ENCYCLOPEDIC KNOWLEDGE

Let’s say you wake up one day and are suddenly hit with the inspiration to read every Superman comic ever published, take extensive notes and then write detailed entries on each person, place or thing you run across with the ultimate goal of producing an encyclopedia about the Man of Steel.  Sounds crazy, right?  Awesome but when you really start thinking about the time and energy it would take to do something like that it seems rather daunting.  The thing is in this day and age such a thing is possible.  You can, through various means, track down every Superman comic out there either in print or in digital form.  Some might not be legit but they are there to be found if you know where to look.

It might be crazy but it is also doable.

Now imagine it is the late sixties.  No internet, so searching for comics at online shops or on eBay is right out.  Digital books?  What does that even mean?  Fandom is organized but scattered throughout the country.  There are ads in the comics and fanzines advertising old books and you can even go to the few conventions that are starting to be organized but that’s your only outlet to find the issues you need to complete such an endeavor.

Where would you go to find the comics you needed to read?

That is the question and the obstacles a man named Michael Fleisher was faced with back in 1969 when he got the idea to write an encyclopedia not just on Superman but on comics in general.  At the time Fleisher was working for the Encyclopdia Britanica and one day a co-worker typed up a mock entry for Clark Kent in the dry style that encyclopedias are written in.  It was a gag…something to pass the time and amuse the people in the office I assume.  For Fleisher it became a source of inspiration.  He took a Xeroxed copy of the entry home and used the comics reprinted in Jules Feiffer’s amazing book The Great Comic Book Heroes as source material to write a few sample entries.  The next day he showed those samples to a friend in the publishing business and within hours had a publishing deal.  Only then did the enormity of what he was about to undertake hit him beginning with the question, “How am I going to gain access to all of the old comics I need to properly write this book?”

The truly amazing thing to me is that at the time Fleisher was not a comic book collector.  He had left those behind at the age of 14 when he sold his collection to a junk lady on Third Avenue for a penny a comic.  So here’s this guy back in 1969 that gets the idea to write not just a book about comics but an encyclopedia and he hasn’t cracked a comic in twelve years.

I have very few real life heroes.  Michael Fleisher is one of them for this very reason.

Over the next nine years three books would come out of Fleisher’s initial idea.  The first was The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume One: Batman, which came out in 1976.  That same year Collier Books also released The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume Two: Wonder Woman.  The idea was to publish volumes for all of the major heroes but sadly the line came to an end in 1978 with The Great Superman Book, a.k.a. The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume Three: Superman.

Great Superman Book A

At the top of this post I described how writing such a book today would be easier than it was in 1969.  This begs the question; how did Fleisher pull off this Herculean feat?  Well, in March of 1969 armed with stacks of 5″ by 8″ index cards and aided by his research assistant Janet Lincoln Fleisher was led down a carpeted corridor by Gerda Gattel, DC’s Archivist and Librarian.  This is the part of the story that always makes me stop for a moment to imagine what it must have been like for Fleisher to step into that room for the first time. Fleisher writes that he gasped a little the first time he was led into the library, which was a medium sized room with floor to ceiling bookshelves full of bound copies of every comic National Periodicals (as DC was known at the time) had ever published.  Apparently there were two copies of each comic.  The company had been in existence under one name or another since around 1935.  That means there were over thirty four years of comics on those shelves.

If I were the type to salivate over comics I would do so every time I think of seeing all of those books.

Fleisher wrote that Gattel noticed his surprised look and remarked with a benign smile, “You said you wanted to study all of the heroes.  We have dozens of them.  Where would you like to begin?”  From Fleisher’s description of that first day of research Mrs. Gattel was very proud that her charges were being used for serious research instead of by business men looking for images to slap on T-shirts and beach blankets.

With that Fleisher and his assistant got to work.  For the next five years they read every Superman comic published between 1938 and 1964 and took detailed notes.  Their cut off point was World’s Finest #142, which features the first appearance of the Composite Superman.  To me that seems random but I wasn’t the one sitting in a small room for 60 months reading comic after comic and taking note after note.  In the time between starting the project and the three volumes being published Michael Fleisher became a professional comic book writer.  He worked on such titles as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Shade the Changing Man and others but the two DC characters he is most associated with are the Spectre and Jonah Hex.  He would also write for Marvel and Warren Publishing before leaving comics to focus on his academic career.  Since 2002, according to Wikipedia, he has served as a freelance anthropological consultant carrying out research assignments for humanitarian organizations in the developing world.

One has to wonder if his time reading thousands of stories about costumed heroes played a part in that.  Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.  In any case I will always have the utmost respect for Mr. Fleisher and the work he did in comic book research at a time when undertaking such an effort was probably looked on as a bit silly.

For the longest time the only way you could find this book was on the secondary market.  Prices ranged from expensive to somewhat reasonable and I managed to snag a hardcover back in 2002 in the reasonable range.  Thankfully in 2007 DC saw fit to reprint the books into trade paperback sized collections for  the bargain price of $19.99 a piece.

Great Superman Book Reprint AI bought a copy of that edition as well so I wouldn’t have to crack open my original copy.

And because the cover was awesome.

And because…well, I wanted to.

If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy yet I cannot recommend doing so enough.  It’s a fun volume and while it does not cover the entire history of Superman it covers his first quarter century.  I find this to be a handy resource and about the most fun you will ever have reading an encyclopedia.  Sure you can spend hours reading websites like the Superman Homepage or even the Superman Wiki but this book feels differently.  Then again I am the weird guy that likes to sit at my desk pouring through a stack of books while on a research quest so maybe I’m a bit weird.

Whatever the case I salute you, Mr. Fleisher.  You are one of the men and women that put me on the path of being the amateur Superman scholar I am today.  For that I owe you a great debt…one that I don’t know if I can ever repay.

DEATH OF SUPERMAN…DIRECT CURRENTS STYLE

Back in the early nineties DC had this awesome little giveaway that you could find at the comic shop called Direct Currents.  On the surface it was one big advertisement for their comics but it also served as a checklist for the DC books that were coming out in a given month.  As the “magazine” was being published around the time of the Death and Return of Superman there was an edition dedicated to the first movement of that event.  Back when Jeff and I were covering that story over on From Crisis to Crisis someone (and I am very sorry that I forget who that someone was) sent me scans of that edition and I just plain forgot to post it.  So I am rectifying that today.

Enjoy and again sorry to whoever sent me this about the whole forgetting that you sent this to me.  Let me know who you are and I will give credit where credit is due.

01 02 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 16

SUPERMAN ON VHS!

In a previous post about all of the cool Superman stuff coming out because of Man of Steel hitting theaters I mentioned that all sorts of DVD box sets were available on the cheap.  When I saw them in both Wal-Mart and Best Buy it reminded me the sheer amount of Superman material that is available on DVD.  Just about every animated series, live action series and film is available for purchase in one format or another.  It is a good time to be a fan of comic book adaptations in general and Superman adaptations in specific.

At the risk of sounding like an old man it wasn’t always like this.

In fact this is a rather recent phenomenon.  For the better part of two decades there were only a handful of Superman movies and television shows available on home video.  Sure you had the four feature films and the serials and selected episodes of the various live action and animated series from across the decades but that was pretty much it.  There were no season box sets.  The reason for this was simple; VHS tapes were expensive and most of the series that ended up on video came two to four episodes per tape, depending if it was an hour long show or a half hour long show.  Why so few episodes per tape?  Because tapes produced in SP (which stands for short play and gives you about two or so hours worth of play time) gave you better viewing quality in terms of both picture and sound than LP (standing for long play which gave you four or so hours of tape) or EP (which stood for extended play and gave you six or so hours of tape).  It’s not like a DVD, which can hold more information.  So a season that had, on average, twenty two episodes would break down into about a massive box set of tapes.  This would take up a whole lot of real estate both at home and at the retail level.  Also…and this is a personal theory mind you…I think that Warner Bros. didn’t think that there was enough interest to release the entirety of the various shows and such on video.

There were exceptions though and back in 1988 Warner Home Video made a huge push to get some Superman stuff out there for purchase just in time for the 50th Anniversary.  They even had a nifty poster to support this.

In the interest of full disclosure I yanked this image from an eBay auction.  So it’s not something I scanned on my own or took a picture of.

50th Anniversary VideosNote that the poster says that prices started at $24.98.  If memory serves those were the movies and not the serials, which came out as two tape sets and were a bit more expensive.  And all you got were the movies.  No trailers.  No bonus materials.  No audio commentaries.  Just…the movie and at the risk of sounding like an old man again we were pretty thankful for it.  Media is much more accessible these days.  You can buy the DVDs fairly cheap or you can buy digital copies and watch them virtually anywhere.  When I was a kid if you didn’t have a taped copy of the movies (either from Warner Home Video or the homemade kind) it was a huge deal every time any of these movies or shows came on television.  I vividly remember one of the ABC airings of Superman The Movie coming on in 1982 or 1983 and there was even the Easter of 1988 where they showed the extended version of Superman II on one of the major networks that I tried to tape but messed up when I forgot to hit the pause button after one of the commercials.

I really envy the kids of today.  Just about everything is available.  You don’t have to depend on syndication to watch the Super Friends or Nick-At-Night to watch George Reeve’s adventures as the Man of Steel.  I do wonder if it watching the various incarnations of the Man of Steel has as much meaning to those of the current generation as it had to my generation and the one before me.  One of the reasons those shows were special was that they were rare to one extent or another.  There was something really cool about spending Thanksgiving Day parked in front of the television watching Jack Larson host a marathon of Adventures of Superman episodes on Channel 9.  Now I and anyone else with the box sets can do that whenever they want to.  In the end I think it is awesome that so much is available and at a fairly decent price.  It is better to have it and not need it then needing it and not having it.

Still, that poster is really cool and brings back memories of seeing those tapes in Walden Books through most of the late eighties.  I always wondered what it would be like to own them but as a 12 to 15 year old they were expensive.  I finally bought the two serial sets in 1998 when I had more in the way of disposable income.  I still have those tapes too despite owning the serials on DVD.

Some things you just never want to part with.

SO…CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED

I think it is fair to say the last time I had a good and proper fan meltdown was when I watched Max Landis’ Death of Superman video.  It was a good meltdown too.  I mean holy crap did I loose my mind.  I’d post a link to the video but frankly I really don’t want to give it any more support.  My  hatred of that piece now stems from the fact that he gets so many of the facts of the Death and Return of Superman wrong and that I disagree with his ultimate point rather than thinking that Max is a hipster douche bag.

Because ad hominems add nothing to the argument.  I am going to keep this in mind in future meltdowns I may or may not have.

Thanks to Google Alerts I was directed to the video you see below this paragraph.  At first I didn’t want to watch it because of the last video I watched of his about Superman but I did because I am trying to be a better fan these days.  A few minutes into the video I had the oddest thought and that thought was, “HOLY @#$%, I’M AGREEING WITH MAX LANDIS!”

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw_GlYve_Lg

The fact that I have been saying the exact same thing for years about Spider-Man and Batman (especially over at Views From The Longbox where I spent an entire episode debunking some of the Superman vs. Batman nonsense) made me connect with this guy for the first time and see that maybe he wasn’t the jackass I thought he was.  While I still enjoy Man of Steel for what it was I can’t help but agree with most of what he said about the film.

So yeah…I agreed with something Max Landis said about Superman.

Wonders will never cease.

WHO’S WHO CLASSIC – LORI LEMARIS

Welcome to another installment of Who’s Who Classic, a regular feature here at the Fortress where every Monday I will present an entry from the original series of Who’s Who comics that DC published between 1984 and 1988.  Superman was well represented in those series and I wanted to share the entries with you just in case you have never seen them.  Today’s entry is Lori Lemaris (Post-Crisis)!

Lori Lemaris(originally published in Who’s Who Update ’88 #2, September 1988)

Remember that you can click on the images to make them larger.

ACQUISITIONS – MAN OF STEEL EDITION

Man of Steel had something like $160 millions in promotional tie-ins.  For the past month I have seen lots of Superman stuff hitting the shelves in just about every store I trade with, to use an outdated term.  Action figures, DVDs, snack foods, books, drinking cups and the like are everywhere.  This put me in a rather tough position as I don’t have a whole lot of extra money to spend right now but I still wanted to buy me some Superman merchandise as this sort of thing doesn’t happen every year.  So while I did not buy everything I wanted to I picked up a few things here and there.  Below is a sampling of my purchases.

MOS Masters 1Beach Towel 1 Beach Towel 2 Entertainment Weekly Superman at 75I also have a pretty cool Superman drinking cup complete with straw as well another little bit of business that I will be giving its own post in the future.  There was a lot more that I would have liked to buy but I managed to control myself.  I was a bit disappointed that the local Books-A-Million didn’t have a better Superman display as they had plenty of merchandise to make one but I don’t know what their plan-o-grams are like.  Despite my lack of buying stuff it was nice to see the merchandise in the stores.  The DVD selection at both Wal-Mart and Best Buy was impressive in both scope and the price point and I would have bought some of them but…well…I already owned them.  Still, if you haven’t been able to pick up the box sets of Justice League or Smallville or Lois and Clark now is the time to buy them.

Maybe I’ll be able to pick up some stuff when it goes on clearance.  You never know.

comiXology INFOGRAPHIC

superman_infographic061113The nice people over at comiXology sent me this infographic last week and I thought it would be keen to post it.  I think that this is a neat insight into the minds of those that use comiXology to buy their comics.  Most of the results aren’t surprising. Some were.  Others were just amusing.

Are you ready for some bullet points?

  • It makes sense that 9 out of 10 people polled were going to see Man of Steel in the theater and given the popularity of 3-D it likewise makes sense that half of those people would be seeing it in that format.
  • The fact that 61% of those polled preferred the Modern Era of Superman doesn’t surprise as I am assuming that most of the readers that took part in the survey are younger and because of that fact would prefer the more recent adventures of Superman compared to the Golden and Silver Age.  There are exceptions to this, of course as there are always exceptions to this sort of thing.
  • I don’t necessarily have an issue with Superman being involved with Wonder Woman but to me Lois Lane will always be the woman for him so it was nice to see that the majority of people that took part in the survey felt the same way.
  • It was interesting to see that Lana Lang and Chloe Sullivan scored the same amount of votes.  Of course it was even more interesting to see Chloe on the list at all given that she and Clark were never really involved on the show and definitely not in the comics.
  • It’s kind of cool that both Darkseid and Brainiac scored the same amount of votes when it comes to seeing a new villain on screen.  I would prefer Brainiac but the part of me that spent long hours playing with my Super Powers action figures as a kid would love to see Darkseid and Superman mix it up in live action.
  • Flight winning out as the favorite super power doesn’t surprise me.  Strength coming in second doesn’t either.
  • There is something amusing that Krypto won out over Jimmy Olsen as the supporting character people wanted to see Superman pal around with.  I wonder how Jimmy feels about losing out to a dog.
  • I think it is surprising and a bit telling that given an option readers chose Justice League over Superman and Action Comics as their favorite Superman book.  Even more surprising is that a book that isn’t even in the main continuity and features a Superman that…did a very bad thing to Joker tied with Action and that the Smallville comic received enough write-ins to be mentioned.  I’m not sure what this says about the current Superman books or what readers think of them but in all honesty I can’t argue with the results.

All in all an interesting little graphic.  I know this thing has been making the grounds and that I am hardly special in receiving it but it was nice to be contacted nonetheless.  Hopefully I’ll get more stuff like this in the future.

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED VARIANTS

Superman Unchained #1 came out last week.  I am cooking up a review for the comic so for the moment I will hold off on how I feel about the story itself.  What I do want to “discuss” is some of the variant covers that came out with the book.  In a brilliant bit of marketing DC not only released Unchained the week that Man of Steel came out but also released a variety of variant covers for the book drawn by a cavalcade of artists depicting various images of Superman through the ages all designed to celebrate the character’s 75th birthday.  For reasons both aesthetic and financial I did not buy all of the covers.  One in particular was a black and white variant of the main cover that was only included if the shop owner ordered 300 copies of the books, so that cover was out of my price range.  However there were three covers that I really wanted though and thanks to eBay I have them all.

For those that have followed this blog for any length of time or know me at all the three covers I wanted should come as no surprise.

Superman Unchained #001 Ordway Superman Unchained #001 Jurgens Superman Unchained #001 JLGCAs I said a full review should be up soon but for now bask in the glory that is Jerry Ordway (the Ordained One), Dan (I did more than just kill Superman, just saying) Jurgens and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez…praise be his name.