Sunday, 30 January 2011

DC Comics: the 75th Anniversary Poster Book – reviewed

This highly attractive book contains one hundred of the best DC and Vertigo covers in chronological order, beginning with New Fun #1 (February 1935) and ending with Batman #679 (September 2008). There's nothing from Wildstorm, Piranha Press or the other DC imprints, but there are a few from All-American and even a few creator-owned books, such as Preacher #1, Fables #18 and Y: the Last Man #189.

All the classic images you'd expect are here: The Flash #123 ("Flash of Two Worlds"), and Adventure Comics #247 ("I'm sorry, Superboy..."), Action Comics #252 ("Look again, Superman!"), Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 ("Never again!"), Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (the death of Supergirl), Superman #75 (the death of Superman), Watchmen #1 (the bloodstained smiley), and so on. Looking through it brings back an awful lot of memories.

I was disappointed that Jerry Ordway's superb covers for The Power of Shazam weren't represented, or Brian Bolland's work on The Invisibles, but I can't point to much else that's been left out. There's a bit too much Batman – and they're often the least striking covers (e.g. Batman #608, Detective Comics #626, Detective Comics #792) – but given his popularity it's hardly a surprise.

Perhaps because so many of the covers are classics – and thus a little overfamiliar – the lesser-known covers really grabbed my attention: Mr. District Attorney #12 ("Don't judge this man until you hear why I defended the monkey man!"), Sensation Comics #109 ("My fingers... alive! And threatening me with... death!"), or Leave It To Binky #60 (a boy kissing a fish). As Lichtenstein discovered, romance comics work particularly well at larger sizes: for example see John Romita's covers for Falling in Love #62 ("Remember, honey... The last time we were here...?") and Heart Throbs #93 ("How can I tell her... I will never see her again..!").

The posters are scans of actual issues, and don't seem to have been retouched. The scratches, folds and discolourations add to the authenticity, but the covers of the Showcase series of books show how astounding classic comics artwork can look when recoloured. Also, the paper isn't glossy, so the colours on the posters don't pop in quite the way they would have on the original covers; for posters, they look a bit faded.

The commentary to be found on the reverse of each poster is much more informative than you'd expect from a poster book, and, apart from the film I Am Curious (Yellow) being decribed as a "porno" I didn't spot any significant errors. The reverse of each poster also reprints a pair of covers by the same artist or featuring the same character or theme. For example the Superboy #55 cover (Superboy being spanked) is backed by #65 (Superboy in a Kryptonite cage) and #75 (more spanking) for comparison.

Sadly, to review a book of posters properly, you have to take out one of its pages. The page came out cleanly and easily along the perforation, producing a symmetrical poster; you'd have to look very closely to see which edge had been torn. I suspect many people will prefer to keep their books intact, although a wall plastered with the lot would look stunning. In one or two places the perforation on my copy has torn through normal reading. The index is less useful than it might have been, given that the book lacks page numbers; an index by artist would also have been welcome.

Unless you're a student looking to give your bedsit a pop art makeover, this is perhaps not a book you'd buy for yourself, but any comics fan would be absolutely delighted to receive it on their birthday. Definitely one for your Amazon wishlist.

DC Comics: the 75th Anniversary Poster Book, commentary by Robert Schnakenberg, Quirk Books, oversize pb, 208pp.

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