By Marty Mulrooney
DC Comics celebrates 75 years of fantastic comic books this October with the publication of DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book, published by Quirk Books. Showcasing 100 of their most famous covers, each page is perforated and ready to frame, with behind-the-scenes commentary (as well as quotes from the artists themselves) offered on the back of every page.
Look up the word “iconic” in the dictionary, and you may well see a picture of Joe Shuster’s cover for Action Comics #1, which introduced Depression-era comics readers to the character who would become the most recognisable super hero in the world.
Action Comics #1 – June 1938, Joe Shuster
I was admittedly somewhat concerned to be reviewing a self-proclaimed ‘poster book’ on Alternative Magazine Online. My experience with these kinds of books in the past has been mixed: they generally bear very little resemblance to actual books other than being bound between two covers, merely offering a cheap way for customers to buy posters in bulk. Of course, trying to review a collection of images alone could also prove quite tricky.
Empowered by editors to throw the kitchen sink at the title in an effort to reverse flagging sales, O’Neil and Adams turned Green Lantern/Green Arrow into a gorgeously illustrated soapbox to address issues of racism, poverty, overpopulation, and drug abuse.
Green Lantern [second series] – April 1970, Neal Adams
Thankfully, my concerns soon disappeared as I began to flick through the various pages on offer. This is a strikingly gorgeous book, a thick paperback that immediately surprised me due to its generous size, measuring 36.2 x 28.6 x 1.9 cm. At a recommended retail price of £24.99 ($40.00), first impressions count and Quirk Books have delivered. Colour reproduction is excellent throughout, with each poster printed on high quality paper, complete with a perforated edge, ready to tear out, frame and hang up with minimal fuss.
Presented in chronological order, each page showcases classic artwork as well as the extensive progress made by DC Comics over the years. From their humble beginnings with Detective/Action Comics, all the way up to their modern day iterations of Batman and Superman, there is something here for practically every DC comic book fan. Thankfully, there is also a strong written element too. The back of every poster offers alternative covers (such as Shazam! #21, left) and a detailed commentary by author Robert Schnakenberg.
Due to the large size of the posters themselves, there is always plenty of room on the back of each page for a detailed commentary. As a relatively young comic book reader, I found the trivia available absolutely fascinating. For example, did you know that Superman has battled a lion, a whale, a bear, an eagle and a sabre-toothed tiger over the years?! Superboy has also featured on two front covers getting spanked by Jonathon Kent, which shows just how much our super heroes have developed over time!
There is plenty of information offered for the lesser-known comics too, some of which I was completely unfamiliar with. It is a joy to look at a cover for Strange Adventures #100 Featuring “The Amazing Trial Of John (Gorilla) Doe!” from 1959 and then turn the page over to read that ‘a new editorial policy had to be laid down: no more than one “gorilla cover” a month – except, that is, for the occasional “gorilla month”, when every title had to have a gorilla on its cover.’
When Watchmen #1 hit the direct sales racks in the summer of 1986, it not only jolted DC sales and set the world of super-hero comics on its ear. It also re-introduced a venerable feel-good logo – the smiley face – to pop-cultural prominence.
Watchmen #1 – September 1986, Dave Gibbons
The last third of the covers shown are even more brilliant because many are taken from comics that are still in circulation today, as well as others that have been rereleased as graphic novels in recent years. As much as this book pays fan service to long-time DC readers, relative newcomers will undoubtedly get a kick out of recognising the latest covers from their own bookshelves, before flicking back and comparing them to covers from the past 75 years.
About the only person not floored by The Killing Joke’s power was artist Brian Bolland, who found Moore’s story underwhelming and detested the “garish” hues chosen by colourist John Higgins. Bolland would later recolor the entire book himself for the twentieth anniversary edition.
The Killing Joke – 1988, Brian Bolland
Overall, I am hugely impressed with Dc Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book. From the superb introduction by ex-DC Comics executive Paul Levitz, to the fantastic selection of unforgettable artwork that follows, every page is an absolute delight. This is a book to lose yourself in, a journey through the sprawling history of DC comics that is never anything less than visually awe-inspiring and a pleasure to read.
My only complaint is that, by its very nature, this book encourages the reader to pull out their favourite pages…. and I don’t know if I could actually do that to such a beautiful collector’s item! Surprisingly, this poster collection works so well as an actual book, that you may want to buy two copies if you plan to frame the posters contained within. An essential purchase for comic book fans old and new alike.
10 OUT OF 10
DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book is due for release in the UK and US on 1st October 2010 from all major book retailers.