Sad to say, this isn’t a review of a comic book featuring a collection of D-list superheroes who band together to fight enemies that escape the notice of the heavy hitters. Because that would be awesome. Instead, this is a coffee table book by Jon Morris that describes a number of…let’s just say misguided attempts to create the next Batman or Superman. Going in chronological order from the Golden Age up through the Modern Age (the most recent entry covers Maggott and other late-90s mutants), it shows a variety of characters from the poorly thought out like Doctor Hormone (who’s basically a scientist who solves every problem with “hormones”) to the interesting concepts that never caught on (711, a wrongly-convicted prisoner who breaks out of jail every night to stop crimes he learns about from his fellow inmates) to characters that simply can’t come back (like ROM. DAMMIT.)
The book is a little bit light on information–for the most part, this isn’t due to a lack of research, but simply due to a lack of things to write about. Most of the characters under discussion only had a handful of appearances, many deservedly so, and Morris is able to cover their entire publication history in just one double-page spread. There is, fundamentally, only so much you can say about NFL Superpro or Congorilla. That does mean that no particular hero ever wears out their welcome…well, except perhaps AAU Shuperstar, the superhero who appeared only in ads for shoes and who spoke exclusively in shoe-related puns…but it does mean that the book is really just a light and goofy read rather than a reference book.
Which does mean that if you’re going to buy this, you do have to consider whether it’s worth almost $25 (list price) for what’s basically a silly book about goofy superheroes. As a collection of information, it may not be. However, it’s worth mentioning that the production values on this are first-class; every page contains excellent reproductions of classic comic art (some of them from luminaries like Kirby and Ditko, who were amazingly talented but didn’t always knock it out of the park). It’s certainly the sort of thing that you can leave out as a conversation piece, even if the conversation will probably trend towards things like, “There was really a superhero named Bozo the Iron Man?”
On the whole, I’d say that while you may want to look for a bargain on it, it’s definitely worth a look. If nothing else, it’s a heady mix of discovery (“So that’s where those ‘Nature Boy’ memes came from!”) and nostalgia (“Hey, wait a second! I liked Slapstick!”) If you’re a comics fan, check this one out.