19th Oct2013

Book Review: ‘The Golden/Silver Age of DC Comics’ (Taschen)

by Phil Wheat

TASCHEN_dc_comics

As a graphic designer I’ve always been a fan of the art book publisher TASCHEN. Founded in 1980 the company has, in it’s 20-odd year lifespan, built a reputation for publishing the widest variety of books, on an incredibly varied amount of subjects. In fact one of my all-time favourites art books, American Ads of the 1980s, was published by TASCHEN and has survived many a book “purge” in my household.

Besides being a graphic designer I’m also comics nerd (who isn’t these days?) so what happens when TASCHEN combine my two loves? You get the first two volumes in what is set to be a five volume collection on DC Comics which explores the origins of comics’ most enduring legends and the behind-the-scenes stories of the men and women who created them, era by era.

TASCHEN were kind enough to send me both The Golden Age of DC Comics and The Silver Age of DC Comics, two hefty 400 page hardback tomes penned by Paul Levitz, editor/publisher of The Comic Reader, writer of more than 300 stories (including an acclaimed run on Legion of Super-Heroes) and a former DC Comics executive, to review.

Expanded from the Eisner Award–winning XL book, 75 Years of DC Comics, this new series hits the shelf at a reader-friendly size with essays updated by author Paul Levitz and more than 1,000 new images across five volumes. Thousands of covers and interiors, original illustrations, photographs, film stills, and collectibles have been reproduced to bring the story lines, the characters, and their creators to vibrant life, making this an invaluable reference for comics fans.

Both books follow the same format – an interview with one of the (living) icons of the era, in the case of The Golden Age… it’s the legendary Joe Kubert and for The Silver Age… Levitz interviews Neal Adams (Deadman, The Spectre); followed by a lengthy essay on the era the book covers, interspersed with rare artwork, sketches, advertising et al.; and the rest of each books 400 pages is filled with page after page of more iconic imagery – comics, art, photographs, more art, and most importantly more comics.

Beginning in the early days (literally the beginning of comics as we know them) The Golden Age of DC Comics takes readers on a journey from the funny books of Famous Funnies and New Adventure Comics, via the pulp tales of Spicy Detective Stories, before the birth of the modern comic in 1938 when Action Comics #1 debuted with a new kind of comic book character on its cover: a costumed man with two identities, who possessed extraordinary strength and powers – Superman. He was not the first super hero of course, but the Man of Steel would become the prototype for all super heroes thereafter…

Superman’s story, and those of Batman, Wonder Woman, and hundreds of other DC Comics characters begin in The Golden Age of DC Comics and continue into the second volume in TASCHEN’s five-volume collection, The Silver Age of DC Comics, which picks up the story in the late 1950s, as the traditional superhero comic was on the decline; and tells the story of how DC Comics reignited the medium by adding science fiction elements, originally to circumvent the limitations of the self-censoring Comics Code Authority, but in the end becoming something more transformative, delivering the first-ever “reboot” of Golden Age greats with the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman.

The Silver Age of DC Comics chronicles it all – including the likes of Doom Patrol, The Legion of Superheroes, the Metal Men and Justice League of America, right down to the wacky shenanigans of television’s Batman, which made him the embodiment for the camp sensibility of the ’60s yet which would immortalize him as a pop culture icon for generations to come. As someone who read these books in collected editions and annuals – handed down from my older cousins and family members – as a young child this second volume was a walk down memory lane: and I expect the next volume to be even more so.

At £34.99 each both of these books are an investment, but if you have a comics fan – young or old – in your family, who want to learn even more about the history of DC and the comics medium in general, The Golden Age of DC Comics and The Silver Age of DC Comics would make ideal Christmas presents.

You can order both books direct from TASCHEN right now.

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