- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2009 at 8:28 am
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- CREDITS: Edited by Greg Sadowski
- PUBLISHER: Fantagraphics; $24.99 US
They used to say that manga was so successful in the US because they only brought over and translated the best of it. That’s not so much the case any more, which increasing demand leading to mediocre work making the jump. I’m wondering if this is the book that similarly demonstrates the dam breaking open for Golden Age reprints.
Until recently, what was available was either historically significant, at least to fans of the genre — the early appearances of Superman or Batman, for example — or ridiculously goofy, like I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! Supermen! changes that by reprinting a random sampling of interchangeable superhero stories from the early days of comics. (All from the public domain, too.)
They’re crude, rough action tales, with a surprising number of images of people standing around. I found them numbing in their primitiveness. The included house ads from the period were most interesting to me, just because of their direct sales approach.
Companies represented include the barely remembered, like Novelty Press or Columbia Comic Corporation, as well as Fiction House, Fox, and MLJ. The artists were selected for name recognition: Bill Everett, Basil Wolverton, Jack Cole, Fletcher Hanks, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and the like.
We live in an era where almost everything from the past is becoming available. Seeing the history for oneself can be enlightening — just because something’s old, doesn’t mean it’s any good. There are endnotes on the stories, but anyone interested in this period is likely already familiar with the history they cover.
In this interview, editor Greg Sadowski talks about how the artists “were really inventing a new art form, and to me that’s the exciting thing. The heroes themselves are a lot of fun to wrap a book around, but in the end they’re kind of incidental and I feel ill at ease trying to pontificate on them.” It can be exciting to see the roots of a genre, but it can also be frustrating when you’re familiar with much more mature work. Just because something may be historically significant (although I think it’s stretching to make that claim for these stories) doesn’t make it a good read.
See a sample story and a slideshow at the publisher’s website. (This review was based on a preview PDF provided by the publisher.)