the first volume of SupermanI wrote a recommendation of the ten best of Marvel’s Essential volumes a long time ago. Finally DC picked up the baton and are putting out similar volumes – over 500 B&W pages of vintage comic reprints on cheap paper for around £11 a go. These are called Showcase Presents, and are coming out one a month. Here are some brief notes on those published so far, in something like order of preference:

This is almost all gold. It’s from the days when he hardly ever had super-battles, and instead was busy tricking Lois or hiding his secret identity or some such nonsense. Very silly, very funny, beautifully crafted, with lots of very fine art. There are two volumes of this so far, all wonderful.

Justice League of America
Many wise judges admire Sekowsky’s lively art immensely, but find the stories dully repetitive. I’m with them on Sekowsky, but these are some of my favourite characters, and they are cleverly used. If reading “I think we should split up into teams…” every issue is likely to drive you mental, avoid this.

Teen Titans
See above, really. Nick Cardy’s art is glorious, and he was one of the most exciting cover artists ever. The stories can be painfully bad, in that attempts by middle-aged comic writers to pen hip teen dialogue is almost always doomed to dismal failure. Fortunately this tips it into camp kitsch entertainment, but I do wish Haney could do super-action – “Oh no! Kid Flash and Wonder Girl have been defeated by… a man with a stick!”

Jonah Hex
An odd early choice, this, but something of a gem. Gritty in art and story, a grim western series that is superbly made, and surprisingly captivating to read.

Elongated Man
The stories here are mostly stupid little puzzles, of close to zero interest even when neatly done (which isn’t always the case), but the art is fabulous. Carmine Infantino is one of the great superhero artists, but he wasn’t well served by a lot of his dreary inkers. That’s true through much of this too, but there are a bunch of rare self-inked tales, and they are magnificent to look at.

Green Lantern
See above, once more: Gil Kane was a powerful and exciting artist, but his inkers tended to weaken rather than enhance that. The stories are okay, often rather boring but sometimes good SF yarns.

Haunted Tank
Robert Kanigher is a tremendously solid writer, but he needs the right artist. I’ve had major debates before about the virtues of Russ Heath and Joe Kubert, the two artists who share most of this volume, as war comic artists. I don’t care that Heath gets every rivet right, but I do care that his action is lifeless and his characters have as much expressiveness as Gerry Anderson puppets. Kubert may well get the equipment wrong, but by god he’s a thrilling artist, and did the best covers
ever – no one was ever as good at making you think there was something exciting inside (often misleadingly, sadly).

This was very popular with a lot of good judges, and while I really enjoyed the first third of the book, with its wacky comedy superheroics (in a post-/sub-Eisner style in some ways), I thought it declined a lot after a change of artist, and had some hopelessly incoherent writing. Probably worth it for that first third, though.

Superman Family
I was really looking forward to lots of insane Lois and Jimmy stories, but Jimmy got a head start, so DC filled the first volume with his early stories. This is just before their mad peak, so there aren’t too many random superpowers for Jimmy, and I don’t recall if he dressed up as a woman even once. Volume 2, out soon, approximately equally split, will get to the ludicrous antics, and I expect that to be troubling my top three.

House of Mystery
I guess collections of an anthology are guaranteed to be patchy, and this is hugely uneven. Hardly any of the stories are up to much, ’70s comic book horror tending towards the insipid, and the art runs the gamut from some hopeless dullards and marginally competent nobodies up to the greatest comic artist ever, the recently deceased Alex Toth. To be honest, unless the genre is very to your taste, probably not worth it.

Green Arrow
The first chunk of this is great, since it’s all by Jack Kirby. However,
it’s very far from his greatest work, and was reprinted only a year or so before, so I foolishly bought this for the rest. This was a mistake. The Lee Elias art is fine, but the stories are total bores. The only exceptions are the introduction of Miss Arrowette,
with her powderpuff and hairpin arrows, and a story wherein Speedy (the kid sidekick) sees GA training another boy and starts sobbing about how GA is “grooming another boy to replace me”. Now you don’t really need to read those stories, so unless you are a big Kirby fan who missed the other reprint, skip this.

Some good ones coming up: the first of many Batman volumes, Challengers of the Unknown (loads of great Kirby), Phantom Stranger (lovely Aparo art), the second Superman Family. I’ve bought them all so far, and it looks as if it may be a while before I skip any. I don’t know the rights situation, but I am hoping they step back to the ’40s for Plastic Man and Sugar And Spike, for instance, as well as the obvious stuff (maybe even The Spirit). Not that there is a shortage of great newer stuff to do – Flash seemed one of the most obvious early volumes to me, plus Atom (Gil Kane), Hawkman and Sgt Rock (both Kubert), Aquaman (cardy), Doom Patrol, Metal Men