April 21, 2013
Posted by Danny
Released in late 2010, Taschen’s imperious 75 YEARS OF DC COMICS: THE ART OF MODERN MYTHMAKING made for a stunning addition to my Comics Reference library. Bearing the sheer authority of author Paul Levitz, whose entire professional life had been devoted to the illustrious comics publisher, the books’ 750 pages and over 2000 images makes it simply breath-taking to read – as well as physically lift – and provides truly fascinating overview of the company that, above all, created the superhero genre. If you missed out on “DC75” – or not unreasonably abstained due to the rather expensive price tag of £135 – then the good news is that Taschen have refashioned the contents in to what will ultimately be five separate volumes, the opening volume covering the years 1935-56, DC’s so-called “Golden Age”.
Obviously, the immediate question is: isn’t this a heinous double-dip? Granted, at £34.99 a volume, you’d end up paying £40 more than the original single volume – still available – but Taschen cannot be accused of a simple repackaging job with no effort made at providing added value. Firstly, The Golden Age of DC Comics comes at a more reader (and shelf)-friendly size (the sheer fact of the matter is that Taschen’s XXL format, while physically impressive, is not at all tailored to sitting on your sofa with it on your lap.) and one that still allows for a dynamic and detail-rich presentation of the images. Speaking of which: just over 400 pages, the book allows for a considerable infusion of more images, with Taschen promising more than 1, 000 over the five volumes, their detailed annotations a vital addendum to Levitz’s incisive writing. Levitz has updated his essay – moderately so in this first volume, his introduction noting that the final two volumes will benefit most from that.
However, there is considerable value in the addition of an original interview with a prominent figure of the era covered, in this case the legendary figure of Joe Kubert, who died last year. Obviously, with the number of artists and writers who were active in the earliest days of comics now exceedingly thin on the ground, to read the recollections of someone who was actually there – Kubert did his work for DC in 1943 and worked as an artist, writer and editor across every genre for DC over decades – provides engrossing context and is an eminently suitable way to start the book. (Future volumes promise interviews with Neal Adams, Denny O’Neill, Jeanette Kahn and Jim Lee).
Being published in the 75th year of DC’s company-defining creation Superman – and therefore the superhero genre as a whole – gives The Golden Age of DC Comics a particular resonance, as it provides an excellent and vivid opportunity to get a glimpse of those heady early days, which transformed the landscape of the comics medium forever. However, the book does provide a fulsome reminder that, while DC were pioneers of the Superhero genre, they also trod significant ground in the arenas of hard-boiled adventure, Crime, War, Western, and, most especially, Romance comics. The period of 1935-56 was one of considerable tumult in American life – The Depression, WWII, McCarthyism – and it’s interesting to see how DC, in its speedy ascendance, negotiates those times via its output. Similarly, the sheer resonance and impact of their key characters is reflected in how they were eagerly appropriated by wider media platforms, with radio, theatrical shorts and later Television.
Ultimately, if you do not have the original DC75 tome, then there is huge attraction in obtaining this (and the forthcoming volumes) as it provides an enchanting overview of DC’s birth and early days while also bestowing an almost-overwhelming trawl though the company’s visual archives. (If you do, then, speaking as a collector, you’ll have access to an augmented and far less-cumbersome version of the original, saving DC75 from wear and tear.). Rarely, if ever, have books on DC had as much unfettered access as Taschen’s have had, and with the impressive production values – the metallic gold sheen of the cover is a nice touch – you have a front row seat in this trip down DC’s memory lane.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF DC COMICS is published by TASCHEN, priced £34.99