The Essential Batman Encyclopedia

A couple times on this blog I’ve mentioned my childhood fascination with the Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, three volumes that were extensively detailed guides to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Published in the 1970s, the volumes are very dated now and even then the level of detail meant that typically only a handful of series were treated for each character. For example, none of the Justice League, etc., comic books were considered in the creation of either of the books despite the prominent role all three of DCs heavyweights play in those books.

Anyway, the good news is that DC is in the process of doing a new series of encylopedia-like volumes about its big guns, and the first entry, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, is already out.

This book is huge at 8.5″ x 11″ and 388 pages, including a liberal number of color reproductions and artwork. This book doesn’t attempt to be as detailed as the original Batman Encyclopedia which is a good thing. First, it allows author Robert Greenberger to expand the entires to cover pretty much all the relevant Batman-related books. Second, it doesn’t waste space with relatively trivial matters (the original Encyclopedia, for example, included pretty much every villain who ever appeared, including many who made single appearances in early Batman books and really had little to no influence on the series/character as whole).

Greenberger also does a good job — well as good as can be expected — in handling DC’s confusing multi-dimensional continuity. For example, the entry on “Robin” starts off by noting how Robin came to be on Earth 2, then on Earth 1, etc., and then how these different continuities sometimes bump into each other and crossover. It would be better if DC had a sensible continuity, but barring that this approach is the next best thing.

Honestly with this book listed at $19.95 on Amazon.Com, I can’t thing of a single bad thing to say about this. It’s everything I’d hoped an updated version of the original Batman encyclopedia would be. Now bring on the Superman and Wonder Woman entries, and hopefully whereas the original books got cut off there, hopefully we’ll see this series progress so there will be a Green Lantern, etc. encyclopedia.

Please.

DC Superfriends Batmobile

Marvel has its Spider-Man and Friends line of toys for toddlers, and Mattel is soon going to be bringing out a DC Superfriends line aimed at the same market. There are definitely adults who collect these, but I find most of them annoying (my dog, however, loves the ones my son leaves on the floor).

I make an exception for the DC Superfriends Batmobile,

I. Must. Own. That.

CNET Continues Its Comic Book Reign of Error

CNET continues its woeful and error-filled coverage of all-things comics with its latest story about forthcoming straight-to-DVD animated movies from DC. Following on Marvel’s success with animated Avengers and Iron Man movies, DC is getting into the game by producing its own straight-to-DVD releases.

According to CNET’s Neha Tiwari,

Batman and Superman are no strangers to the big screen, but their animated counterparts have yet to step in the limelight. This September, comic-giant DC Comics will be changing its path by releasing its first animated movie, Superman Doomsday, based on the 1993 storyline involving the man of steel.

Well yeah, I guess . . . as long as you completely ignore theatrical releases of DC properties such as 1993s animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm or the much better Return of the Joker (especially the not-really-appropriate-for-kids uncut version).

Ah, but this is the same CNET that a couple years ago lamented that no comics company had released their back catalogs on CD or DVD, despite the fact that at the time Marvel had released several DVD-based compilations of thousands of digitized comics of several of its properties.

I guess CNET must block Google so the editors and reporters are unable to do any fact checking on this sort of stuff.

Re-Issue of Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes

Last year I mentioned the three volume Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes set that rocked my world as a child.

The first volume in the series, the Batman encyclopedia, is going to be re-released in May retailing for about $20. The Superman and Wonder Woman editions are also being re-released over the summer.

And for that very special Batman fan in your life, Previews is offering a Neal Adams-signed Batman volume for only $149.99.

The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes: Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman

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.