Facsimile Editions

By | Wednesday, October 12, 2022 Leave a Comment
I don't know if I'd call this a trend exactly, but Marvel and DC have put out a few books over the past couple years that are intended to be fascimilies of original editions. They don't just reprint the stories from old comics, but they include the old ads and promos and such as well. I've picked up several of them despite the "main" stories often are ones that I've already got in my collection in some form. I think I first read Superman's and Batmn's debut stories when I was maybe twelve years old and got a copy of A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics for my birthday. The other stories Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 are largely dismissed as completely forgettable, so why bother with these new reprints? Why not get Superman Chronicles or Batman Chronicles so you just get the stories you really want to focus on anyway?

I was actually reading the Action Comics #1 facsimilie edition last night and it by itself really highlighted what I like and appreciate about these types of books. The Superman story, as I said, I've read before. But in reading it alongside Zatara the Magician, Chuck Dawson, Sticky-Mitt Stimson, Marco Polo, and others -- it really showcases why Superman was the breakout character. Typically, when you read about Superman, he gets referenced as the first superhero. That specific point is debateable, depending on the defitions you're using, but he was likely the first superhero type character most of the young readers would've encountered in 1938. With his blue tights and flowing red cape, lifting cars above his head and having bullets bounce off his chest and all, it's easy to see why he would've been seen as fantastic in every sense of the word. So when you hear that kids in the day asked for "the comic with Superman in it," it immediately makes sense. It's easy to see how just the concept itself would've captured the public's imagination.

But in reading everything that went alongside that, that's not the only thing that was going on. The Superman story in Action #1 is not only the most creative conceptually, it's also the best story in the issue from a formal perspective as well. Reading it today, particularly in isolation, that's hard to see because it doesn't exactly have a world of nuance to it, but from a formal storytelling perspective, it is vastly superior to everything else in the issue. Most of the rest of the stories are closer to illustrated prose with heavy reliance on narrative captions, frequently almost to the exclusion of dialogue! And in most cases, the dialogue that is present is exceptionally stiff and expository, simply explaining what is ostensibly being told in the pictures. Which, frankly, you can't blame on the scripting because there's no storytelling in the artwork. A stereotypical complaint of artists working with a never-having-worked-in-comics-before writer is that they'll try to include multiple actions in a single panel, i.e. "Panel 1: He catches the ball and then throws it back to his friend." There seems to be a lot of that type of storytelling here.

The artwork in most of these stories is not only crudely drawn, but it's almost entirely unnecessary. I'm reminded of a quick experiment I tried years ago where I removed the art, but not the text, from an old EC comic page and it still read perfectly well. Many of the stories in Action Comics #1 read like that. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are by far the standout contributors to the issue not because they're the ones who did Superman, but because they had a much better understanding and mastery of the form of comics. And that is something that I never really realized until putting the rest of the original issue in the same context.

I've touted the notion of context in reading comics many times before and this is precisely why I think it's significant. Even if you've read those early Superman or Batamn stories, I think it's worth checking out at least some of these new reprints to really appreciate just how much they stood out from even the stories in the very same issues!
Newer Post Older Post Home