Appreciating the History of Comics

As a fan of comics, I have always been a sucker for big, coffee-table-size, hardcover books like the Marvel Encyclopedia or the DC Comics Encyclopedia.  So I had picked up Marvel Chronicle: A Year By Year History, an excellent chronology of the legacy of the House of Ideas that gave us Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men, and many other superheroes.  Now finally DK Publishing has released DC Comics: Year By Year - A Visual History, an equally impressive look at the history of the comics giant that created Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and others. 

Both individually chronicle the history of the comic book industry's two largest publishers, year by year.  Each page is a full-color scrapbook tracing annual milestones, showing readers the developments of comic book titles, characters, and storylines.

Both hefty tomes are worth adding to your collection, but each has its strengths and weaknesses.  The Marvel book over-does it a bit with non-comic-related news, side-by-side with the comics history -- yes, it is sometimes insightful to see the "current events" context in which the stories were told, but it takes a bit too much space that could have been devoted to more relevant topics.  The DC edition still provides the historic background but keeps it where it belongs -- in the background as unobtrusive, tiny sidebars and footnotes rather than equal-billing splashpages.

Marvel Chronicle does a better job, however, of blending a history of TV, movie, and merchandise spin-offs of its comics.  The DC book focuses only on the print comics, which is a shame, because it would have been beneficial to also see when and how the characters and stories were brought to life in other media.

For fans of the mainstream comics, both volumes are well-designed, competantly written, and full of great information that will provide hours of reading pleasure.  They also make excellent gifts for any comic book fans you may know.