DC Comics Super Heroes and Villains Fandex

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!

DC Comics Super Heroes and Villains Fandex cover
DC Comics Super Heroes
and Villains Fandex
Buy this book

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!

Similar Posts: The DC Comics Encyclopedia, Updated and Expanded § Men of the DCU Contest – All Entries § Another DCU Men Contest Entry § Two More DCU Men Contest Entries § Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics


4 Responses to “DC Comics Super Heroes and Villains Fandex”

  1. Wesley Smith Says:

    Saw this in the store earlier this week. Even though I wasn’t able to open the box and fan through it myself, I was impressed by how current the artwork I did see (and in the image here) was. Robin is quite clearly Frank Quitely, for example. The only licensed artwork DC seemed to be approving up to just a few years ago was from the official Garcia-Lopez models from the early 80s. It was really nice to see the variety of styles represented here.

  2. Randall Lotowycz Says:

    Hey, thanks for the review!
    I appreciate your positive comments as well as your criticisms. Clearly you’re the audience I wanted to with the project and I love hearing what you had to say.
    Just a couple points I wanted to touch on. This was being written during Blackest Night, which is why it wasn’t up-to-the-minute in terms of what’s going on, and it was safer to stop the entries before Blackest Night developments. In some cases, like Batwoman, I was making changes/additions right up until it went to press.

    I was a work-for-hire author, and DC was incredibly supportive the entire way through. When it came to things like Batman, it made sense to have the entry completely on Bruce. At some point, he’ll be Batman again, and he is the iconic Batman. I had to walk the thin line between being up-to-date and not wanting to be trapped in the precise moment of when the Fandex was written (July-Sept 09). Unless the thing sells insanely well, it won’t get continuously updated. But it will likely keep in print for the foreseeable future. When Bruce has been Batman for 70 years, and will likely be it again soon, and Dick’s been it for 2, it made sense to “future proof” the Fandex by keeping the Batman card focused on Bruce and acknowledging Dick’s part in his entry.
    With the likes of Martian Manhunter and Aquaman, I had to hedge my bets that they’d be alive by the end of Blackest Night, and covering their deaths would have taken up precious space for other info I deemed more essential. But just because something wasn’t included, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    I could talk about this thing forever. I’m damn proud of it. Happy to see people reading, and digging the art we selected. DC was fantastic in accommodating the art we wanted. It basically came down to “tell us what you want and we’ll get it for you.”

    Cheers!

  3. The Irredeemable Shag Says:

    Johanna – Great review and thanks for the shout out to my own review.
    http://onceuponageek.com/2010/05/07/review-dc-comics-super-heroes-and-villains-fandex/

    Randall – You did a really great job. Of course us geeks are going to nitpick every little thing (because that’s our nature). However, given the task you had in front of you, I think you did an excellent job.

    The Irredeemable Shag

  4. Hsifeng Says:

    …and speaking of field guides, dig The Stray Shopping Cart Project and its print edition The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America : A Guide to Field Identification. ;)

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