I grew up reading comics from the mid-1980s through early 1994, and for much of that time it the only reading I did outside of Stephen King novels. I would shake with excitement each week as I walked into my local comic shop where I had standing orders for a number of titles. I could just walk through the door, up to the front desk, and the clerk would hand me a stack of varying size each week. It was beautiful and only made more so by my mother paying for it. Even though I eventually moved on to other obsessions and other sources of reading material, I never lost my love and admiration for comics, and this review was a perfect chance for me to do something I should have done long ago; learn about the history of comics.
The Silver Age of DC Comics by Paul Levitz is an exquisitely produced and beautifully printed tome of comic book history through the lens of DC Comics. The first forty pages or so are mainly text with covers and comic panels placed alongside for contextual support. You read about the writers, editors, and artists of the time period and what contributions they made to the continuation of comics. In this particular volume you also follow along as DC begins to experiment more and shake things up to compete with Marvel.
There is a great quote early on from legend Neal Adams talking about the main difference at the time between the two powerhouse publishers:
“Marvel had laid down the challenge. What Kirby was doing was taking Stan Lee’s six-page horror stories and extending them out to full books. In fact, that’s the difference between DC and Marvel comics: All the characters at DC, because of their history, were all sparkly-tooth Americans; they smiled, they had good jobs, they had secret identities. At Marvel, Jack convinced Stan that four characters who would go off into space, be bombarded by cosmic rays, and come back as monsters – let’s make the monsters heroes.”
Factoids like that made each page of this a treasure hunt through the annals of comic book history. Even better were the truly unexpected nuggets, humorous asides about how sales would spike at DC anytime there was a gorilla on the cover, which caused them to create a rule stating only one comic was allowed to have a gorilla per month.
After the historical text-based pages were through, the rest of this massive archive is filled with covers and comic panels spanning decade and a half known as the Silver Age of Comics. You can visually follow the changes in artistry, comic production, and subject matter as society evolved inside and outside these colorful pages. You also get to understand that the people behind the desks, those with ink covered hands and color stained fingers, they were the real superheroes. They created some of the most iconic characters and helped evolve older ones that might have faded into the background of history without their fresh takes.
These people inspired a generation of children, and some adults as well, and this volume from Taschen truly gives them the respect they are due.