Journey Into Comics: Looking Inside 'The DC Vault'
When I was a kidlet, I really, really wanted to become a member of the Junior Justice of America.I had no idea what it meant, but I just wanted the decoder ring and the cool stuff that came with it. I sent my fifteen cents in to DC and waited patiently for my membership kit. I remember the day I opened the mailbox and saw a DC return address. Inside was a letter with my 15 cents taped to it and a nicely-worded explanation that the Junior Justice Society offer had been void for about 20 years with a suggestion that I might want to look at some comics that were printed a little more recently.
Today, I finally got my Junior Justice Society decoder ring. Another childhood wish accomplished. The decoder is part of a very cool toybox for adults called The DC Vault and it is, as the cover says, “A museum-in-a-book featuring rare collectibles from the DC universe.” It’s all under a typically gorgeous Alex Ross painted Justice League cover. It’s essentially the other side of the coin for Running Press – they published The Marvel Vault a little while back. The DC Vault is $50, a little more expensive than the JJSA membership, but it makes a really cool coffee table book for the person ready to say, “Yeah, I like comics. What about it?” Marty Pasko, a familiar name to anyone who read DC in the 1970s, has put together a handsome history of DC Comics. He did not fudge the hard parts either, like describing the poor way Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were treated. Considering the current legal climate, that took some guts on Marty’s part and on DC. It’s also the smart thing to do. Since they were willing to print the painful truth about Siegel and Shuster, readers will be willing to accept the whole book as fact. These are behind-the-scenes explanations of many of the mystifying things in the DC universe, like the first imaginary story, the formation of the Justice League and what the Jim Shooter days were like at DC. The book starts early 1930s with titles like More Fun and quickly moves into the good stuff: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. It’s more than just a comics history book. It pictures rare items most people have never seen, like the ashcan for Action Comics #1 featuring a hooded ghoul holding a bloody knife, and ads for famous Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #1, the latter featuring Fu Manchu. The book is full of advertisements for Superman and Batman inspired toys and games and a bunch of reprints of pages from the comics. And then there’s the cool stuff. Like a copy of the action in-house note from Dick Giordano asking President Jeanette Kahn permission to kill Supergirl in the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths. Judging from the tone of the note, Kahn had apparently been ducking the decision until the last minute.
And, a copy of the original sketch by Joe Kubert for the cover of Hawkman #12, the one with the Man-Hawks.And, a full four-page promotional comic from 1948 called “Superman and the Great Cleveland Fire,” that DC created for The Hospital Fund. And a copy of a form letter that DC used to send out that answered most questioned posed by fans. I actually have a few of them from my youth. And Neal Adams’ plans for a Superman Land amusement park, complete with a heroes and villains museum. Anyway, I could go on and on about what’s in this book, but you really need to go into your local comic shop and check it out. Once you start reading, you’ll buy it. Dark Horse Stuff Is there no stopping the Horse? These guys have their publishing fingers in so many pies it’s hard to keep up. The Playboy Interviews: The Comedians, is one of the more surprising examples. I mean, Playboy? Don’t they have their own publishing company? The 459-page book (no pictures, sorry) reprints the extensive interviews Playboy did with people like George Carlin, Woody Allen, Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Groucho Marx, Don Rickles and others. Yeah, those were the pages that did not feature naked women, the ones all guys said they read but never did. Now, without the distractions, we can see that these were some damn fine interviews. The Playboy Interviews are not comics (and are what we all say we read the magazine for in the first place), but they are published by Dark Horse and feature interviews with comics. That other type of comic. Rickles never gave the interviewer a break, keeping him off-balance with non-stop insults and routines. You can see the reporter’s frustration at not getting many straight answers. But when Woody Allen did a similar thing to the same interviewer, Sol Weinstein, it was done more gently and with a more self-deprecating wit. It’s even more impressive to realize the interview was done in 1967, the beginning of Allen’s movie career. Tina Fey, the most modern interview, is excellent. She even talks about how she’s finally accepting that guys find her hot. Took her long enough.