The DC Comics Encyclopedia (Updated and Expanded)

Published by Dorling Kindersley, this hardback glossy volume is primarily intended for younger readers of D.C. comics, setting this apart from the continuous cultural shift in people’s opinions on what adult themes comics are capable of expressing. Bolstered by the positive critical reaction to recent Hollywood blockbusters like the revived Superman and Batman franchises, critical and public attitudes alike have moved to a position where comic books can give insight into and comment upon societal turmoil, psychological disorders and war. The term graphic novel — often used to describe compilations of separately written comics — has emerged as an intellectual euphemism if you will, giving readers a neat term which renders the form more “legitimate”. Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” was voted one of the 20th century’s best novels by Time magazine, dealing with the question of if these vigilantes truly existed.

Written in an accessible style and aimed at a younger audience, the Encyclopedia has no such pretensions about sophistication. A vast array of minor and major comic book characters from the D.C. universe are described, accompanied by one or more drawings. Their vital statistics and superpowers are listed, as well as their first appearance in a D.C. publication. Batman’s more illustrious and fantastic adventures are described in a four (large) paged entry; theories of dystopia are dispensed with altogether. There are also large spreads on the big stars of D.C. comics — Superman, The Justice League Of America, The Green Lantern and Marvel Man. This indeed works very well on its own terms — it should satisfy comic collectors, fans and the curious alike.

Also, some of the more obscure heroes and villains are exciting to discover. Often they are incredibly quirky — The Inferior Five, for example, are a “superhero” team comprised of talented but crucially flawed characters (one member is a highly skilled archer who is afraid of open spaces). Others are products of a propagandist mindset — Captain Nazi is a WWII era German schemer, created after the United States’ entry into the war, wearing a conspicuous swastika on his vest (in case you missed the implications of his political allegiance). Reflecting the late 1960s, there are the twins Hawk and Dove, created in the midst of an America wrestling with its feelings on the Vietnam war. The former is right wing, the latter left wing, and they fight together for “the greater good”. There is even a Mossad created group known as the Hayoth who first emerged in the early 1990s; one of their fiercest rivals were a Middle East terror organization known as Jihad — here comic art predates a contemporary and widespread awareness of these issues.

Those looking for more weighty analysis should Google for journal articles on Alan Moore’s deconstruction of pop cultural forms, or the archetypal Jungian madness suggested by Heath Ledger’s depiction of the Joker. Indeed, it is a shame that an account of the comic medium couldn’t encompass, for example, the anti-authoritarian stance of Grant Morrison’s version of the D.C. super-team Doom Patrol. However, this is not the book’s purpose — it succeeds on its own, more fantastical terms, similar to the older Marvel Universe series.

RATING 7 / 10