The other day, quite by accident, I happened across a copy of three books that I spent untold hours reading as a kid — the three volumes in Michael Fleisher’s Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes.
Fleisher is a comic book writer who is best known for his run on DC Comics’ Jonah Hex. While he was writing comics in the 1970s, Fleisher was also busy writing a multi-volume Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes.
The plan was to do an 8-volume set. Volume 1 would cover Batman, Volume 2 Wonder Woman, Volume 3 Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and The Spirit; Volume 4 Green Lantern; Volume 5 Flash; Volume 6 Superman; Volume 7 Captain America; Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch; and Volume 8 Dr. Fate, Hawkman, Starman and Spectre.
The Batman and Wonder Woman volumes were published in 1976, and the Superman volumes was published in 1978. The other volumes never saw the light of day.
The books took the encyclopedia in the titles quite literally, consisting of hundreds of pages of encyclopedia entries, listed alphabetically, covering every major and minor character and event in history of the hero or heroine in question.
I was fortunate that when the Batman and Wonder Woman volume were published, my local library purchased copies of both. Being 8 years old at the time and a Batman fanatic, I had each of the books checked out on and off for more or less the next several years. Comics Treadmills speculates that it might not be humanly possible to read the Batman volume cover to cover, but I think I did that at least twice from 1976 to 1979.
One of the great things I loved about the Batman and Wonder Woman Encyclopedias as a child was almost certainly its downfall — Fleisher included lengthy plot summaries of numerous Batman comic books. For example, when the volume was published, Bruce Wayne’s Aunt Agatha had made a single appearance in Batman #89 in a story typical of the DC stories of the 1950s and 1960s. Aunt Agatha catches Bruce and Dick Grayson as Batman and Robin, but wrongly concludes they’re attending a costume party. Hilarity ensues.
Aunt Agatha is a very minor character, but Fleisher devoted hundreds of words to essentially retelling Batman #89 in his Encyclopedia (frankly, his retelling was probably better than the original). On the one hand, this was like a gold mine to an 8 year old. Today a very good of Batman #89 is worth $400 or so; it was probably worth significantly less in 1976, but still out of the range of this 8 year old’s allowance.
On the other hand, the long plot summaries made the book huge. This was a very large book — about 9″ x 12″ if memory serves — and about 400 pages. That would have been a fairly expensive book for a relatively niche market. It’s not surprising that after the Batman and Wonder Woman volumes appeared in 1976, the only other volume published is the Superman volume in 1978 which was intended by the publisher as a tie-in to the Richard Donner film.
I’m surprised that no one has done a similarly obsessive Batman or Wonder Woman project on the Internet. A Fleisher-style encyclopedia would lend itself well to a Wiki-based project.