Review: 'Faster than a Speeding Bullet: The Rise of the Graphic Novel'

Faster than a Speeding Bullet: The Rise of the Graphic Novel 2nd Edition

NBM, $14.99, 80 pages

Writer: Stephen Weiner

I'm a big fan of Weiner, a librarian who champions comics in libraries, schools and other educational environments. He's made it his life's work to teach other educators the value of comics in their jobs, and to create works that can be used in the classroom. So I've generally given good reviews and positive pushes to whatever work of his crosses my desk.

Which is why I'm really on the horns of a dilemma with the second edition of Rise of the Graphic Novel, which is basically a short, bare-bones history of comics. I've got the first edition somewhere, and either I only skimmed it the first time or it had much less information in it, because I don't remember what I found in this edition: A lot of errors.

Well, I call them errors. But maybe I'm too persnickety. So let me list a few and see what you folks think:

ON GOLDEN AGE COMICS:

Page 3: "In order to help children participate more fully in the stories, superheroes were given teenage sidekicks, such as Batman's Robin, Captain America's Bucky, Wonder Woman's Wonder Girl, and the Human Torch's Toro."

All I can say is: "Ow." Not only were Golden Age sidekicks not teenagers -- with perhaps the exception of Bucky, and only perhaps -- but Wonder Girl didn't exist at all in the Golden Age, having been created in 1958 by Robert Kanigher as Wonder Woman herself as a girl. Wonder Girl as a separate character doesn't even appear until 1965, when -- famously -- writer Bob Haney mistakenly believed the Wonder Girl stories in contemporaneous Wonder Woman comics were about Wonder Woman's sidekick (when, as noted, they were actually stories about Wonder Woman in her teenage years) and added her to the new Teen Titans in Brave and Bold #60. Years later this character was explained retroactively as Donna Troy, a baby orphaned in a fire that Wonder Woman took to Paradise Island to be raised. In a sense she could be considered a sidekick, I suppose, but does anyone remember a story anywhere before Crisis on Infinite Earths where the Donna Troy Wonder Girl appeared with Wonder Woman as her sidekick? After Crisis there were later Wonder Girls who were sidekicks, but I'm just making the point that the oldest, longest-lasting and most familiar Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, wasn't much of a Wonder Woman sidekick ever, much less in the Golden Age.

ON THE ADVENT OF EC COMICS

Page 7: "The tension of the nuclear age formed the subtext for war stories in comic books like Shock Suspenstories that showed the reader that the next world war would have no winner, and the whole human race would be the loser. EC's lineup expanded to include science fiction titles like Weird Science Fantasy and a variety of crime comic books."

I'm not sure I can point to a specific error as such in this excerpt, except that it is a huge misconception from start to finish. I'm not gonna comment on the erroneous punctuation of Shock SuspenStories because that's petty, nor am I going to mention that war stories had their own home at EC, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, because, theoretically, war stories could appear in Shock SuspenStories. Again, not an error so much as a mischaracterization (and mentioning war stories in conjunction with EC comics and NOT mentioning Kurtzman's two books is criminal.)

But I am gonna complain about the Weird Science-Fantasy reference. Because the EC line didn't "expand" to include science-fiction titles -- they started in 1950 with all the other titles. And there were two, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, not just the one.They were combined in 1954 as Weird Science-Fantasy, which is the book Weiner mentions above as being in the lineup from the get-go. It's not just wrong, it betrays an absolute ignorance of how EC began, grew and changed.

ON THE END OF EC COMICS

Page 8: "EC Comics, whose product line had been a catalyst for Wertham's charges, was soon out of the comic-book business. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, publisher Gaines responded by upgrading his premier satire comic book, MAD, to a magazine format, thus avoiding the regulations of the CMAA and achieving greater financial success and social impact than he ever would have in the comics business."

As I mentioned in my review of Mad Archives Volume 4, MAD did NOT become a magazine to avoid the Comics Code. It's a common misconception, but no less than an authority than Mark Evanier makes it clear in the foreword to this book that MAD became a magazine because that was the only way Gaines saw to keep Kurtzman on the book -- Kurtzman wanted more money, and he wanted more prestige, and a magazine was the only way to achieve that. It was coincidental that the CCAA was forcing EC's comic books out of business at the same time.

ON THE CREATION OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR

Page 10: "DC's success with superhero stories did not go unnoticed. ... Stan Lee, Marvel's editor and head writer, decided to create a competing band of superheroes."


Every comics history I've ever read attributes to Martin Goodman the idea of creating a super-team at Timely to compete with Justice League of America.

Page 10: Marvel's most successful character was teen science wiz Peter Parker, also known as the Spectacular Spider-Man, who became a superhero out of a sense of guilt."

I'm probably just being picky here, but: Spider-Man was "Amazing," from the get-go; he didn't become "Spectacular" until 1968, with the publication of his B&W magazine, which lasted two issues and had poor distribution. The Spectacular Spider-Man comic book didn't begin until 1976. Also, Spider-Man was NOT Marvel's most successful character; Fantastic Four outsold Amazing Spider-Man until the late 1960s. Also, it's "science whiz" not "science wiz."

ON THE ADVENT OF THE COMIC SHOP

Page 13: "In the early 1970s, a network of comic-book specialty stores began to grow throughout the United States. This new system of selling comic books, where specialized stores sold back issues and also offered an alternative to newsstands for the sale of new comics, eventually came to be called the direct market. The specialty shop was an outgrowth of the comic book conventions held during the 1960s and early 1970s, which had demonstrated the growing breadth and diversity of the comic book market. Comic book publishing houses sold comic book to these specialty stores on a non-returnable basis. Comics sold on newsstands can be returned to the publisher for credit if they don't sell. In the direct market, comic store owners receive a larger discount but could not return any unsold books."

Weiner's description of the mechanisms of the direct market are accurate, but his timing is off -- comic shops were a phenomenon of the late 1970s, not early 1970s -- and any discussion of their origin without mention of the crisis in distribution that threatened to close down the whole industry is, simply, shocking. Plus, attributing "growing breadth and diversity" to the industry at the precise time that all genres but superheroes virtually disappeared isn't just misleading, it's a groteque and ignorant mischaracterization.

OK, I have to stop here because this is where I stopped reading. This many errors in the first 13 pages led me to believe that not only would I not learn anything from this book, but that I couldn't trust a word of it. As I said about Ronin Ro's book Tales to Astonish years ago, if an author gets so many minor things wrong that are easily looked up, I don't trust the major things.

But am I being too harsh? Am I being too nit-picky? Let me know Legionnaires. If you think I'm being too fanboy I'll suck it up and read the rest of the book. If not, I'll let the above stand as my review.

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Strange that no one has responded to this. From what you have pointed out it sounds like someone who has no depth of knowledge on the subject and hasn't tried to acquire any.

Your criticisms don't sound nit-picky to me. I'd disagree with two.

 

According to the statements of ownership figures at John Jackson Miller's Comichron website Amazing Spider-Man was outselling Fantastic Four by 1966. When I last checked it didn't have earlier figures for these titles.

 

The paragraph on the history of comics says "began to grow", which might fit what happened. Wikipedia says Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics "opened his first store in Boulder, Colorado in 1974".

 

As for Wonder Girl/Donna, I can think of three stories where the JLA and the Teen Titans met, and Donna also appeared with Wonder Woman along with other DC heroines in a 1982 storyline. The only story I can think of where she teamed up with Wonder Woman by herself is the Wonder Woman story in Adventure Comics #461. WW visits Donna at an exclusive school she's attending, and it turns out it's being run by Headmaster-mind and he has an evil plot. The original Wonder Girl appeared with Wonder Woman in the Silver Age in the "impossible" Wonder Woman family tales.

I'm familiar with the "impossible" tales, which also included Wonder Woman as a baby, Wonder Tot (and her/their mother, Hippolyta). Would you consider those tales where Wonder Girl was Wonder Woman's sidekick? I wouldn't, simply because the four usually followed different paths in the story (or competed with each other), and I wouldn't consider Wonder Girl acting as Wonder Woman's sidekick any more than Wonder Queen.

No, I wouldn't. The Adventure Comics story comes closest, but she's not really a sidekick even there. (Headmaster-mind's plan involves tricking the other pupils into believing he's draining power from her to empower them.)

Luke Blanchard said:


Wikipedia says Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics "opened his first store in Boulder, Colorado in 1974".


In the early 70s there was a comic store in Long Beach, California, that I visited a few times. At the time they sold reprint collections of comic strips and, I believe, French reprints. They didn't even sell back-issue comics. I believe at the time you had to be a newsvendor or store that sold other current magazines in order to sell new comic books.

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