Let me say first of all that I'm really excited that DC has published this; Marvel has had books of this type -- scores of them -- for a while now, and an organized DC trade backlist, especially one that's going to be updated every year, is a good thing for trade fans and for retailers. I don't want us to lose sight of that.
Given a good thousand collections that DC has produced, it's pretty easy for a dedicated fan to come along and say, sure, you've got Batman: Year One on here, but where's Batman: Evolution by Greg Rucka with art by Shawn Martinbrough? We fans want deference for the books that mean the most to us, and that's understandable, but DC's goal as a company must be first and foremost to sell books -- I love Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite, but that book is long out of print and I can't blame DC for using the space in this catalog for something else if a reader couldn't go buy Krimson Kryptonite anyway.
This is not to excuse the lack of a Wonder Woman section in this book, which ought be rectified for the next edition, but rather to say that with this "review" of sorts, I don't necessarily want to engage in the kind of "what, Flash: Rebirth gets a spot but not Legion: The Great Darkness Saga?" conversation (though indeed Flash: Rebirth gets a spot and Legion: The Great Darkness Saga does not), which seems too easy to me (even as I'm going to do a lot of that anyway).
Rather what I want to do is simply look through this book with you and make some observations. Many of those observations are going to be nitpicks, but again, this book is good for the trade-waiting cause and I'm glad it's out there.
(I'll jump ahead for a moment so as not to keep you in suspense: the Chronology aspect of this, while a good effort, is wrong or incomplete in numerous places. These are for the most part fine "suggested reading lists" if a customer asks to see a list of new-ish, notable-ish titles, no, but the DC Trade Paperback Timeline it is not.)
DCE 25 Essential Graphic NovelsYou may remember six years ago DC published a list of their 30 Essential Graphic Novels on their website; that post is no longer there, but we still have the list on Collected Editions at the link.
Of that list, 14 of those titles have made it to DC's new 25 Essentials list, 14 have come off, and 11 new titles have come on (the math gets a little funny because some two-volume sets have been combined now into one volume). Below, I've marked with an asterisk the books that are new to the list; the titles without asterisks were on DC's list six years ago.
• Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
• Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
• Batman: Year One
• V for Vendetta
• Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1 *
• Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
• Batman: The Killing Joke *
• Y, The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned
• All-Star Superman *
• Kingdom Come
• Batman: The Long Halloween
• League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 (previously Vols. 1 and 2)
• Batman: Earth One *
• Green Lantern: Rebirth
• American Vampire Vol. 1 *
• Blackest Night *
• Final Crisis *
• JLA Vol. 1 (previously New World Order)
• Identity Crisis
• Batman: Hush (previously Vols. 1 and 2)
• Joker *
• Flash: Rebirth *
• Superman: Earth One *
• Planetary *
For the record, those books that have now been retired from DC's Essentials list are:
• Sandman: Endless Nights
• Superman For All Seasons
• Superman: Birthright
• Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
• Batman: Arkham Asylum
• Batman: Dark Victory
• Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
• Crisis on Infinite Earths
• Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1: Back on the Street
• Hellblazer: Original Sins
• Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne
• Sword Of The Dark Ones
• Ex Machina Vol. 1: The First Hundred Days
I don't disagree with the 25 Essentials list too ardently, and the ones that came off the list are probably the ones I would have chosen. There's a "flavor of the month" aesthetic to the list I might disagree with -- I'm not sure Blackest Night and especially Flash: Rebirth need to be on there, and I wouldn't necessarily trade Joker for Arkham Asylum.
Ex Machina, I'm glad to see, does appear elsewhere in the book (though under the Vertigo section, which is logically right but factually wrong.)
There's no book on this list, I don't think, with a female protagonist; I might've dumped Flash: Rebirth, for instance, for Greg Rucka and JH Williams's Batwoman: Elegy.
It's too easy to pick on the various descriptions of these titles, but I notice the catalog says Watchmen "examines the lives of the eponymous superhero team ... [who] reunite to investigate who's behind a teammate's murder." Not so -- the "team" is never in fact called "the Watchmen."
Picky continuity note and spoiler alert: In the 25 Essentials list, Blackest Night's page is on the left and Final Crisis's page follows on the right, even though Final Crisis was published before Blackest Night. Also, the pages shown from Final Crisis are the ones where Barry Allen comes back, which I think would qualify as a spoiler for a new fan looking to pick up that book.
The New 52Justice League Vol. 1: Origin, Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls, Green Lantern Vol. 1: Sinestro, and Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel all get full pages here; all the others are listed a few books to a page with covers and descriptions.
I promise I'll stop picking on the descriptions, but here's some more that struck me as a little off:
- Detective Comics Vol. 1: Faces of Death: "Writer/artist Tony S. Daniel's take on Batman's infamous rogues' gallery." Seems kind of bland; how 'bout "Batman races to save Commissioner Gordon and the Joker from the Dollmaker, in this prelude to the Death of the Family crossover"?
- Demon Knights Vol. 1: Seven Against the Dark: "The medieval Justice League." Actually not. The medieval Stormwatch, maybe?
- Grifter Vol. 1: Most Wanted: "Grifter's first starring role in his own series!" ... If you don't count the starring roles he had in two of his own series from Wildstorm/Image.
- Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters: "The UN's answer to the Justice League battle against the Signal Masters." Booster Gold gets tired of explaining this. "No, see, it was this alien called Peraxxus, and he sent signals to these robots, so he was the Signal Mast -- OK, fine, yes, you're right, we fought a bunch of Signal Masters, can we drop it now?"
Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Green Arrow each get special essential books sections, followed later by a "Backlist and Suggested Reading Order" section. For purposes of organization I'm going to combine my thoughts on each character's section below.
BatmanThe initial two-page Batman introductory spread credits Bob Kane; the Superman spread credits Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
In addition to a number of other books, including some mentioned in the 25 Essentials list, the Batman section includes Arkham Asylum, Dark Victory, Knightfall, Under the Hood, Batman and Son, RIP, the Batman and Robin books, Black Mirror, Batman, Inc., all the Batman New 52 Vol. 1 books, and Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Chronology: Here's where we get into my bread-and-butter: reading orders. As I said above, I think this is a valiant effort, but the DC Trade Paperback Timeline, it isn't.
The Batman list starts out with the Batman: Greatest Stories Ever Told volumes, then the Tales of the Batman/Legends of the Dark Knight writer/artist spotlight books, then a Batman Chronicles volume. Your introduction to classic Batman -- no qualms so far.
Then the list has Batman: Year One, Batman: The Man Who Laughs, Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Haunted Knight, the Matt Wagner Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity series collection (which I'm pretty sure is out of print), and Batman: Prey. Still OK -- the reading order might be a little suspect here (not all of these books play 100% well with one another), but essentially they're all Year One-era stories.
Next is Batman: Death in the Family, then Grant Morrison's Batman: Gothic and Arkham Asylum, then Killing Joke. Now we have issues. First, I know specifically that Killing Joke takes place before Death in the Family -- it's not like anyone doesn't know what happens in either of these books or that one is a major spoiler for the other, but irrespective, the reading order is off. And what Gothic (a Legends of the Dark Knight story) and Arkham Asylum are both doing there, I don't know. Maybe it's because Death in the Family is a Joker story, Arkham is a Joker story, and Gothic is also a Morrison story like Arkham? Got me.
Then the list has Batman: Venom, Batman vs. Bane, and Knightfall. So this is Knightfall-era -- Venom ties to Knightfall, Batman vs. Bane includes the Vengance of Bane one-shot that precedes Knightfall -- but then again, Batman vs. Bane also includes stories that take place after Knightfall; maybe this won't cause big confusion for a new reader, but it might cause some.
From Knightfall, the list jumps straight to No Man's Land and then to Hush. So much for Contagion, Legacy, and Cataclysm, right?
The list enters the new Morrison era from there, from Batman and Son through Batman RIP and Final Crisis. The reading order gets shaky again toward the end -- Batman and Robin Vol. 4, Dark Knight, White Knight is listed before Return of Bruce Wayne, when indeed the fourth volume of Batman and Robin takes place after Bruce returned; Batman: Life and Death is listed after Bruce Wayne: The Road Home when Life and Death actually takes place while Bruce is still considered dead.
Then come the Flashpoint and New 52 books, and then a variety of non-continuity stories -- Joker, Year 100, Dark Knight Returns, Arkham City, etc. Strangely, Batman: Birth of the Demon finishes up the list, and that one's actually more in continuity than, say, Batman: Noel.
A bad list? No. A list with some omissions in it? Sure, but every list is going to have that. A credible reading order? Maybe, but with a couple of major caveats.
SupermanAmong the books listed here are Superman Chronicles Vol. 1 (the eleventh volume of which I could have sworn was just cancelled), Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, John Byrne's Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 1, Superman for All Seasons, Death of Superman, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Brian Azzarello's Luthor, Superman For Tomorrow, Secret Origin, Last Son of Krypton (including Superman: Brainiac), Escape from Bizarro World, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (so all the Johns books, though New Krypton gets no mention in this book), The Black Ring, the New 52 books, Earth One Vols. 1 and 2, Birthright, All Star Superman, and Red Son.
Chronology: The Superman list starts like the Batman list with Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Superman Chronicles, Superman vs. Flash, Superman vs. Brainiac, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow -- again, classic material.
Next is six of John Byrne's Superman: Man of Steel collections, followed by Superman For All Seasons, and then Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, and Return of Superman. My dreams of seeing Superman: Panic in the Sky in this list lie in tatters.
Then, Azzarello's Luthor and Superman For Tomorrow again, Kurt Busiek's Camelot Falls, James Robinson's Coming of Atlas, and then the Geoff Johns books -- Secret Origin, Last Son of Krypton (again, including Superman: Brainiac), Escape from Bizarro World, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Last in that section is Geoff Johns's Superman: Up, Up, and Away, probably included there because it's by Johns, but wildly out of place reading-wise; Up, Up, and Away followed Infinite Crisis and 52 (the weekly series), and takes place before Camelot Falls. (And any number of books are skipped here including the President Lex and Our Worlds at War stories.)
Next are the Grounded, Black Ring, and Reign of Doomsday books, published just before Flashpoint, and then the New 52 books.
Following that is Wagner's Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity book again, then all the Superman/Batman collections, then Kurt Busiek's weekly Trinity series collections (not sure why that's on the Superman list necessarily), Earth One, Birthright, All Star Superman, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, and Red Son -- so, the out-of-continuity one-shot books.
Green LanternThe Green Lantern books listed here are the Geoff Johns Green Lantern books listed in order, starting with Rebirth, through to the New 52, and then Green Lantern Corps: Recharge and Green Lantern Corps: To Be a Lantern.
Chronology: Similar to the others, this section starts with Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, then the anthology collection In Brightest Day, Green Lantern Chronicles, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and Sector 2814 Vol. 1 (the new early 1980s Green Lantern collections) -- so again, the classics.
Then, interestingly, the list includes Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, so a bit about Hal Jordan's fall. Note that neither the collections for Legends, Millennium, Invasion!, Underworld Unleashed, Final Night, DC One Million, Day of Judgment, nor Joker's Last Laugh are included in this book, making it surprisingly crossover-light; you may also find interesting that the word "Countdown" is never used in the Essentials book. (Also no Absolute editions are listed in this book.)
After Zero Hour comes Rebirth and all of the Geoff Johns Green Lantern books, including Blackest Night, Brightest Day, and into the New 52. Following that are the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps books and the new Green Lantern Corps volumes -- this is an equally funny "reading order" in regards to how the Green Lantern and Corps series sometimes interrelate.
FlashIn a move that will make no one happy, the Flash books listed here are Rebirth, Dastardly Death of the Rogues, Road to Flashpoint (so the two post-Final Crisis Johns books), Flashpoint, and the New 52 book Flash: Move Forward. Write your letters now -- the Mark Waid Flash books aren't mentioned in this book at all.
Chronology: The first book listed is Flash vs. the Rogues, followed by the three Geoff Johns Flash Omnibuses (read another way, Wally West is here but Mark Waid's Flash work isn't). Johns's pre-Flashpoint books follow, then Flashpoint, then the New 52 volume. A valid reading order but certainly not to many readers' tastes.
Green ArrowYear One, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Longbow Hunters, Archer's Quest -- interestingly, neither Kevin Smith nor Judd Winick's Green Arrow books get a mention in the whole book -- and the New 52 volume.
Chronology: The Green Arrow list starts off with the Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1, which you and I know contains Green Arrow stories but this might be confusing to the audience for whom this book is intended.
After that is Andy Diggle's Green Arrow: Year One, Green Lantern/Green Arrow again, Longbow Hunters, and then Meltzer's Archer's Quest. As above, the omission of the Kevin Smith book is surprising; that Green Arrow/Black Canary collection might've been right here, too. The list ends with JT Krul's two Brightest Day tie-in volumes and the first New 52 book, Midas Touch.
Justice LeagueAmong others, this includes JLA Vol. 1, the Earth 2 graphic novel, Identity Crisis, Brad Meltzer's two Justice League volumes Tornado's Path and Lightning Saga (Justice League books by Dwayne McDuffie and James Robinson get a nod later), the New 52 Justice League Vol. 1: Origin, New Frontier, The Nail (I have never read this book nor necessarily understood the appeal of it), Alex Ross's Justice, and Kingdom Come.
Chronology: Greatest Stories, and then the JLA deluxe volumes 1-4 (which collect all of Grant Morrison's work but end just before Mark Waid's Tower of Babel), then Morrison's Earth 2 (which is also collected in the deluxe JLA Vol. 4), then Identity Crisis, omitting both Waid's work and my personal fave, Joe Kelly's JLA run.
The saving grace of this section is that after Identity Crisis and Meltzer's books, the list includes Dwayne McDuffie's four Justice League books (McDuffie's only appearance in the book) and also James Robinson's, before the first New 52 volume.
Following that, again in a skewed fashion if looked as as a "chronology," are five of Keith Giffen's Justice League International books (even though six of these were published), Judd Winick's two Justice League: Generation Lost books, and the New 52 Justice League International book. Similar characters, but a reading order it is not.
This list is rounded out with Justice League Dark, and then similar to the spotlight page, New Frontier, The Nail, and Ross's Justice, Kingdom Come, and then its spin-off Kingdom. (Build-a-comment: "They put Kingdom on here and left off ________?!")
Women of the DC UniverseIndeed, as you've no doubt heard, this Essentials guide includes a "Women of the DC Universe" section and not a Wonder Woman section (or, and not also a Wonder Woman section). Good thoughts on this can be found at DC Women Kicking Ass, Every Day is Like Wednesday, and the Grumpy Old Fan column.
Books included here include Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vols. 1 and 2 (a story I liked, but not what I'd call "essential"); the first New 52 volumes of Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Batwoman, and Catwoman; Batwoman: Elegy; Catwoman: When in Rome; and Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads.
The following doesn't mitigate this ill-conceived section or the book choices ("not to be outdone by their male counterparts, the Women of the DC Universe are just as powerful," the introductory text reads), but from a business standpoint, I kind-of get why DC might want to spotlight ongoing and Earth One writer J. Michael Straczynski's Wonder Woman books over recently-left-the-company Greg Rucka's (aside from the long backlist, Batwoman: Elegy is the only place Rucka gets a "spotlight" credit), and equally why they'd want to mention Catwoman: When in Rome ("this sequel to the events of Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory) over collections of Ed Brubaker's cancelled Catwoman series (Brubaker's book gets a mention in the backlist). Doesn't mean I agree, but I think we have to differentiate between "actually essential" and the DC Entertainment Essentials marketing tool.
VertigoNotable to me on this list (among many other titles) is that Wildstorm's Ex Machina shows up here, as does Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan and Denise Mina's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Vol. 1. The John Constantine, Hellblazer entry on the list is the first one, Original Sins.
SandmanAll ten volumes, plus this list includes Endless Nights, two versions of The Dream Hunters, and both Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Deluxe Edition, which includes the contents of the former.
FablesSeventeen Fables volumes(!), plus the Peter and Max novel, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, Fairest, Jack of Fables, and Cinderella.
Y, The Last ManTen volumes. I guess it behooves DC to suggest the individual collections here and not the deluxe editions, maybe because the cost of entry would be less off-putting to the audience this book is aiming at?
Alan Moore/Grant Morrison/MADThese are three separate sections, but I'm moving this along a bit. That DC has an entire section devoted to Moore, a writer with nothing but bad things to say about them, is an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance. Books are Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One, V for Vendetta, Promethea Book 1, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vols. 1 and 2, and Black Dossier.
I think Morrison's page is a nice cross-section of his non-mainstream-superhero DC work: Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo, Joe the Barbarian, Invisibles, and We3.
It surprises me that MAD remains profitable in the digital age. Anyone else?
DC: All AgesThis is seven volumes of Tiny Titans, two of the Young Justice cartoon tie-in comic, and one of Batman: Brave and the Bold. No disrespect to Tiny Titans, which I adore, but surely something's not right here. I wonder if DC could see to list some of their non-graphic novel young readers books in this section next time.
DC Comics Reading OrderThese are books that did not receive an Essential spotlight page, but do have a "Backlist and Suggested Reading Order" section.
Wonder WomanThe six-title Wonder Woman backlist won't make unhappy fans any happier: the Greatest Stories volume, Twelve Labors, Odyssey, the Wonder Woman Flashpoint volume(!), and the first New 52 volume. Rather surprised, at least, not to see the Diana Price books on here, or at least Gail Simone's books (see articles above and also my own list of the top Wonder Woman collections).
Justice Society of AmericaSay what you will about this catalog, but it does include Justice Society, Legion, and Teen Titans sections; these are three one-hot DC properties that are each somewhat cooled at the moment, and despite that this book often seems to try to chase what's hip (perhaps understandably so), I think these three sections are a nod to the larger DC fandom.
At the same time, the Justice Society listings are start with Geoff Johns's Justice Society of America: The Next Age (so, they omit the JSA series from this book entirely), through to the Bill Willingham and Marc Guggenheim volumes, and ending with the first New 52 Mr. Terrific collection -- so, no classic (Golden Age) Justice Society material at all.
Legion of Super-HeroesThis is a list of the kind I might have preferred to see for Justice Society. Starts with the brand-new Legion: Secret Origin, which is a little weird but what can you do, and then goes to the deluxe Legion: The Curse and Legion: The More Things Change. Good, that this is semi-classic material, but -- wait, are you saying The Great Darkness Saga isn't anywhere in this book, even though it, too, just got a deluxe edition? Why yes, yes I am.
Following that, the Legion "suggested reading order" is really a muddle.
Legion Lost, then Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. OK, those didn't quite follow one another but at least they share characters. Then Superboy and the Legion: Early Years -- OK, that book actually does take place after Legion of 3 Worlds. Then ... Enemy Rising and Enemy Manifest, which are an entirely different Legion continuity that predates Legion of 3 Worlds. Then Paul Levitz's pre-Flashpoint Legion books, which do actually go with Superboy and the Legion: Early Years -- the reading order is tied in knots now. It ends with the New 52 Vol. 1 books.
New Teen TitansThe first two Omnibus collections, Games, and then the New 52 Vol. 1. Somewhere my copy of Geoff Johns's Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game is weeping.
Selected BacklistAfter this is the DC and Vertigo selected backlist. Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt catch some things I missed, but here's some quick hits: the Crisis on Multiple Earths volumes are on there, plus Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis (both regular and Omnibus), and Final Crisis, but again not DC's various other crossovers. Strangely only the last of four Gotham City Sirens collections made it on there. Jack Kirby's Fourth World is there; Gotham Central is there. Planetary is there and so is the first "classic" Stormwatch collection, but no Authority. Starman is there, but readers will be interested to hear the paperback is listed for Omnibus Vols. 1 and 2, and then the hardcovers for the rest.
One pick at the Vertigo list -- there's no Sandman Mystery Theatre.
And that is your look through the DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2013 catalog. Again, let's acknowledge that no book from any publisher in which they say "these books and not those" will be to everyone's tastes and your favorite title was bound to be omitted. I would rather that DC have this catalog than not have it, and I look forward to seeing how it improves in 2014 and on.
Have you picked up the Essential book at your local comics shop yet? Eager to hear your thoughts on it.