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The DC Vault by Martin Pasko

01/09/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The DC Vault in the USA - or Buy The DC Vault in the UK

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pub: Running Press/Perseus Books Group. 192 page illustrated wire-spine hardback. Price: 29.99 (UK), $49.95 (US), $53.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7624-3257-8.

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'The DC Vault' spans from 1937 to the present day, showing how Irwin Publishing evolved into National Periodicals before finally adopting the name its comic fans called them for years: 'DC Comics'. For those not in the know, the 'DC' came from 'Detective Comics', the home and one of the two original titles starring a certain masked crusader called the Batman. Quite why 'DC Comics' stuck no one quite knows but of all the titles the publishing house released, this was the one that had a title that could be abbreviated the easiest and became generic for the whole line.

In many respects I sense a certain amount of frustration in this book. I mean, considering the volume of merchandise associated with the DC comicbook characters, there is surprisingly very little to show for it in this volume. There's almost a sense of embarrassment regarding the 1966 TV 'Batman'. It might have been camp and a parody but the only real fault is DC following suit in its comicbooks.

There are lots of cover preliminaries and sometimes a few too many cover detail close-ups when it might have been more interesting showing off some of the varied characters created over the years. Not to say that there isn't some here and it is interesting but again, it gives the distinct impression that little was kept from the early days. Looking at a later picture of previous President Jenette Kahn's office loaded with merchandise, I doubt if that will happen again. DC Comics are still popular and this aspect should have been exploited a little more here.

What author Martin Pasko does really well is a warts and all history of DC Comics the company more than its comicbook product. Granted not everything can get in but there's the occasional raised eyebrow at the amount of war comics material shown compared to other material. I mean, something like the main man, Lobo, only comes up on the cover of a 'Shop Talk' newsletter. Even the 'Legion Of Super-Heroes' only gets two mentions although with the amount of material current publisher Paul Levitz contributed one can quite understand it might have been a matter of holding back a little on the one title he wrote the longest. There is mention of Jack Kirby working for the company and then overlooking Steve Ditko's time there. It might not have been the most successful but he is still a significant name. Seeing the prototypes of some Watchmen figures made in 2004 does give a little bit of hope that something might be done with them next year if for no other reason that it's a shame to see them wasted.

Pasko shows how the company did not fully understand the market they were selling to and with the continuing reference to their competitor Marvel is more with how they were playing catch-up for a lot of the time. It's a shame more comment or criticism didn't get in on this area other than it might irritate the higher-ups although its pretty obvious that as long as the comics made money and didn't get bad press they didn't show much interest. Neither DC or Marvel, as pointed out, was quite ready for the implosion in the 90s and some times pandering to market forces than leading the way isn't always the best option. The last chapter tends to come over more as a mission or accounts statement that showing much of the product they are releasing today. As my reviews of their recent albums have shown, I'm rather impressed how they've finally got their act together in them in making the reality more connected.

None of the above should be seen as me being particularly negative. Much of what you're getting is me reacting in a way that any one conversant with the subject would and that is always a good sign. A book that you just passively read doesn't necessarily make for an interesting read. If anything, I'm just checking off things I expected to see but didn't is probably more to do with my own knowledge on the subject rather than the things that were put there in its place.

There is actually a lot of good and interesting material in here that should delight the DC Comics fan. It should also stir up a lot of memories for whichever decades you were reading the titles. 'The DC Vault' should be a worthwhile addition to add to your collection but make sure you have a sturdy coffee table or strong super-hero holding it for you.

GF Willmetts

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