I suppose it’s an occupational hazard, but I’m a sucker for reference books. Nothing make me happier than an oversized hardcover book full of dates, facts and illustrations. Combine that with my established obsession with comic-book history and some books are bound to get my attention. Such as the latest two releases from DK Publishing, makers of many pop-culture type encyclopedia and reference guides, most of which eventually wind up in my library.
The newest release is BATMAN: A VISUAL HISTORY, written by Matthew K. Manning. Breaking down Batman’s publishing history decade by decade and year by year, the book features thousands of covers and other key pieces of art from Batman’s history, while breaking down the larger trends and themes that took place over the 75 years of the Caped Crusader’s existence. At a whopping 350 pages, it’s a substantial tome, and Manning does a good job of tackling a mammoth amount of information, and parceling it out in fun, bite-size nuggets.
If I have any qualms, it’s that the book feels a little out of balance, with substantially more pages and attention paid to the ‘90s, ‘00s and modern-day material, while the more formative decades of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s get comparatively short shrift.
A better attempt is made in DC COMICS: A VISUAL HISTORY, written by Alan Cowsill, Alex Irvine, Matthew K. Manning, Michael McAvennie and Daniel Wallace. Originally published in 2009, this updated edition adds an additional 16 pages to its now-376-page page count to cover the event that took place in the world of DC Comics from 2010 to 2014.
The year-by-year approach works even better here than in the BATMAN book, giving the reader a big-picture look at the scope and variety of DC’s universe, its various reboots, revamps and Crises, and how the publisher reacted to both the changing world around it and the whims of the marketplace.
At $50 each, these books are a little on the pricey side, so if you have to only pick one, I’d recommend the DC COMICS edition, just because I think it’s better fit for the format and as a result was better executed, but both are of high quality and well worth your hard-earned money.