Thursday, March 07, 2013
The Golden Age of DC Comics
This is a big, lovely book, and much easier to read -- and lift -- than the preposterously proportioned and priced tome it spun out of: The 750-page, nearly 20-pound "75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking," published in 2010.
Still big at 400 pages, this one will look nice on your coffee table without crushing it. It also includes images not featured in the larger tome. Similar volumes, also born out the larger parent book, focusing on DC's Silver, Bronze and so-called "Dark" and "Modern" ages are set to follow later in the year.
So, what we have here is a big picture book, focusing on DC's Golden Age, and it's packed with lovingly reproduced images of covers, page art, original art, house ads, toys, movie posters, radio premiums, photos and all sorts of other familiar and rare pictures that conjure up that era .
It's nice to look at, no question. And maybe that's enough. But I did feel, for all its pages, the book skimps on historical perspective.
The introductory essay by comics writer and former DC publisher Paul Levitiz is cursory and dry. It drops the names of key creators, but doesn't really detail what made them special. It also doesn't deal with any of the contentious aspects of DC's history, either.
No doubt, Levitz' hands were tied: In order to use all these images, he couldn't risk upsetting DC's management or attorneys. But, as a result, the book's version of history seems a little whitewashed.
For example, DC's treatment of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster is covered in a brief paragraph in which Levitz describes the ongoing lawsuits over compensation and ownership of the character "unfortunate."
And sections focusing on Jack Cole's "Plastic Man," Will Eisner's "The Spirit," and the early Mad Magazine are included without explaining that DC didn't publish or own those properties during the Golden Age, and only now owns the rights to them.
Similarly, a section on Captain Marvel barely mentions that DC sued the character out of existence back in the early 50s because the company perceived him as too similar too (and, in reality, more popular than) Superman.
For the real nitty gritty on these years, you'll need to go to other books and back issues of Alter Ego magazine. But if you want to spend an afternoon steeped in the sights and ephemera of comics' Golden Age, this book will take you there. Several old pictures depicting news stands and spinner racks of the 1940s, all packed with now impossibly rare comics, are especially tantalizing.
Regions of Light and Sound of God by Jim James
This first full solo album by My Morning Jacket's lead singer (he did a tribute EP of George Harrison tunes a few years back) touches on various aspects of spirituality and is filled with a yearning for a life that's deeper, more satisfying and lasting than our ordinary day-to-day existence.
The tone is more searching than strident, starting off with "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)," which examines the impact of technology on our daily lives. Do our computers and smart phones help us or distract us from what's really important? "We got our wires all crossed / The tubes are all tied / And I'm straining to remember / just what it means to be alive," James sings.
The song, like several others on the album, draws on elements of 1970s R&B and disco, updating them for the 21st century with experimental/electronic touches that will be familiar to MMJ fans. Arrangements on the album range from full strings and backup vocals to very spare, almost demo-like takes.
While the spiritual content summons up memories of Beatle George, James vocals here frequently remind me of John Lennon's early solo work, particularly the way he draws out his phrases on "Of the Mother Again" and "Actress."
It's good to hear a musician exploring deeper themes in such a thoughtful way. Even the non-spiritually inclined are likely to appreciate James' observations of what it means to live meaningfully in a world that can be so distracting and unkind.