You can see the evolution of the comics industry through these pages, brought to you courtesy of Tony Isabella, “America’s most beloved comics writer and columnist,” who writes and reviews for Comics Buyer’s Guide. Isabella has been writing comics for four decades now, and he’s perhaps best known as the creator of DC Comics’ Black Lightning, the first African-American superhero to get his own title at DC.
But it’s Isabella’s perspective as a fan, not a creator, that feeds the joys of reading1,000 Comic Books You Must Read. You can see the growth of the industry in the book, but also the changing of the readership. As we travel from a time where comic books regularly sold millions of copies every month to the present, where the numbers are much, much smaller, we see the transformation of our culture’s tastes and habits unfold before our very eyes.
The original Superman comics from the late 1930s kick off the collection, a nice tribute to the man of steel, without whom the format of comics would be vastly different, if it existed at all. From there, we move on to the 1940s, where the Golden Age of superheroes really began. All the classics are here: Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Archie, plus the wild military and adventure comics of the day (and even wacky things like Daredevil Battles Hitler). Each two-page spread is a trip to a distant past that seems not so far away through comics. Although excerpts from the comics are not included here (Isabella does give a brief synopsis of each story inside to show why they’re being picked), just the covers themselves tell an interesting story. Some of them are gorgeous (the painted image of Captain Marvel Adventures #18, which introduces Mary Marvel, for example, is striking), some of them are so enticing that you long to look inside.
Isabella introduces each decade of comics history with a brief overview to give you an idea of what was going on in comics at the time. It’s interesting to graph the number of pages devoted to each decade: the ’90s get fewer than 20 pages devoted to them; the ’70s and ’80s combined get the same number of pages as the ’60s. But also telling is the fact that the current decade gets 45 pages and sees the inclusion of several important graphic novels (Persepolis, Blankets,Sentences). The book gives hope to Isabella’s sentiment that today is the true Golden Age of comics. As he puts it, “Readers can enjoy both the new groundbreaking material now being published and, thanks to affordable reprints, the classics of the past.”
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 2, 2012
1,000 Comic Books You Must Read