- Posted by Johanna on May 15, 2008 at 8:04 am
- Category: Books and Prose, KC
- CREDITS: by Robert Greenberger
- PUBLISHER: Del Ray; $29.95 US
Review by KC Carlson
They weren’t kidding when they called it “Essential.”
Topping out at 400 pages, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia is a massive collection of facts, fictions, and good old-fashioned trivia about the Gotham Knight and all his friends and foes. In fact, this book is so densely packed and monstrously thick, I might think that The Joker came up with it as a hefty, blunt-force murder weapon!
That is, if I didn’t already know that it was actually written by my pal Bob Greenberger, former DC Editor and “Continuity Cop”, who apparently spent most of a year researching the details that weren’t already permanently attached to his brain and then writing the 300,000+ word manuscript. The right man for the job, as they say. The end result is the perfect book for comic book geeks (especially the continuity-minded type) (like me), trivia mavens, pop culture fans and historians, uber-fans of heroic and science fiction, morning-show radio jocks, and just plain old fans of the lives and times of Batman.
Based on and expanded upon ten-fold, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia is a completely updated version of the 1976 (reprinted, 2007) Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, Volume 1: Batman by Michael Fleisher. Whereas Fleisher’s book stopped with material published in the late 1960s and only covered material in Batman, Detective Comics, and World’s Finest Comics, Greenberger’s text covers ALL the Batman core titles and many of the Batman family books (Catwoman, Nightwing, Robin, etc.) up through (cover date) November 2007. In addition, the new Encyclopedia also covers major DCU storylines like Crisis on Infinite Earths, No Man’s Land, Identity Crisis, War Games, and Infinite Crisis, as well as major Batman information from the various Justice League and Outsiders titles and the Batman team-ups in The Brave and the Bold. All told, almost 70 years of Batman history in one book. An outstanding achievement!
Virtually all the core information from the original Fleisher book has been retained, albeit with some judicious re-writing/editing. What has been omitted: Minor characters who only made one appearance, Fleisher’s often lengthy quotations from the original comics, the very lengthy story-by-story chronological rundown of each comic (and for each major character), and the frequent duplication of material from entry to entry. However, many of the illustrations that were used in the original book have been retained in the new volume.
Probably the most stunning thing about Greenberger’s text (as well as being the most obsessive, but unfortunately necessary) is the detailed and ongoing discussion of how the characters, their origins, their equipment, their motivations, their relationship to other characters, and even their names have changed over the years. Explicit in these descriptions are the obvious changes in continuity that have occurred over the many years of DC history in the wake of such reality-changing stories as the various Crisis storylines. Less overt are the changes that just naturally evolved over time (notably the tech associated with Batman’s equipment, especially the Batmobile) or changes in the evolution of comics as graphic storytelling (how the complexities and intensity of the character’s relationships evolve over time). Greenberger handles all of this potentially confusing material with great skill. Especially appreciated are the discussions of the differences and similarities of the Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions of the long-running characters, as well as the identification of alternate versions of characters from “other realities” (Elseworlds and other stories).
The encyclopedia format unfortunately tends to make much of the book an alphabetical collection of single paragraph descriptions of various gangsters, mob-bosses, and one-note supervillains. The real meat of the book is reserved for the lengthy entries on the Batman and his world (Gotham City, the Batcave, the Wayne Family), his allies (Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, the Gordons, Alfred, Catwoman), and his villains (The Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, Two Face, Lex Luthor, The Penguin, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Kobra, and many more). Each of these entries is written newspaper-style with the most important information up front in a summary/overview, followed by as much detail as you want. The general rule of thumb is the longer the character has been around, or the most frequent their appearances, the longer and more detailed their entry.
Most of the major appearances (including all first appearances) are documented in the text with the comic, issue number, and publication date. Due to the encyclopedia format, there is some minor duplication of content, but this is kept to a minimum and is only apparent if one reads the book straight through (which goes against the basic format in the first place and is, therefore, the pickiest of nits).
I’m guessing that there are well over 300 illustrations in all — including two 16-page, full-color sections — running the gamut of great Batman artists from Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson to Alex Ross and Jim Lee and all eras in between. Tastefully designed with well-chosen graphics, the functionality of this book is miles above the similar DK-published character overviews, with their over-the-top/in-your-face graphics, bizarre layouts, bad text-wrap, and often skimpy text.
Best of all, this Batman volume is just the first of a series. Up next (probably next year) is The Essential Superman Encyclopedia, written by Superman scripter Marty Pasko. After that is The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia, written by Wonder Woman artist and scripter Phil Jimenez. The backstory of the DC Universe is in good hands! These books are Essential for your comic book reference library — as well as a fun and entertaining read!
An advance galley for this review was provided by the publisher.