Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Comic History 101 DC's 80 Page Giants

This is going to be the first of what is hopefully a semi-regular set of features spotlighting the publishing history of some of the “Giants” put out by Marvel and DC during the Silver and Bronze Ages. Some of these articles or essays first appeared a few years back on either the Outhousers website under “Retro Reviews” or on the website and weekly newsletter published by a comic shop that I frequented when I lived in Des Moines. I have gone back and tweaked some of the content, so hopefully they read as a better, more concise version of my original thoughts. The first one up in the DC 80 Page Giant from the 1960s and it’s pre-cursor, the 80 Page Annuals.

In 1960, DC really pioneered the reprint concept that Marvel would later adopt in the mid 1960’s (a period appropriately known as the ‘Marvel Age of Comics’) with series like Collector’s Item Classic (which will be covered in the next essay). By 1960, DC had been running on full steam with characters like Superman and Batman for over 20 years, and Marvel hadn’t even entered the Silver Age or debuted their properties like Fantastic Four (1961) or Spider-Man (1962). DC meanwhile, on the heels of their Silver Age Superhero resurgence courtesy of the 1956 makeover of the Flash in the pages of Showcase #4, had ramped up their Silver Age superhero output after it had taken a sharp decline in the late 40’s as the Golden Age came to a close and Western, Crime, and Horror comics flourished in the Atomic Age from 1947-1956 (this time period is oft debated, and I think it, like most comic eras, are more dependent on individual characters than the industry or company as a whole, but that’s a discussion for another time). To kick this off, DC introduced the “Annual” concept, printing 80 page books collecting stories from the Golden, Atomic, and early Silver Age of fan favorite characters. These newly coined Annuals were actually on a semi-annual release schedule, with Superman seeing two Annuals a year published in 1960-1963. In 1961 DC began to broaden their Annual publishing material, and in addition to the two new Superman Annuals this year, they also introduced two Batman Annuals as well as a Secret Origins Annual. In 1962 they diversified even further, adding a Lois Lane and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer 80 Page Annual to the lineup that also included two Batman and two Superman Annuals. This trend continued, as DC put out 22 of these 80 page annuals through the beginning of 1964, when the series got an overhaul and a new name.

The 80 page Annual concept gave rise to a new series appropriately titled, 80 Page Giant. Each issue featured a specific character and reprinted between 5-7 classic stories ranging from the early Golden Age through the mid-Silver Age. Issue #1 of 80 Page Giant appropriately starred Superman, as this issue was originally advertised in comics a few months prior as Superman Annual #9. When DC instituted the 80 Page Giant series, they abandoned the Annual altogether. Since 80 Page Giant #1 took the content of Superman #9 and ended that annual series, we actually wouldn’t see DC return to the annual format until they released a Superman Annual #9 a whole 19 years later in 1983! (Marvel on the other hand published Annuals pretty regularly from their inception in the early 60’s through the early 2000’s, only briefly putting the annuals on hold in favor of the “Giant-Size” books from 1974-1976. More on that in a future article.) 80 Page Giant ran for 15 issues, featuring all reprinted material, and each cover carrying the issue number in the G## format. The self-titled series ended with G15 Superman and Batman, before it underwent another transformation. The G## would continue, but now the 80 Page Giants would be special giant sized reprint issues that ran through popular ongoing titles. For example G16 would be Justice League #39, an 80 Page Giant that reprinted early exploits of the Justice League, including their first appearance in the pages of Brave and the Bold #28. This format lasted until 1971, ending with G89 which was Justice League of America #93. By the time the sub-series ended, the page count had dwindled to 64 pages (which is still a huge comic!) and the cover price had increased to 35 cents.
This 80 Page format included the front and back covers in the page count, and had very limited advertisements. Most of the ads were in the form of ¼ page house ads below the final panel of the story, or were written as full one page comic stories, so even if it was an ad, you were still getting some comic reading. Since trade paperbacks didn’t exist at this time, (an almost inconceivable concept isn’t it?!) this was really the only way that you could get your hands on past Superman and Batman stories. These stories were easy for DC to collect, as 99% of stories at this time were one and done 8-20 page stories. So readers would get six or seven stories for the small price of a quarter. It’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t just order a trade of those early golden age Superman stories, and this format offered newer readers a chance to read some of the classics from DC’s past 20 years of publishing. It’s too bad they didn’t have the foresight to publish a Giant or two collecting the first few issues of More Fun Comics, which featured crime and adventure stories years before Detective Comics or Action Comics #1 would hit stands. It would’ve been cool for DC to release a volume collecting some of the first stuff they (National Publications) put out in the very early days of comic industry infancy. A lot of the stories reprinted in these are still fan favorites today, being collected in volumes such as “Best Joker Stories,” “Superman in the 40’s,” and “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.” And if you keep your eye on eBay, it’s surprising how cheap you can score a number of these from the early 60’s. I’ve picked up a few of these in VG condition over the past year for under $5 shipped. Not too bad for these classics. The Silver Age, especially at DC, I think is too often dismissed as an era of silly imaginary stories that lack direction or relevant content. While that may be the case for some instances, the stories that are usually reprinted in these were classics then, and still hold up today. Some of these stories are down right brilliant, and while fun and enjoyable for all age readers, many have adult themes and morals that are presented in better stories than current ones trying to share the same messages today (at least in this nostalgic reader’s humble opinion).

If you’re really interested in reading some of these, your best bet is probably to pick up a DC Showcase Presents “phone book” edition of a series you’re interested in. I’ve been reading a lot of the early World’s Finest team-ups lately, and most of these are a total blast. There are some real gems in here, I wish the current Batman Superman title would steal a page from these and try to capture that fun tone. Maybe I’m just an old comics curmudgeon but damn do I miss the days when Superman and Batman were best friends and got along.

So go out there and give the Showcase World’s Finest vol. 1, Batman vol. 1, or Superman Family vol. 1 a try. With something like 500 pages for $17 bucks (or cheaper if you go the Instock Trades or Amazon route), you can’t go wrong with these classics. Some are better than others, but I guarantee you’ll walk away with hours of more reading, and a lot more satisfaction out of reading a volume of one of these, than you will in 5 issues of the current take on the characters for the same price.

Next week…Marvel’s Collector’s Item Classic Series. 

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