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.

Wired’s Tired Article on Digital Distribution of Comic Books

I opened up the May 2006 issue of Wired Magazine to see an odd article by products editor Mark McClusky arguing in favor of digital distribution of comic books. McClusky writes,

The two biggest comics publishers, Marvel and DC, control huge back catalogs — as in 70 years of content. But if you want to read old issues of a venerable franchise like Spider-Man, your choices are either to hunt down expensive original copies or to buy costly paperback compilations. . . .

But imagine what these publishers — and smaller imprints — could do in the digital realm. Last year, thousands of readers snapped up The Complete New Yorker, a $100 DVD set containing scans of every issue of the magazine . . . If DC were to release The Complete Batman, fans wouldn’t just be excited — there would be mass hysteria. Comics lovers aren’t averse to spending money; it’s easy to imagine them happily paying $300 for such a compilation. I would. And while it might cannibalize sales of the trades, the radically lower production costs of a DVD set would offset the difference.

Yeah, imagine if instead of having to buy an expensive trade paperback to read all those early Spider-Man comics, you could buy a CD or DVD set that had the entire 40 year run of the book?

It’s such a good idea, Marvel did just that in 2004. It followed that up with DVD collections of the entire run of The Fantastic Four and X-Men with an Avengers DVD-ROM on the way (and for about $50 rather than $300; sadly, there was no mass hysteria or UFO sightings accompanying the release of any of these products).

Here’s an article idea for Wired — what if companies would create programs that would scan incoming e-mail and files for viruses and notify the user or automatically delete them before a user’s computer became infected? Wouldn’t that be a great idea? Probably worth a cover story, even.

Lego Obtains Batman License — What Are They Thinking?

It was just five years ago that LEGO was in serious financial troubles. One of the major problems then was licensed products — LEGO sells a lot of licensed products such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Spider-Man, but it also shells out a ton of money to those licensees. Add to that the general trend in juniorization of its products and its focus on more traditional toy markets over the plastic brick business and LEGO looked a lot like a company that had lost focus.

Five years later, and apparently not much has changed. At the end of October it won the Batman and Sponge Bob Square Pants licenses. Hmmm…maybe they’ve overcome their financial problems and found a way to return to profitability where these licenses make sense.

Not exactly. In January 2004, Lego announced its worst one-year loss in its 72-year history. The cause of the huge loss? Licensed products,

Lego, the Danish children’s toy manufacturer, looks set to announce its third-ever loss this year after its chief operating officer said Star Wars and Harry Potter products had a disappointing 12 months.

LEGO’s line, repeated in The Daily Telegraph, is that kids simply grow up quicker and stop playing with plastic bricks. Certainly this is a real issue, but Lego has done almost nothing to address it.

First, its emphasis on licensed products makes Legos appear to kids and adults as simplified model building kits. Buy the Lego kit to build the Millenium Falcon or whatever the model is and that’s that.

Second, the licensing costs mean that Legos are ridiculously overpriced. A few months ago I bought a Batman playset on clearance at Toys-R-Us for $18. It originally retailed for $49. A Lego playset half that size will like cost close to $100. Every time I go into the local toy store, there are dozens of the Spider-Man kits on clearance and are overpriced even with steep discounts.

Third, Lego waited far to long to embrace the online Lego building community until recently. For years there were third party Lego building software, but Lego only finally got around to releasing its own version this year. And, casual users might be shocked at just how expensive it can be to purchase some of those custom models due to the way that Lego manages its inventory (there are ways around this, but its something that users shouldn’t have to worry about, period).