The Great Comic Book Heroes

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.

The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965)

The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965)

The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965)

The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965)

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.

The Great Comic Book Heroes - Table of Contents

The Great Comic Book Heroes - Table of Contents

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.


About Bill Jourdain

Bill is the host of the Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast. Learn more about Bill in the "About Bill" page to this site.
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7 Responses to The Great Comic Book Heroes

  1. ltux says:

    This was one of the great books of its time. I discovered it when I was eleven or twelve, a few years after my father had bought some of those DC tabloid-sized reprints of Whiz #1 and All Star #3, which had fascinated me. It was my first exposure to The Spirit, who — after Captain Marvel — is my favorite comic book character:

    Bartender: “M..milk!! Do my ears betray me? Milk in this place?! Milk he says…”
    Spirit: “I said Milk!!!”
    Bartender: “Y..yes, effendi, be once, oh exalted master!!”

  2. Bruce R says:

    My first book on comics was All In Color For A Dime, but that one had no sample stories. My secong book was this one. More than any book I can think of, this is the one that resulted in my wanting to learn the complete history of comics. In particular the Spirit story which drove me crazy for the fact that I didn’t know if I’d ever see anymore! (A few months later I found a beat up Spirit section stuffed into an old pipe in the basement – I was in 7th heaven!)

  3. Caleb Mozzaracco wrote quite a bit about this book on his blog: Put Jules Feiffer in the search engine and it will call up the articles. Good stuff!

  4. Pat Curley says:

    Yeah, our local library didn’t have a copy so I had to ride about five miles to the nearest big town in order to read it, but I loved it. However, I was disappointed in the Spirit story; I had heard so much about the character from my dad, but when I read it I thought the story was rather dull; Feiffer should have reprinted one of the postwar masterpieces.

  5. Michael Rebain says:

    I also read “All in Color…” in high school in the 70s, and thought I had found the Holy Grail when I discovered that the public library in the next town over had copies of not only the Feiffer book, but also the classic Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers collections. I spent a lot of time absorbing those three.

  6. anthony james says:

    i JUST HAPPEN TO HAVE an origihal hardback of Jules Feiffer’s 1966 THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES , and am looking for a serious collecter who is interested.Its in perfect condition. inquire directly if you like. 209-626-9828

  7. Paul Zuckerman says:

    Just discovered this discussion–someone on FB linked to it. Nice summary of the book.
    I got the book in 1965, when it first came out. I was thirteen. It blew me away. Carried it to school almost every day to share with my classmates. I had never seen Golden Age stories, except for a one page reprint in a Superman annual. Reading the early and raw versions of the characters was a real eye opener. Heroes killing? Not the ones that I was familiar with! And some of the art was really sensual, in a way that current comics in 1965 were not.
    The icing on the cake, of course, was the Feiffer essay, which had apparently appeared previously in a shortened version in Playboy. I knew of Feiffer from the Village Voice and collections of his early material that my aunt had. That stuff didn’t appeal much to me in 1965, but I knew he was an Important Artist! So, what he said carried weight.
    I was a little put-off when he called comics junk, but he had an unabashed love for the medium. What I didn’t know then, when he waxed eloquently about Eisner was that he himself had worked for Eisner for several years. Later on, I found out that he had a hand in writing some of my favorite Spirit stories.
    I still have my copy, somewhat beaten up (I had put a plastic book cover on it in1966 to protect it, and it’s still covering the book). It probably would be the last book in my comics book collection that I would part with.

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