovered Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and then many years later the incredibly awesome Hush (still my favourite Batman story to date) and from that moment on I knew exactly who my favourite 'superhero' was. However, this did not bring with it a sudden conversion to DC devotion and even today I do not takes sides in the seemingly neverending DC vs Marcel debate, but I do tend to read a lot more of DC's output than that of Marvel, either in comic or graphic novel form. I think my main concern is that when I pick up a Marvel publication I always feel that I am jumping into the middle of a story, and that I am disadvantaged by not having been buying the comics for years; a little like discovering Lost on TV part of the way into season two I guess.

Since this defining Batman moment I have definitely read far more publications from DC than from Marvel. I love the Hellblazer series and the cynical John Constantine, and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman stories have become a firm favourite since I discovered them. Add Watchmen to the list and Marvel doesn't really get a look in. I know this may cause no small amount of upset for all the Marvel devotees out there, but c'est la vie. I may as well also upset DC fabs whilst I am at it though, just to retain impartiality - I am still not a Superman fan at all.

This book contains the covers of all of these and many, many more. There are covers of the first issues of The Sandman, Hellblazer, Watchmen and V for Vendetta. There is the cover of Swamp Thing #34 (showing Swamp Thing embracing Abigail Arcane), The Dark Knight #1, and the very different Batman: Year 100 #1 cover. With 100 larged sized poster pages there are far too many to mention them all individually and so far I have just focused on some of my favourite stories, but with 75 years of output there are obviously far more. The images are arranged in chronological order, so start with the likes of the now legendary Action Comics #1 and then progress through the decades, including less well known publications such as The House of Mystery, Strange Adventures and Weird Western Tales. On a personal note, as a teacher of graphic design it is also fascinating to see how the styles have changed over the years as fashions changed or new and innovative artists joined the DC role of honour.

If you were so inclined you could also remove each of these poster sized pages as they all have perforations to aid this, but I just couldn't bring myself to do such a thing to this stunning book. It would also rob me of the brief commentary on the rear of each of these 'posters', where comic expert Robert Schnakenberg discusses the historical importance of the cover in question or the story it packaged. Many of these brief commentaries are also accompanied by anecdotal comments from the artists themselves, as well as smaller images of related comic covers.

This book will have huge appeal to fans of comics old and young, and I know it will go down well in the school library (despite all my efforts the boys seem to prefer looking at pictures during their break times). Even die hard Marvel fans may find this an attractive addition to their collection, if only for its stunning portrayal of the art form, rather than the characters that are depicted within it. My huge thanks go to the publisher, Quirk Books, who very generously sent me a copy for review - I almost feel like buying a second copy so I can frame some of the posters. The book is due to be released on 18th August.

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