I am rarely asked to write reviews of anything and I was not, directly, asked to do this one either. However, when I was gifted a copy of The Standard Comics Encyclopedia Abridged by main writer Roy Johnson, I told him I would write this.
The basic conceit is similar to Big Bang Comics, that you’re seeing through a window into a fake, but convincing history of a successful comic book publisher that did not exist. In this case, the publisher did exist at one time -- Standard Comics ran until 1959 when it stopped -- but the fiction is that the comics line not only continued, but grew more popular and bought the rights to other company’s characters along the way. And while Big Bang Comics shares stories scattered from throughout their fake history, The Standard Comics Encyclopedia is an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe-DC Who’s Who-esque summary of its own fake history.
It’s important to note the “Abridged” part of the title, which I did not notice on first or even second glance. It can be maddening to read the history of these characters and see see references scattered throughout them that lead to more entries you cannot find and read.
The best thing about a book like this is, for a fan of “forgotten” Golden Age superheroes, to see some of these same heroes and read about how things might have gone had their stories never been canceled. The citations to comic books that do not exist, but I wish they did so I could read them, are tantalizingly spread throughout. It is also a good thing that the original characters and the public domain character fit together so seamlessly.
The next best thing is the artwork; this book is richly illustrated with commissioned work Roy Johnson paid for out-of-pocket. There are a few pieces of older, public domain art, but not nearly as much as Roy could have relied on. Gerry Turnbull and Chris Ivy are talents to watch.
Another nice touch that actually improves on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is that powers and abilities are named and categorized, instead of needing to be separated by the reader from within paragraphs of text.
There are some small flaws. The legal talk on the inside cover names only five public domain heroes, but the book actually contains ten. Some entries could have used better proof reading, like Black Orchid’s entry twice mentioning how empathic she is, and “slayed” instead of “slew” used in the Count Orlok entry.
A peculiar feature is that every entry has a distinct logo for that character. This makes sense for the heroes who would have had their own comic books that featured logos on the cover, but even minor characters have their own logos. The logos vary in quality. Some are perfect. TNT Todd’s is particularly striking. Optima’s is so hard to read that my son and wife could not figure out, from just looking at the logo, what it said.
The paper quality is very good. Despite its minor flaws, you are getting a quality product and -- at just $6 for 40 pages -- you would be getting a good deal. This book is available from Indyplanet at http://www.indyplanet.us/product/130078/