Comic book books: Big, old, black-and-white reprints

I'm a bronze age baby. I hit my comics-loving peak at age 10, smack dab in 1975.

I still love comics of course. But that was when trips to the spinner rack took on their greatest importance. Later I got interested in records and girls and my priorities shifted.

And one of the things I loved most about reading comics back then were the great reprints. Marvel put out a bunch of reprint books each month. And stories from the 40s, 50s and 60s often appeared as backup features in regular titles. Plus there were those big 80- and 100-page giants and annuals. Not to mention those nice, tabloid-size treasuries.

But best of all were these:

"Superman from the 30s to the 70s" and "Batman from the 30s to the 70s" are still (somewhat tattered) treasures of my comics collection.

(There was a "Shazam" volume too, which I still regret not buying at the time and it still continues to elude me on eBay. I have the whole works on CD, but it's not the same...)

Sure, in 2006 we're spoiled for reprints with DC Archives and Showcase volumes and Marvel Masterworks and Essentials. But I'll never give up my "30s to the 70s" books. They're too much a part of me.

I don't know how many times I've read the stories they contain. I've loved these books to literal pieces, especially the Batman volume. The stories where Batman and Robin traveled back in time were particular favorites. Seeing the mean, gun-wielding Batman of the early tales was startling. And I loved learning there'd been a Batgirl before Barbara Gordon--not to mention a Batwoman!

There are a couple of sections in color, including Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick's classic "One Bullet Too Many," which in just a few pages (panels, really) shifted the tone and course of every Batman story to follow. All without an overpriced, overblown "event" series that promises to change everything but doesn't. It's a re-boot today's comics creators could learn a lot from.

There's great stuff in the Superman book too. It leads off with some of the "Socialist Man" tales, where the Man of Steel regularly championed the downtrodden while socking it to corporate fatcats. And from there it's on to the goofy Bizarro tales, Lois Lane's shenanigans and other assorted whimsies of the Weisinger era. The book ends with some stories from when Julius Schwartz took over the editorial reins, providing another great example of how to makeover a character on the fly.

What got me thinking about these books again and led me to pull them off the shelf is the arrival of DC's Showcase books. These are nice and thick like Marvel's Essentials, but on whiter paper and with better production. Perhaps they'll catch the attention of younger readers like the "30s to the 70s" books did mine. My 7-year-old son, for one, is excited to dig into the Showcase Superman volume I got the other day.

Younger readers will find a heap of fun stuff to read in the Showcase books. It's nice to think about a new generation of kids discovering these stories.

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