A while back, I posted about my favorite Golden Age comic book reprint book. In thinking about that post, I tried to remember the first comic book reprint book that showcased a significant number of diverse Golden Age stories. While DC did a pretty good job with Golden Age reprints in the 1960’s with their annuals and 80 Page Giants, the first book I am aware of that featured Golden Age reprints of the stories of different publishers in one volume was The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. This large format hard back was published in 1965 and featured many origin stories and “firsts” from some of the most popular Golden Age heroes.
Feiffer was not just some comic book fan publishing a book of reprints. As can be seen in his biography, he was a serious journalist and author who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for his political cartoons that appeared in the Village Voice. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004. It’s clear from his now famous introduction to The Great Comic Book Heroes, that he had a fascination with the Golden Age of Comic Books and the superheroes that it spawned. This book was reprinted by Fantagraphics in a 2003 trade paperback, but without some of the great stories reprinted in the original. The introduction itself is worth the price of admission for its interesting and revealing look at Feiffer’s views of the “great superheroes”, told in the historical context of the era’s creators and their creations. The introduction is divided into 8 chapters totaling 42 pages. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and provides a sometimes serious take on superheroes at a time when they were mostly written off as cheap entertainment, especially in the world of academia.
After the Introduction, the book contains full color reprints of some of the greatest Golden Age stories of all time. In this volume you’ll find:
- Superman #1 (Origin of Superman)
- Superman #3 (The “broken dam” story)
- Whiz Comics #1 (Single page from the origin of Captain Marvel)
- Batman #1 (Origin recap and first Joker story)
- Marvel Mystery Comics #19 (Human Torch and Toro battle “The Hag”)
- Flash Comics #1 (Origin of the Golden Age Flash)
- All-American Comics #16 (Origin of the Golden Age Green Lantern)
- All-Star Comics #1 (The Spectre)
- Flash Comics #5 (The Hawkman)
- Wonder Woman #2 (Wonder Woman fights Mars, God of War)
- Marvel Mystery Comics #7 (Sub-Mariner)
- Captain America #1 (Origin of Captain America and Bucky)
- Police Comics #1 (Origin of Plastic Man)
- The Spirit (July 20, 1941 – The Spirit in the Middle East)
While all of the stories in this book have now been reprinted (some many times) it’s doubtful that in 1965 most of these stories had seen publication since the Golden Age, making this book a treasure trove for the true fan of the Golden Age of Comic Books. Indeed, it likely created many fans of the Golden Age of Comic Books who, after reading this book, went in search of other Golden Age stories.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the quote selected by Feiffer to include just prior to his Introduction:
I have known many adults who have treasured throughout their lives some of the books they read as children. I have never come across any adult or adolescent who had outgrown comic-book reading who would ever dream of keeping any of these “books” for any sentimental or other reason.
– FREDERIC WERTHAM, Seduction of the Innocent (Rinehart, 1954)
Every time I read this I have to smile at the perfect jab Feiffer takes not only at Wertham, but at the entire group of academics and others who believed that comic books were not art or literature, but some type of abomination posing as one or the other or both. The quote was also a perfect entree into Feiffer’s Introduction.
The Great Comic Book Heroes is a wonderful reprint book, but it is even better with Feiffer’s superb Introduction. Put in the proper historical context of its 1965 publication date, it was also a unique and early celebration of the Golden Age of Comic Books. It’s certainly one of my favorites.