To celebrate its 50th year of publication in 1985, DC Comics published two complementary series. One, Crisis on Infinite Earths, has been collected multiple times. The other, Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, has been a lot longer coming.
But it’s here, and it’s wonderful. Collecting not just the original 26 issues, but the updates and pages from annuals, it’s 1,320 pages of important information, total trivia and awesome art.
The illustrations are where Who’s Who most differed from the outwardly similar Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe; where Marvel had a uniform look to entries, with static (read ‘dull’) recurring poses and repurposed comic book panels, DC went for variety. A full-colour splash image of the subject would be set against a surprint showing them out of costume, along with a moment from their past. Artists were invited to submit wish lists of characters whose entries they coveted, though creators heavily associated with features were given first dibs. So while Curt Swan showed up for Superman, Jerry Ordway for the All-Star Squadron and so on, other match-ups could seem delightfully random. Think Bill Sienkiewicz on Silver Swan, Dave Stevens on Catwoman and Jamie (now Jaime) Hernandez on Shrinking Violet. Plus, we saw the return of such DC veterans as Wayne Boring, Russ Heath, George Tuska and Howie Post.
And, printed on glossy, quality paper stock, the entries look better than ever – early issues, especially, were marred by DC’s experiments with the Flexographics printing process. The very middle of a spread occasionally wanders off into a gutter, but the vast majority of listings are single pagers, with the text nicely boxed off away from the centre.
And the wraparound covers look great – a sensible tweak is that instead of the original cover contents numbers, we get the corresponding pages for this edition, so where Volume X referred us to page 26 for Human Bomb, now it’s 352 and so on. And if you need further help, there’s an index featuring legendary DC art director Neil Pozner’s famed yellow dot pattern – a nod to book designer Megen Bellersen for the clever touch.
A nice surprise is that the original intro pages are included, meaning we can read the letters that came in – it’s hilarious to see some of the things people moaned about, and fun to see enthusiastic missives from the likes of future DC star Phil Jimenez.
Something you don’t get with every DC Omnibus, but you do here, is an introduction. The great Robert Greenberger, one of the original editors, provides fascinating insights, such as the identity of the character they used when deciding on format:
Mind, there is a boo-boo, as DC called errors back then – a line about the Impact Comics Who’s Who appears twice. Where’s original series proofreader Brenda Pope when you need her? Still, it’s a minor thing; the lines appear half a page apart so it’s not annoying to the eye.
When it comes to a second printing, DC could do worse than turn around the billing order in this sentence, or add one of those Oxford commas I usually hate:
I don’t think Jaime Hernandez is dead yet…
Nevertheless, thanks to Robert and all the original team, and the gang behind this re-presentation, for a joyous compendium of glorious art and smart copy commemorating DC’s character library as was. Some heroes and villains remain as familiar as your family, while others made their first appearance in decades and have never been seen since. A few were predicted for big things but quickly faded (hello Omega Men, or rather, see ya!), but who cares – when they receive their spotlight, they’re the star, as much a part of DC’s fabled history as Superman or the Joker.
The cover is a clever mash-up of several George Perez wraparounds, with new colours by John Kalisz, and you can’t see the joins.
The image is repeated, on glossy hardboard, beneath the dustjacket, while the endpapers feature entire cover spreads – this is a great-looking collection.
At recommended retail prices of UK £120/US $150/Canada $195, this isn’t a cheap volume. It is, though, one that will more than repay the investment, offering a doorway to decades of DC delights. If you buy one omnibus this year, make it Who’s Who.