- Posted by Johanna on May 12, 2010 at 11:34 am
- Category: Books and Prose, KC
- CREDITS: written by Randall Lotowycz; art by various
- PUBLISHER: Workman Publishing; $12.95 US
Review by KC Carlson
Want a wealth of information about the origins and history of the most popular DC characters — literally in the palm of your hand!?! Then check out the new DC Comics Super Heroes and Villains Fandex from Workman Publishing!
Fandexes have been around for awhile now, and they are a fascinating and powerful tool for learning for kids. Their subtitle of “Family Field Guides” provides an apt description of what lies at the heart of the Fandex concept. Previous Fandexes have focused on natural history (guides for Bugs, Butterflies, Birds, Cats, Dogs, Trees, Wildflowers, and Dinosaurs) as well as famous people in history (U.S. Presidents, First Ladies, the Civil War, American Indians, Explorers, Painters, Composers) and the Wonders of the World. There’s even one for the 50 American States.
There are also Fandexes covering Mythology and Star Wars, so this DC Comics one is not the first they’ve done about things that don’t actually exist in the real world, but that does sort of defeat the purpose of using it as an actual field guide. Unless, of course, you actually encounter Darksied at the mall (probably at the Anti-Life Equation Outlet). If that happens, then you can whip out your handy Fandex to immediately learn his history (and to find out if he really looks like he is drawn by Jack Kirby), as well as discover that you’ve just been blasted by his Omega Beams. Further, the guide will come in very handy the next time you encounter a giant alien starfish at the Outer Banks. (Yes, there is a Starro entry!)
The DC Comics Fandex is impressive on a number of levels, the first of which is that it may be one of the largest Fandexes produced to date with 75 different characters or groups covered. (Most other Fandexes clock in at 50 entries or fewer.) This may make it a little bit unwieldy to physically handle (especially for smaller children), but considering the amount of information packed into it, that isn’t a major problem.
While the art for each entry is striking and effective, the die-cut figures have a tendency to interlock with each other as one fans each card in and out of the package. Those of you looking for a collectors item in mint condition are well advised to keep this in its box, as the Fandex has the potential to get snagged, bent, or torn if not handled with extreme care. However, the Fandex is meant to be used and read — its ideal function is to be given to a young reader to introduce them to the wonders of the DC Universe — so you may have to suck it up and cringe in silence if your kid loves this so much they carry it around everywhere with them — and actually uses it to death!
For those of you who can’t tell by the pictures, the DC Fandex is about 3” wide to display character artwork, the base (handle) is about 2” wide, and the whole thing stands about 10” tall. It’s also about an inch thick, and the whole thing is held together with a large plastic screw in the lower right corner. The designers have been careful not to include art or copy anywhere near the pivot point of the Fandex.
Hardcore DC fans may be upset that much of the information in the Fandex is not up-to-the-minute accurate, especially regarding the recent Blackest Night (and related events) wrap-up. Not only are the recent resurrections of many of DC’s characters not mentioned here, neither are their previous deaths, some of which happened years ago. While some entries are extremely detailed, with the complete history of every person of note who donned that particular identity (notably Robin, Batgirl, and Wonder Girl), it’s interesting to note that in the Fandex, Batman is Bruce Wayne. Period. There is also a Nightwing card, relating Dick Grayson’s super-heroic history (partially continued from the Robin entry), with just a brief mention of how Dick subbed for Bruce when he was injured or presumed dead. Kind of a harsh (and ill-timed) reminder that in comic book world, a major storyline that took more than two years (real time) to tell is just a footnote in Licensing World (and by extension, the “real” world). There, Batman has always been, and will always be, Bruce Wayne.
Other potentially confusing things due to recent changes: Roy Harper is here, but his heroic name is listed as Arsenal although his entry prominently uses art showing his Red Arrow outfit (complete with a big “R” on the belt buckle). Oh, and he also has two arms, also very prominent in the art, where currently in the comics he, uh, doesn’t. The Firestorm depicted here is the African-American Jason Rusch, while the current Firestorm (in Brightest Day) has gone back to looking like the recently resurrected (and Caucasian) Ronnie Raymond. Oh, and according to the entry here, Orin/Arthur Curry Jr. was apparently the only Aquaman ever, so that Aquaman series from a few years ago (with that other Aquaman) now apparently never happened. Surprise! All this just points out how complex (and contradictory) many of DC’s long-running characters’ origins and history have become.
About a third of the entries are Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman-related characters, who are, after all, the most widely known characters outside of comics. Most of the other entries revolve around other Justice League characters and their associates and villains. Notably, many of the villains included are former members of the Super Friends’ Legion of Doom, indicating what a huge impact that TV cartoon has had in promoting the DC characters to a larger audience. (See the SpeedForce.org review for a Flash-specific take, including a response from the writer.)
I was somewhat surprised to see an entry for the Legion of Super-Heroes, as they’ve been out of the public eye for a bit. I was confused to see an entry highlighting the LSH Star Boy, but on closer inspection, the card offers up a history of ALL the Starmen (and there are a lot of ‘em!). I was also confused by the entry for Elongated Man, especially since he and Sue are dead and all, and DC’s been using Plastic Man (who’s not included here) more and more over the past several years, especially in the JLA. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Metal Men here. Not that they don’t deserve to be, but because they are such fun characters, and DC seems so anti-fun right now.
The DC Comics Super-Heroes and Villains Fandex is a fascinating and unique look at the DCU. While it doesn’t substitute for the more detailed DC Encyclopedia, Who’s Who, and Secret Files projects (nor is it designed to), it’s a great overview of DC’s greatest characters and concepts, aimed directly at those new to the wonders of the DC Universe. It’s also an ideal gift for a child, because it’s so fun and colorful that they’ll have no idea that they’re actually learning something. It’s the sort of collectible that will be remembered years down the road as THE thing that got them into the world of comic books. I’ve been having some fun with the concept here, but I really wish I had this thing when I was 8!
… and, if nothing else, it’s just flexible enough to be the most awesome flyswatter ever! Take that, Ambush Bug!