Okay, I guess I should start with my bias—I’ve never read a “complete visual history” book that I loved. Yet, I always go back, and when I see a book like this on somebody’s table, I get excited enough to flip through it. I find them perfect for brief reads while sitting on a couch being forced to watch some stupid show I’m not into or while sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time. I want to say that DC Comics Super-Villains: The Complete Visual History was different, I want to say that I started reading it and couldn’t put it down, but I can’t say that. What I can say is that it served as a more-than-adequate guide, it wasn’t excellent, but it was enjoyable. Perhaps my finding it a bit too dry for a long read is a symptom it being a visual history, not its quality—which was not lacking.
1) The art! This book was riddled with stunning covers and spreads. On the one hand, how could it not be? The authors, presumably, had access to a wide variety of iconic DC pieces. There is no way I have the time or space to evaluate each piece, and I’m not saying that I would have included every piece the authors chose to include, but there are quite a few gems (including a whole lotta Francis Manapul—who I love for his art and his hometown) and I just have to talk about my new favourite!
I mean just look at this Joker! It’s absolutely batty (okay, sorry about that bat pun . . . I had to, okay?). I love abstraction, and although this example’s symbolism is a little less subtle than I normally prefer I still adore it. The harsh lines and high contrast colour choices really speak of the Joker’s character to me. And his exposed teeth are a nice touch. The amount of gum showing and the worn, cracked teeth scream that this guy has a cracked psyche and may act like an uncontrollable rabid animal. I love it.
2) Multimedia. I was thrilled to see representations of villains from video games, television, movies, and comics! I love comics and I get that, in many cases, they are the source material for the villains (Harley Quinn is obviously a notable exception), but the multimedia reach of the DCU can’t be ignored and I’m glad DC Comics Super-Villains went for it.
3) Backstory. I really enjoyed reading about each super-villain’s backstory. I thought the authors might only include a single , post-New 52 history, but I was pleasantly surprised to see many character profiles featured the evolution of that character and their changing histories.
4) Interviews. Interviews with comics greats about writing and art are always a treat and this anthology is full of brief yet insightful insights from some seriously talented comics peeps. There are also lovely candid remarks about why some comics writers and artists love working on specific characters (semi-spoiler, some of the reasons aren’t super . . . profound).
5) Chapter titles. I’m a sucker for alliteration, so chapter titles like “Menaces of Metropolis,” “Adversaries of the Amazing Amazon,” and “Enemies of the Emerald Knight” just bring a smile to my face.
1) Art . . . although DC Super-Villains included a wide variety of stunning art, some of it was sexist and some choices just didn’t make sense. The sexist art was not always present (there were definitely some examples of woman-friendly art, I like the Catwoman image below for instance)—and maybe some sexist art is unavoidable when covering eighty years of DC villainy—but it was still noticeable in spots. Some of the cover choices just didn’t make sense when paired with the accompanying text. I’d much rather read text speaking about the featured art (which happened, but not all of the time) than read about a cover only to see another one featured prominently.
2) Reach. Earlier, I lauded the effort to address the multimedia appearances and geneses of the villains in this book. I stand by that praise, but the title of this compendium promises a complete 90 year history of DC Super-Villains in a little over 150 pages. I didn’t expect it to fulfill its promise; I recognize that impossibility while also appreciating that DC Comics Super-Villains: The Complete Visual History is a far more compelling title than DC Comics Super-Villains: A Selected, yet Incomplete, Visual History. That said, I didn’t expect entire super-villain teams to warrant the same treatment as a single villain. I mean, I get it if each member of the team was treated individually as well (and this did happen a lot), but why mention a super-villain as part of a team and then give the super-villain no summary at all. It only happened with the Secret Six and the Injustice league, but still. It seems like it should have been caught in an early editorial stage. Also, I didn’t expect most of the Green Lantern’s villains (even the most recent post-“Blackest Night” favourites) to be mentioned while Star Sapphire is ignored. That one really irked me. I could go on nitpicking the authors for who they included and who they didn’t, but I think its enough to say that the this, combined with the brevity of each summary, was DC Comics Super-Villains greatest weakness.
3) Inconsistency . Some of the character summaries were excellent in spite of their brevity, yet others were severely lacking. I didn’t understand why the authors weren’t consistent in their treatment of characters. I get that Heatwave and Mirror Master aren’t the Flash’s main rogues, but surely they warrant as thorough a summary as Trickster receives. I just saw so much potential wasted with some characters, and that was really disappointing.
Overall, I’d give DC Comics Super-Villains: A Complete Visual History a 3/5, but you may want to add half a star to compensate for my earlier stated bias.
The art choices may have been confusing sometimes, but there were a lot of gems. For some, the art may be reason enough to pick up this book. It’s not necessarily a must have as far as information goes (more detailed histories can often be found on Wikipedia), but it’s a nice (albeit incomplete) quick reference guide that will look nice on a bookshelf or coffee-table. It’s not something I can lose myself reading, but it something that I enjoyed in short spurts. The pros outweigh the cons for me, the two biggest cons—the overambitious reach and the brevity of the summaries—are really unfortunate and difficult to justify. I think I would be more forgiving of the brief summaries and curious absences of some super-villains if the title reflected that the summaries and character list were, indeed, brief and incomplete.