Part art book, part celebration of DC’s 75th anniversary, part pull apart poster book… this is one of the strangest and coolest books I’ve seen in a long time. Read more below the cut!
DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book by Robert Schakenberg is a giant, softcover book: 13.9 x 10.9 inches! At first, when I opened the package from Quirk Books, I thought it would be a hardcover art book. I wasn’t actually sure what to expect from a ‘poster book’ like this. It’s something I’ve never seen before: a book where the pages can be ripped out. The cover says that there are 100 ‘ready to frame covers’ inside and they’re not lying. On thick paper, each odd-number page presents a cover, while the back of the page has Schakenberg’s commentary on the cover and one or two related covers to give a taste of what the comic looked like at other times. I’m not entirely sold on the concept of a $40 book where you can remove the pages, but I can admire the concept. The presentation of the covers is such that they would look very good framed and hung on a wall. My only real complaint with that part of the book is that you have to be careful when turning the pages or begin the process of ripping the page out. It must be tough to find the balance between making the pages solid enough that turning doesn’t rip them out and easy enough to rip out that anyone who does doesn’t ruin the page in the process.
Looking beyond the basic concept of the book, which you’ll either dig or not (and it honestly doesn’t make the book that difficult to read), there are the 100 covers. Beginning with New Fun from 1935 and ending with Batman #678 from 2008, the selection is varied and interesting. Looking at those dates, it is a little funny that they couldn’t find any cover from 2010… with 2008 as the final year represented, it’s more of a 73rd anniversary book. But, if there isn’t a cover that’s iconic enough, that’s fair enough. Some of the selections and omissions are questionable. Out of curiosity, I compared the book with the top 75 most iconic DC covers of all time as determined by the Comics Should be Good readers and there was a rather surprising gap. 27 of the covers on the CSBG list get their own page-sized presentation in the book, 8 are shown on the back at a smaller size, and 40 don’t make the cut at all. I don’t think that necessarily says anything negative about the book since it does offer a wider variety of non-superhero covers from throughout DC’s history and those covers may not be ‘iconic’ to the more superhero-oriented readers of today, but they’re worth including. I particularly enjoy the John Romita, Sr. romance covers or the non-Batman/Superman covers of Detective Comics and Action Comics. Part of the appeal here is seeing some covers that are rarely seen otherwise.
There are some decisions that stand out as questionable. The first one was using the Challengers of the Unknown Showcase #12 cover instead of the Showcase #4 with the Flash. Or even Showcase #22 with Green Lantern. Those two covers are far, far more iconic and well-known. The Flash cover in particular is one of the most famous covers of all time. There’s no Justice League #1 despite that cover being so famous that it’s been ripped off tons of times. No Batman #404 or Man of Steel #1 — instead, it’s a Michael Golden Detective Comics cover from 1991 and Action Comics #587, which features the Demon choking out Superman. Both covers are decent, but I can’t imagine anyone who would want them over the beginning of “Year One” or the fantastic image of the Superman S as Clark Kent pulls off his shirt. For some reason, Kingdom Come #3 gets the large treatment over the stronger cover to issue four, and All-Star Superman #10 gets a page, while the first issue doesn’t even make it in smaller form on the back of that page.
In some other choices, it seems like they picked a cover at random. Why the covers from 100 Bullets and Fables instead of others? Neither cover picked is one that stands out above the rest or is more iconic or well-known. They seem like random examples of Dave Johnson and James Jean’s covers. Which is fine, but, when you’re picking 100 covers, you need a better reason than that, I think. A lot of the modern covers suffer from that — there hasn’t been enough time for any of them to really stand out. But, I would question why nothing from Wildstorm gets a spotlight since it’s had a few well-known covers — hell, pick a Planetary cover! Something from the ABC line, perhaps? What about Action Comics #863’s cover warranted inclusion? Or, even earlier in the book, there’s some notable absences like Wonder Woman (vol. 1) #1… while we get a strangely large amount of goofy Silver Age covers. Did we need a cover from Weird Western Tales AND a cover from Weird War Tales?
I don’t want to give off the impression that I don’t like this book. I really do, I just wish there was a stronger idea as to why these 100 covers were selected. Why Mister Miracle #1 instead of the more famous New Gods #1? Is this meant to be a broad selection of covers, the best-looking covers, or the most iconic/well-known covers? Because, if it’s supposed to be any of those, there are a dozen covers that don’t fit in each category. If it’s meant to be a mix, then I have to question that sort of scattershot approach.
Schakenberg’s commentary doesn’t usually explain why that specific cover was chosen, but is insightful into providing context for the covers. His writing style is easy to read and informative. As we get closer to the present, he begins to use more and more quotes from the artists that explain their approach to cover work, which definitely adds to the experience. I also like the inclusion of the two smaller covers on the back of the pages as well since that at least shows off some more covers, providing a larger context.
DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book is an odd one. I’m not sure exactly who the audience is or what the focus is meant to be entirely. Part art book, part place to get large prints for framing, part history lesson, it’s definitely worth picking up for those who want a large, oversized book featuring 100 comics from DC’s entire history. Most of the big iconic covers are presented here and look great. Plus, there are some rare ones that blew me away at this size.
(Below is a sampling of some of the covers included. Click for larger versions.)
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