Comics : Baby Boomer Comics
This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club
This review was first published on: 2006.
Craig Shutt is known (so I have learned) to the comic industry as "Mr. Silver Age". An enviable moniker indeed, earned from his wise and helpful "Ask Mr. Silver Age" column in Comics Buyer's Guide each week. He also runs Silver Age quizzes at conventions, and is generally a real expert in such matters. Quite reasonably, he has written a book on the topic.
Baby Boomer Comics
Nov 2003 : SM Article
Find ISBN 087349668X
Summary: The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful Comic Books of the 1960s (Spider-Man Appears)
The book is a large format paperback. It's not quite a "coffee table book", since it doesn't have a lot of glossy large color photos, and the contents are maybe just a little detailed for casual browsing. But it is perhaps a little in that vein.
The first chapter is a "what is the Silver Age", and talks about where it started and ended, and gives a quick introduction to the key half-dozen personalities each at DC, at Marvel, and a few other companies that played a role in the age. There's not room for a lot of detail, but at least you find out who was who.
The writing style here, as in the rest of the book, is informal and jocular. Lots of personal language and quirky asides, frequently tongue-in-cheek. I guess it kind of suits the flavour of the book, but it is a little unusual. It definitely doesn't help the idea that this book is "an authorative reference guide". But then again, it never really pretends to be that at all.
Instead, it's more like a series of small oddball topics, with coverage anywhere from a half page to a couple of pages. The topics are illustrated with key panels and covers. Reprints of these classic issues are given in all cases, so you can follow up and read the actual story for yourself.
The topics are sorted into half a dozen chapters, "Secret Origins", "The Relationship", "Gimmicks", "Pop Culture", etc. In each chapter the topics are introduced either as a multi-choice quiz, where the quiz answer is a short topic, or else they're introduced as responses to fan questions (presumably taken from past Comics Buyer's Guide columns).
Regardless of the presentation, what you're really getting is a couple of hundred short recaps of some Silver Age highlights... most of them rather wacky, but I would say they were chosen because they were perhaps most likely to be the moments you might remember from your own reading. E.g. Krypto (the super-dog)'s Space Canine Patrol Agents. Or half a dozen topics related to Beatles appearances in comics. Alfred's original "death", Batman's "new look", and a discussion of how Adam Strange avoided burning his feet with his back-mounted rocket jets.
There's nothing thorough about this book - except the small "Silver Age price guide" appendix. The articles themselves are a reall random smattering. And even within each article, the descriptions are loose and casual, with key bits omitted to avoid spoiling the surprise. The overall effect is rather ad hoc and casual.
Is that such a bad thing? Well, perhaps not. Maybe I'm just resentful because there seems to be a definite DC bias (perhaps two-thirds DC, one third Marvel), and because I did so poorly on most of the quizzes. So, I can't remember the name of BOMBA's pet monkey. I've never heard of BOMBA! There's lots of trivia here, but if you don't remember these stories from the first time around, then I suspect you'll learn a lot more from reading the originals in reprint than you will from this book.
Who will this book appeal to? Well, probably exactly those named in the title. If you're sixty years old now (plus or minus a bit), and were an avid DC (and maybe Marvel) comic fan in your youth, this will probably bring the memories flooding back now. But as somebody who came to comics later in life, I didn't find it quite as satisfying as I had hoped. I'm going to head back to my Essential Spider-Man and get my trivia direct from the source, thanks all the same.
I'm going to give this book a balanced three webs. Craig is clearly a world-leading expert in the field, and this book clearly targets a niche. It just didn't happen to be a niche that included me as a perfect fit.
One last comment. I strongly suspect that the title "Baby Boomer Comics" was a bit of an afterthought. The Baby Boomer context is mentioned once in the intro, then never touched on. The book was clearly written as the "Silver Age Nostalgia and Quiz Book", but then presumably got the Baby Boomer label slapped on at the last minute.
That was probably a smart move. It makes the book stand out among the others, "Silver Age Comics" would have been a very bland name. It also clearly identifies the target market, and that's got to be a good thing too.