Friday, November 6, 2009

DC Comics Classics Library: The Justice League of America by George Perez Vol. 1

DC Comics Classics Library: The Justice League of America by George Perez Vol. 1 is quite a mouthful as far as book names go. I had my doubts about picking it up because of its perceived steep price tag for a 176 page count. While I still have plenty of reservations about it, I've mellowed considerably now that I've got the book in my hands and done a little research on some things.

To backtrack a bit, fan-favorite artist George Perez got the assignment to draw Justice League of America in 1980 under less-than-ideal circumstances. Longtime JLA artist Dick Dillin passed away unexpectedly, and Perez suddenly found himself pencilling his dream book. His tenure didn't end up being especially lengthy or continuous, but it is fondly remembered to this day.

There has been talk of collecting Perez's JLA work for something like a decade, but there turned out to be a snag. The film for many issues of the title from that period (and other DC books from that timeframe as well) was discovered to be missing. That was how it stood for years, until the recent release of this hardcover. It's the first of two volumes, and the second volume will finish Perez's run sometime in 2010.

This first volume covers six issues of JLA, and they're pretty good ones. We start in-progress with a JLA/JSA/New Gods team-up (more on this further down), and follow with a return of the Shaggy Man. And really, who doesn't love the Shaggy Man? (Don't answer that.) Perez was off the book for 5 issues, then came roaring back to draw a two-parter exploring the character of Red Tornado. We wrap up the story portion of the festivities with a tale about Tarot cards coming to life. Reproductions of Perez's JLA postcards are included as a bonus. But the page on DC's site is wrong - no Secret Society of Super-Villains. That's in the next volume!

In certain circles where I travel, there has a lot of bellyaching about this book. I'll fess up now that I did some of it. That was mostly about the price point, which is the slightly ridiculous $39.95. A lot of voices argued that DC could have just put the contents of both volumes together and charged a more reasonable price. This is logically sound thinking. However, I did some scrounging and discovered that this "logically sound thinking" might be totally wrong.

As I mentioned, the film for these issues was lost. That meant that they had to be reconstructed from the old comics. And we're talking about a very detailed artist here in George Perez, so I would imagine it would be painstaking and time-consuming work. That's the likely reason it has taken freaking forever for these books to get reprinted.

Thing is, that sort of thing costs more money than just pulling out film and reprinting from that. I'd guess it's budgetary concerns that have kept these collections from happening for so long. And when that becomes an issue, you have to look at the big picture.

First, let's crunch some numbers. (Sorry!) What follows are the issues of Justice League of America with contributions by George Perez. I've included page counts for the stories, and you can count each cover as another page in a retrospective collection. Mercifully for all of us, I'm omitting links to each issue. You can look them up on your own if you're feeling ambitious.

#184 - 25 pp + cover
#185 - 25 pp
#186 - 25 pp + cover
#192 - 25 pp + cover
#193 - 25 pp + cover
#194 - 25 pp + cover

#195 - 25 pp + cover + 2 page pinup
#196 - 27 pp + cover
#197 - 27 pp + cover
#199 - cover
#200 - 72pp + wraparound cover (2 pp)
#201 - cover
#202 - cover
#203 - cover
#204 - cover
#205 - cover
#207 - cover
#208 - cover
#209 - cover
#212 - cover
#213 - cover
#214 - cover
#215 - cover
#217 - cover
#219 - cover
#220 - cover

A couple of notes before we continue. As you might notice, those page counts are pretty high for a standard superhero comic. This was during that brief period of time in the early 1980s when DC cut their ad pages way down. As you've probably guessed, it didn't last. #200 was a special anniversary issue, and includes contributions by many artists besides Perez. Some have suggested that the story might be broken up, with only Perez's pages being included in the collection despite it leaving the story with much less impact. Given that the page count for Volume 2 is slated to be 192 pages, I think we can safely say those suggestions are silly.

OK, math time. If we add up those totals, we get (bring out the calculators!) 329 pages of content. That's BEFORE you factor in things like title pages, introduction, contents page, bios, etc. - to say nothing of those postcards reproduced in Volume 1. Now, we'll tax our brains. What was the price point for 300+ page Archives when the base price was $49.95?

Oh yeah, this.

Given that the Archives are now at the higher price point of $59.95, it's not unreasonable to assume that such a book published today (especially if it required reconstruction, as this material did) might have a SRP of $85. What does Volume 1 of this series cost? $39.95. What is Volume 2's probable price tag? $39.95.

Total for both books, at SRP? $79.90

I'm no happier with the price than I was before, but it's not out of line with the previous pricing scale. They just split it into two books because people are naturally resistant to higher price tags. If the film was readily available, it might have been a different story, and the prices would have been lower. But then, we would have had these books almost a decade ago, too.

Speaking of the reconstruction, there was also some griping about that. Well, I initially had some quibbles about the Tarot story, but after consulting my copies of the issues reprinted (I have most of them), I think the restoration is about as well-done as possible. Part of this is due to the difference in inking styles between Frank McLaughlin and John Beatty. McLaughlin's inks restore better because they are heavier. As near as I can tell, the fuzziness is in the original comics, and when you are having to work from THEM (rather than original artwork or film), you're kind of a slave to what got printed on the page originally. That 1980-81 era wasn't exactly a golden age for printing. Dale Crain was involved in this book's restoration, and he is a notable name in the classic reprint field.

One another bone contention that cropped up still puzzles me. A number of people were very upset that #183, the first part of the JLA/JSA/New Gods crossover, was not included. That issue was, obviously, Dick Dillin's last. I guess I can understand people wanting a complete story, but Perez's name is in the title of the book and all. I am as big a Dillin fan as they come, and I really didn't think it belonged in this collection. I still don't. Besides, #184 recaps the important points from it on the splash page.

The part that puzzled me is that I cannot recall a single person complaining that Marvel's collections of Frank Miller's Daredevil work only go back as far as Daredevil #158, the first issue that he drew. It was the last chapter of a multi-part story. Where is the outrage over that? I've since been told that there were complaints over the omission of Daredevil #162, a fill-in issue by Steve Ditko, and I just shake my head.

Anyway, all this talk made me yearn for Crisis On Multiple Earths Vol. 5 to come out that much quicker, so everyone can finally read that blasted JLA #183 if they so desire. It's a good issue and all, but the Perez book is not missing anything vital without it.

I personally think this book is wonderful. I'm looking forward to Voume 2 when it comes out next year.

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