Review: 'Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933-1945'

Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933-1945 by Greg Sadkowsky, Fantagraphics, $29.99.


This is an interesting experiment, part history book and part coffee-table book. I think it would have worked better had it picked a lane, but it's not a bad package.


Comic Book Covers is exactly that, 176 restored covers of interest from the period 1933-1945, arranged chronologically. There is no text at all for the first 176 pages, nor room for any, as the covers are presented full page, back to back, one after another, bleeding on three sides (the fourth side being the binding, where it probably bleeds there, for all I know). That makes it sort of an art book, and the covers are very pretty, but it makes one long for a classier treatment -- hardback, at the least.


The covers selected are not simply a parade of first issues, as one might expect, although plenty of first issues do make the cut. Instead -- as the back of the book informs us -- the covers selected are "classics, arranged chronologically to follow the evolutionary trends resulting from the industry's monthly battle for newsstand attention." So, for example, instead of Action Comics #1, we get Superman's second cover appearance on Action Comics #7, which is somehow adjudged more revealing of the above point (the rationale is not explained). So whether Comic Book Covers succeeds in following "evolutionary trends" isn't terribly apparent, but being free of the usually obligatory first issues allows more room for covers of greater technical skill, interest or obscurity. I appreciate that, since I've seen Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Whiz Comics #2, Marvel Mystery Comics #1, et al, a zillion times.


And for history buffs (like your humble narrator), there is a synopsis of each cover in the back with credits and commentary on why it is significant. This is pretty clumsy, since it forces you to flip to the back for each cover if you're curious, but not if you start from the back, since each synopsis includes a thumbnail of the cover. This is truly an odd formatting decision, but I suppose it works well enough -- if you start from the back and move forward, that is. Should be popular in Japan.


As to the commentary, there's not a lot of it. And mostly it's Golden Age history that is relatively well-known -- this old hand didn't learn much of anything new, for example. So, again, the back-cover rationale for the book isn't very convincing.


As further evidence that Comic Book Covers is only giving lip service to being a history book, the editor/designer's name isn't on the spine, or anywhere obvious. It's all by Fantagraphics veteran Greg Sadowsky, but you have to search to find his name. 


Basically, the whole exercise seems to be an excuse to publish 176 cool covers. And for me, that's really enough -- I enjoyed flipping through cover after cover I'd never seen before. But that won't be enough to justify the price tag for everyone, so I only recommend this book for hard-core fans -- and even there I caution you shouldn't expect any revelations.


Basically, it's a coffee-table book packaged and sold as a part history book. I think it would have succeeded better if it had chosen one format or the other.  As Stephen Colbert often says, "Pick a side! We're at war!" But for what it is, it's very nice.

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...Or , as Al jJaffee said in an old Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions paperback  the Israeli ( Muslim countries too  , for that matter .) edition !!!!!!!!!!!

I did not pre-order this book, mainly because I do not remember seeing it solicited, but even if I had I probably would not have committed myself as a project of this nature can be somewhat hit-or-miss. I remember flipping through it when it shipped a couple of weeks ago, and decided to add it to my “slow week” list, that is, those books I would theoretically buy on an increasingly mythical light Wednesday. But I digress. You review simply cements my own initial opinion that “the whole exercise seems to be an excuse to publish 176 cool covers.” I’m not going to rush right out and buy it, but that’s enough for me, too.

I’m going to take a stab at guessing the rationale behind declaring that the cover of Action Comics #7 is somehow more significant than #1. What I think they were getting at is that no one guessed that Superman would be the breakaway hit he became (otherwise he would have been the cover feature of #2-6 as well).

Interesting.  I have the the two volume PhotoJournal Guide to Comic Books and I enjoy pulling that out and flipping through it every once in a while.  In fact, I had it down off of the shelf this weekend.  So I'm not really interested in another book that's just covers.  If the synopses or rationales were worth reading as insightful and information, then this might be worth it to me.  Otherwise, I'm happy with what I've got it. 

I saw this at my LCS this past weekend, and while interesting I just couldn't commit to it based on that price tag. If he has it in stock at the next big sale I might pick it up then.

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