You have to credit Dorling Kindersley. It seems like every other month the publisher has a new DC or Marvel guidebook out, recycling material from earlier books. Encyclopaedias beget character guides that fill the likes of HMV and discount bookshops.
I unabashedly love them.
I’m almost disappointed that they’ve finally come up with something original, but that’s just what The DC Book – subtitled A Vast and Vibrant Multiverse Simply Explained – is. Over 200 pages it doesn’t just lay out character profiles and contexts, it provides a seriously up-to-date guide to the state of the DC Universe. Sorry, Multiverse. Actually, make that Omniverse.
Taking in everything from the Golden Age through the Crisis on Infinite Earths to the current Infinite Frontier era, The DC Book gathers characters and concepts into wittily headed chapters on heroes and villains, mystical matters, mad science and more. Within are pages and spreads on individual characters and minor players who yet deserve mention.
As well as well-chosen and deployed art from the comics we get clever, nicely designed infographics. Usually such things cause my eyes to glaze over, but these are a lot less dull than you get in the likes of Marvel’s X-Men line. Heck, suddenly I have a useful, good-looking list of all the Parliaments relevant to Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Changeling and co.
Relevant quotes stud the pages, teasing the richness of personalities under the microscope. Mini fact-files conclude with informative or cute ‘status reports’. Timelines describe what happened when and where. The book even makes a smart fist of explaining Hypertime and includes a terrific glossary of such terms as ‘mutagenic’, ‘Totality’ and ‘ornitho-men’. The index is useful, the thanks to creators are appreciated. And always, the design is excellent, from the surprising cover colour scheme on.
There’s an awful lot to admire here and not much to complain about – a double-page spread on the Shazam Family doesn’t mention the name ‘Captain Marvel’ once, despite acknowledging that the current Shazam character is merely the latest Billy Batson to wield the Wizard’s powers. That’s likely a DC decision but it’s still annoying, ignoring 70 years of the hero’s existence.
The Golden Age Crimson Avenger’s name is reversed.
Really, this is a book you’d have to try very hard to frown at. But there is a huge oversight – the ridiculous lack of cover credit for the guy who actually wrote The DC Book. This isn’t the usual DK production, with multiple contributors – the text is the work of one person, and making sense of the DC sprawl is no small feat. And that person isn’t Grant Morrison, who gets a cover namecheck for their friendly foreword.
Step out of the shadows Stephen ‘Win’ Wiacek, who is a legend on the UK comics scene, having started out in the fan press and worked extensively in the industry, as designer, writer and more – he even lectures on comics. He gets a wee profile inside the book under ‘Contributors’ but it should be ‘Contributor’ as no one else is spotlighted. Wiacek’s name should be in big, shiny letters on the cover and spine, and if this book runs to a second edition, DK needs to fix that. And they might usefully add mini-profiles of infographics artists Kev Hopgood and Gary Gilbert, and designer Nathan Martin.
If it’s not obvious, I recommend this book highly – it’s a seriously smart guide to the DC Multiverse as well as a great-looking coffee table book. Read it all at once, dip in and out – but make sure you buy it.