Review: DC Entertainment Graphic Novel Essentials and Chronology 2014 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 16, 2014

In the past few weeks DC Comics released the 2014 edition of their DC Entertainment Graphic Novel Essentials and Chronology. You can read my review of the 2013 edition at the link.

As with last year, I want to open on a positive note. That DC has a catalog of their collections and graphic novels, and seems committed to keeping it updated, is a very good thing for those of us pro-trade; if trades even need legitimacy any more, this is another step toward that. Certainly this is a useful tool for those looking to get into DC superhero comics.

Also, while I haven't seen a print copy of the 2014 guide in the wild yet, it's absolutely everywhere online this week -- Amazon, Comixology, Google Play, and Barnes and Noble, at least. Last year it took a while for the guide to appear online, so I'm impressed with this year's full-court press.

I continue to believe there's no sense in arguing, for instance, whether adding Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls to the "25 Essentials" list and removing Planetary was the right choice or not, since we could all come up with a list of 25 essential DC books and they'd all be different. Whenever a company makes a master list like this, someone's favorite will always be excluded (Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite didn't make the list for the second year in a row. Go figure).

As such, the "review" that follows is not so much a review as my meandering thoughts as I flipped through this book, and especially what I notice as compared to last year's book. As if I were reading the guide over your shoulder, if that's your kind of thing.

So go, download a copy of the DC Entertainment Graphic Novel Essentials and Chronology 2014, and let's dig in.

(Again like last year, I'll jump ahead again to start and say that no, the "Chronology" aspect of this is still not a complete reading order like you find in some of the Marvel catalogs or on the DC Trade Paperback Timeline. Nor, perhaps, should it be, as I'll get into later. The "chronology" in this book remains a good "suggested reading list," but I think "chronology" is really something of a misnomer.)

Opening Pages

First thing to notice was that last year's title was DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology, and this year's title is DC Entertainment Graphic Novel Essentials and Chronology. Getting the phrase "graphic novel" a little more toward the head, perhaps.

This book is meant for new readers, so I guess it's not much of a problem that Dan DiDio and Jim Lee's opening letter here is pretty much verbatim what it was last time, though frankly I'd hoped for a more genuine "state of the union" piece.

The only difference, and I think this is somewhat telling, is that last year's letter touted books from Watchmen to Batman: Earth One, while this time Earth One is replaced with Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls. Scott Snyder's first New 52 Batman book comes up a couple places in this book; I recall a post on Facebook where a fan said he didn't think Court of Owls had any right being in the Batman anniversary slipcase with Dark Knight Returns (and also Hush), but Court of Owls is arguably the first big success story of the New 52 -- yes, Wonder Woman, and yes, Flash, and yes, Aquaman, but I still think the Batman book has emerged as the flagship. Look for Court of Owls to reappear a couple other places in this book as a symbol of the successes of the New 52.

The table of contents reveals that there's now a dedicated "Wonder Woman" section in the book, probably the headline of this piece; a chief complaint about last year's book was the lack of such. Unfortunately, the "Wonder Woman" section replaces last year's "Women of DC Comics" section instead of keeping both.

Interestingly there's a dedicated "Teen Titans" section now, and also a "Digital Firsts" section. This is some indication of how DC's publication program has changed in the past year (I get the sense that DC's digital firsts have been more popular than many people expected); also, there's not a little bit of irony in a dedicated section in a print book touting the print collections of comics that originally appear in digital form.

DCE 25 Essential Graphic Novels

New on DC's 25 Essentials list this year are:

Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls
Justice League Vol. 1: Origin
Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood

Can't say I really disagree with any of that; the Batman and Wonder Woman volumes are two of the best of the New 52 Vol. 1s (and most iconic), and take it or leave it, Justice League: Origin is still the "first" book of the New 52.

Coming off the list are:

Flash: Rebirth
Blackest Night
Planetary

I'm only maybe a little surprised that Flash: Rebirth went, given the upcoming TV show; this book does have a dedicated "Flash" section (that includes Rebirth) but the section doesn't have the TV show branding like the "Green Arrow" section does. Possibly that has to do with when this guide was finalized, and I bet the TV show will get a mention next time if it works out.

Blackest Night is another minor surprise, moreover that the list keeps Final Crisis but loses Blackest Night. These were neck and neck last time for DC's top crossover, but with new teams taking over on Green Lantern, I guess Blackest Night loses the spotlight while Final Crisis still lives on possibly due to Grant Morrison's involvement and the forthcoming Multiversity.

Sticking around on the list from last year are:

Watchmen
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
Batman: Earth One
Green Lantern: Rebirth
American Vampire Vol. 1
Final Crisis
JLA Vol. 1
Identity Crisis
Batman: Hush
Joker
Superman: Earth One

DC Comics -- The New 52

Last year Justice League Vol. 1: Origin and Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls got their own profile pages, but those have been lifted and moved to the 25 essentials section.

This section is a quick list of New 52 books with covers and short descriptions. It is in no way complete or comprehensive, which is a little surprising (a more complete list is found at the end of the book); most titles have their first volumes listed, but many don't have any subsequent volumes listed (whereas others like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman do). Among titles listing just their first volumes are All-Star Western, Batwing, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Lanterns, Stormwatch, Suicide Squad, Superboy, Supergirl, and Worlds' Finest, and I'm sure I missed some.

Also, seemingly any book that was cancelled is omitted from the New 52 section, so no Deathstroke, Frankenstein, Firestorm, Grifter, Hawk and Dove, I, Vampire, OMAC, Savage Hawkman, or Mr. Terrific; also no Legion of Super-Heroes books in the New 52 section at all, thought they get their own backlist section.

Interestingly Green Arrow Vol. 1 and Green Arrow Vol. 4 (the "relaunch" by Jeff Lemire) are listed, but not the books in between.

I won't pick much on the descriptions, but here's the one from Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey: "A villain from the League’s past reemerges and it all ends with one of the most surprising moments in DC history!" Maybe this is semantics but the "villain" of the book isn't really "a villain from the League's past." Also I'm not sure I'd count the Superman/Wonder Woman kiss as "one of the most surprising moments in DC history," but that's just me.

Batman

The big change this time around is that the list adds Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls, Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family, and Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year - Secret City, and removes the New 52 Detective Comics Vol. 1 and Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1 books entirely (Batman and Robin Vol. 1 remains). Dark Knight is cancelled and Detective has been flying under the radar for a while, so this is not surprising.

Remaining on this list are Arkham Asylum, Dark Victory, Knightfall, Under the Hood, Batman and Son, RIP, a Grant Morrison Batman and Robin book, Black Mirror, Batman, Inc., and Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Chronology: I do like this and the other "chronology" sections in that they're rather interestingly divided into sections; for instance, the Batman list starts with the various artist and writer spotlight books, which is certainly a fine way to get into Batman, and there's obviously some thinking going on in the background in putting books like Neal Adams's Batman: Odyssey right after the Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams volumes. The problem, I think, is that the list goes from there into Batman: Year One and "Year One"-era books like Long Halloween, without ever explaining the switch. Someone truly clueless about DC Comics, which is ultimately who this list is meant for, might find this a funny kind of reading order jumping around in this fashion.

Death in the Family follows, maybe as a "notable" Batman book, followed by Grant Morrison's Batman: Gothic and Arkham Asylum and then Alan Moore's Killing Joke -- notable stories all, but as I said last time, if you really want to make a "reading order," the events of Killing Joke happen before the events of Death in the Family. Next comes Batman: Venom and the new Knightfall books (Batman vs. Bane, previously on this list, is gone now), No Man's Land, and Hush. The list then kind of strangely diverts back to artist editions with Batman Unwrapped by Andy Kubert and Batman Noir: Eduardo Risso. The Risso trade (with the Batman: Broken City story) is actually in the right place, though putting the Andy Kubert book there -- which contains a bunch of the Grant Morrison RIP-era stories, is a little early.

Shortly thereafter is the actual Morrison book section -- fairly comprehensive and with a lot of the Battle for the Cowl-type books, though like last year, if you're considering this a reading order, Batman and Robin Vol. 4: Dark Knight vs. White Knight is in the wrong place, resurrecting Bruce Wayne prior to his actual return. The Morrison section finishes up with the first Batman, Inc. trade, which is right, but goes immediately into the New 52 Batman, Inc. Vols. 1 and 2, which means from a reading order perspective first Damian Wayne dies, and then he returns for all the early New 52 stories that take place before his death. This list is well organized, but again as a reading order it falls short.

The list ends with a bevy of "standalones" -- the Batman: Black and White books, Brian Azzarello's Joker graphic novel, Death by Design and Earth One, etc.

Superman

New to the Superman section is the Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years collection (the Lois Lane collection is included in the Chronology section); also added is Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman Vol. 1. Removed is Paul Cornell's Superman: The Black Ring, a Lex Luthor story connected to Blackest Night and probably too far out of continuity to warrant inclusion at this point.

Remaining on the list are Superman Chronicles Vol. 1, 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, the New 52 books, Earth One Vols. 1 and 2, Birthright, All Star Superman, and Red Son.

Chronology: Like the "Batman" section, the "Superman" section is organized thematically, not really as a reading list. The Superman and Lois Lane 75th Anniversary books are on there, some artist editions, and then unrelated Superman vs. books (Superman vs. the Flash, Superman vs. Brainiac, Superman vs. Mongul, Superman vs. Shazam!, etc.). From the "so close and yet so far" department, the John Byrne Superman: Man of Steel volumes seem to kick off the "continuity" section, but Dark Knight Over Metropolis is listed at the beginning when it should be far down at the end. Paul Cornell's Reign of Doomsday appears before Death of Superman -- again, I can see they were trying to do a "Doomsday" section, but it's still a little off. Interestingly the list includes books like Kurt Busiek's Camelot Falls and James Robinson's Coming of Atlas, somewhat esoteric stuff that led in to "New Krypton," but still not the "New Krypton" books themselves. There's a Geoff Johns section, but still way out of order with Superman: Up, Up, and Away at the end instead of at the beginning.

Ultimately that all gives way to a New 52 section with Action Comics and Superman, and then a fairly comprehensive "Superman/Batman" section, and then the one-shots.

Green Lantern

The "Green Lantern" section adds the second, third, and fourth volumes of the New 52 Green Lantern series (preserving the pre-Flashpoint Geoff Johns Green Lantern books starting with Rebirth), and removes Green Lantern Corps: Recharge and To Be a Lantern. Those are both books I really liked and I'm sorry to see them off the list, but again in these spotlight lists I think we detect some erosion of pre-Flashpoint books in favor of New 52 books, understandable from DC's perspective (the Corps books do appear in the chronology).

Chronology: This list starts with the classic stuff, followed by Green Lantern/Green Arrow and the recent Sector 2814 books that collect the Len Wein/Dave Gibbons stories. After that we're straight into Rebirth and the Geoff Johns era; Zero Hour was on this list last time, but not any more (Zero Hour is not in this book at all, nor is Crisis on Infinite Earths). The list prints the Johns books in sequential order, with Blackest Night, Brightest Day, the Green Lantern Flashpoint volume, and on into the New 52 books. Only after that does it circle around to the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps books, the pre-Flashpoint and New 52 Corps books, and then New Guardians and Red Lanterns. Comprehensive, yes; reading order, not entirely.

Flash

Looking again at the erosion of pre-Flashpoint books versus New 52 books, the books Dastardly Death of the Rogues and Road to Flashpoint have been removed, and the New 52 Flash Vols. 2 and 3 have joined the first volume.

Chronology: The list adds some Flash Chronicles, but for the most part this is still the Geoff Johns Omnibuses and then the Flashpoint and New 52 books. That Mark Waid's classic Flash: Return of Barry Allen can't make this list is really quite shocking.

Green Arrow

In what seems to me a mildly controversial move, the Green Arrow list loses its Dennis O'Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow collection (which makes me wonder: think we'll ever see Hal Jordan on Arrow? He's part of the Green Arrow mythos, no?). The list gains Jeff Lemire's Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine, though not the other Green Arrow New 52 volumes (I wonder, also, if DC regrets not re-launching the title as New Green Arrow or something with Lemire). Also the first print collection of the digital Arrow series makes the list. Still around are Green Arrow: Year One, Longbow Hunters, and Brad Meltzer's Archer's Quest.

Chronology: Just a slight change here; JT Krul's Green Arrow: Into the Woods comes off, but his Green Arrow: Salvation remains. Here we get all four New 52 Green Arrow books listed, plus the print Arrow collection.

Justice League

A notable addition to this section is Grant Morrison's Final Crisis. Arguably this is not a Justice League story, maybe more of a Superman story, but it's likely beneficial for DC to add it to this list alongside Morrison's JLA Vol. 1, the Earth 2 books. Brad Meltzer's now-out-of-continuity Justice League of America: Tornado's Path and Lightning Saga depart this list, replaced not surprisingly by the New 52 Justice League Vols. 2 through 4 and Justice League: Trinity War (no Forever Evil anywhere on this list; maybe it was too early by the time this guide was finished, but I'm surprised). Also off the list is Justice League: The Nail.

Chronology: Following the pattern, this starts out with classic material (glad to see Justice League Hereby Elects ..., though having Showcase Presents Vol. 6 and none of the other volumes would seem off-putting to a new reader. Morrison's JLA is represented, plus a fairly comprehensive listing from Meltzer's Identity Crisis and Justice League of America through Dwayne McDuffie and James Robinson (Cry for Justice makes the list), before the New 52 books. The list then switches to Keith Giffen's Justice League International (again, we're thematic here but not necessarily "in order"), followed by Generation Lost and the New 52 International books, Justice League Dark, and then standalone volumes like New Frontier, The Nail, and Injustice (it's funny to see Tom Taylor's Injustice and Alex Ross's Justice on the same list).

Wonder Woman

One controversy of last year's list was the lack of a "Wonder Woman" section (see good writing about this from DC Women Kicking Ass, Every Day is Like Wednesday, and the Grumpy Old Fan column), whereas DC did have dedicated sections for Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, and even second-stringer (at that point) Green Arrow. There was a "Women of the DC Universe" section, but that came off a tad diminutive given that five male heroes got their own section and then there was "also the women."

I said at the time that the problem was that the 2013 book included "a 'Women of the DC Universe' section and not a 'Wonder Woman' section (or, and not also a 'Wonder Woman' section)." The good news now is that there is a "Wonder Woman" section in this book. Again, that's good. The bad news is that the "Wonder Woman" section is stuck toward the rear where the "Women of the DC Universe" section used to be -- so, not as part of the DC Trinity, but after Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, and the whole Justice League. Also the "Wonder Woman" section replaces the "Women of the DC Universe" section, rather than being in addition to it, so it still comes off as "also the women," only this time it's just "woman," singular. Two steps forward, one step back, I think.

The books listed are the first four New 52 Brian Azzarello books, and then the two J. Michael Straczynski Odyssey books. As I said last time, I liked Odyssey and found it an interesting Wonder Woman "Elseworlds"-type story -- but then again, I've read the George Perez, William Messner-Loebs, John Byrne, Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, and Gail Simone Wonder Woman books, so I feel I'm due an Elseworld story; I don't know that Odyssey is what I'd give to someone who'd never read Wonder Woman before at all. My favs are Rucka's, but I'd probably have put Perez in those two slots, or Simone since she's one of DC's current, prominent writers.

With the absence of the "Women of the DC Universe" section, we lose from this list the first New 52 volumes of Batgirl, Batwoman, and Catwoman; Batwoman: Elegy; Catwoman: When in Rome; and Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads.

Chronology: The Wonder Woman chronology is Amazon Princess Archives, Greatest Stories, Twelve Labors, Odyssey, and then into the New 52 stuff. I'm really very surprised not to see the classic George Perez material on this list, nor any of Gail Simone's books given her general popularity.

Teen Titans

That this book contains a "Teen Titans" section also surprises me, since the forthcoming relaunch of the title would suggest the previous was a failed approach. Surely the popularity of the cartoon didn't inspire this, especially since Teen Titans Go! is not at all represented in the "All-Ages" section. DC would seem to double-down here, however, with a section that includes the Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus and then the New 52 Teen Titans Vols. 1-3 and Culling: Rise of the Ravagers.

Chronology: Weirdly, New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 1 has fallen off this list, but Vols. 2 and 3 still appear. There's also the Silver Age Archives Vol. 2 (but not Vol. 1), the Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Omnibus, and then it's in to the New 52 titles.

Digital Firsts

As I mentioned, this is an unusual section given that the descriptive text touts that "every day is new comics day," which would seem to encourage readers to go online even as they might be flipping through this guide standing in a comics shop; at the same time, I mentioned above the wide swath of online places where DC has made this guide available. Present here is pretty much what you'd expect -- Adventure of Superman, Arrow, Batman '66, Batman: Li'l Gotham, Batman Beyond, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Justice League Beyond, and Smallville Season 11; I'm only surprised not to see a Legends of the Dark Knight collection as well.

Vertigo Essentials

Comings and goings on this list include the omissions of American Vampire (which I'm surprised about, because Scott Snyder, but this does show up in the "25 Essentials" list) and Northlanders, and the addition of Pride of Baghdad and Punk Rock Jesus. Other books on the list include Ex Machina, Transmetropolitan, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Hellblazer: Original Sins.

Sandman

All the Sandman books are here, including Endless Nights and two versions of Dream Hunters, but the two Death books on the old list are replaced with one comprehensive volume, and the first Lucifer trade.

Fables

Fables is up to 20 volumes now; the list adds the Fables Encyclopedia and Fairest in All the Land, but loses the Peter and Max novel, Jack of Fables, and Cinderella

Y, The Last Man

No change to this section. Y, The Last Man is a classic, to be sure, but I wonder how long before these pages are eroded by a section for "the next big thing."

Vertigo Defy

"Vertigo Defy" is a curious section, following as it does "Vertigo Essentials." "Essentials" seems to be books like 100 Bullets, Preacher, and Hellblazer; "Defy" is just-arrived books like Coffin Hill and Dead Boy Detectives. No rivalry here -- the descriptive copy for Vertigo Defy mentions Preacher, Fables, and the rest. If I'd have been ordering these, I'd have put "Defy" before "Essentials"; it gets lost a little bit back here for me.

Alan Moore/Grant Morrison

These sections haven't changed at all, but the way the pages fall is better this time so that both authors get their own two-page spreads. For Moore, the books include Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One, V for Vendetta, Promethea Book 1, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vols. 1 and 2, and Black Dossier.

For Morrison: Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo, Joe the Barbarian, Invisibles, and We3.

MAD

Reading the MAD section, I had a sense maybe someone was playing a joke, and that joke was on me. What comes off of this page, ridiculous as it sounds, is Insanely Awesome MAD, to be replaced with Disturbingly Awful MAD and Intensely Dumb MAD (seems like a downward trend). Also two Spy vs. Spy books replace the single one listed previously.

DC Comics: All Ages

Like last year, most of this section is Tiny Titans. Added is the first Superman Family collection and Li'l Gotham; sorry to tell you, but what falls off the list are the two animated Young Justice collections.

DC Comics Reading Orders and Selected Backlist

These didn't have their own Essentials section, but have their own sections in the Reading Order.

Justice Society of America
As before, this list still starts with the post-Infinite Crisis Justice Society of America series, excluding unfortunately all of JSA (hopefully that will be fixed next year once the JSA Omnibus is out). Newly included are the New 52 Earth 2 books and JSA Liberty Files: Whistling Skull.

Legion of Super-Heroes
In addition to the newly-published New 52 volumes, this list now has Great Darkness Saga as well as The Curse, whereas it lacked Great Darkness previously.

Selected Backlist
There's too much to go through here, but some quick items that I noticed: Shockingly, Crisis on Infinite Earths is nowhere in this book (and again, neither is Zero Hour), though the Crisis on Multiple Earths books are included. The cancelled New 52 books, excluded from the New 52 section, are also here. Gotham City Sirens, weirdly included on the 2013 list, is no longer present. The Before Watchmen books appear on this list; this is the only time Before Watchmen is mentioned. In the entire book.

In the Vertigo list, still no Sandman Mystery Theatre.

So those are the contents of my head as I read the DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2014 catalog. I want to close like last year by again saying that despite any nitpicks I mentioned above, I'd still rather DC have a catalog like this than not have one. There are some missteps here but also some improvements from last year, and I'm glad that it looks like this will indeed be an ongoing thing.

Again, go download a copy, take a look, and let me know what you noticed as you read.
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5 comments:

  1. So they took Planetary off the essentials list... a couple of months after they released the giant omnibus of it? Then again, the JSA Omnibus isn't in there either. I think I'm just used to Marvel constantly flogging the omnibuses in their chronology specials (I think we're due for a new one of those soon).

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  2. I noticed that the essential superman reading list contains mostly out of continuity stories. And I'm not just talking about pre-new 52, but elseworlds stories as well. Only 2 new 52 collections among the bunch. I think that kind of says how unessential the current superman stories are. Kind of sad since I was a big Superman fan back in the 90s.

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  3. I think the Teen Titans Omnibus Vol 1 comes off from being currently out of print, and I think the same works for the absence of the George Perez or Greg Rucka Wonder Woman volumes. I have long felt that out of print books should not be on such lists, or even at the back of trades, in the advertisements. It feels like a tease. However, The New Teen Titans is still solicited in smaller trades, to the best of my memory.

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    1. I would maintain it's weird to solicit volumes 2 and 3 of a series, especially on a "books to read" list, without listing volume 1 and/or having let volume 1 go out of print. Just my take on it.

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    2. I get what you say. Maybe they could have mentioned the proposed softcover instead.

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