Tuesday, July 23

Library-Bound Comics: Grant Morrison's New 52 Superman in Action Comics; “Retroboot” Legion of Super-Heroes; and Young All-Stars

A few weeks ago (Monday, 1 July), I received a box with my four most recently library-bound volumes of comic books, which I had sent off to Herring & Robinson Bookbinders about three months ago. I had been looking forward to this shipment for some time, because it contained what I consider one of the highlights of DC Comics' New 52 “reboot” that launched in September 2011 with the appearance of the new Action Comics #1, featuring Grant Morrison's revisionist version of the origin of Superman and his earliest adventures. Also included were two volumes completing the pre-New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes as well as a single-volume collection of the full run of Roy Thomas' Young All-Stars sequel to All-Star Squadron.

I've been a little hesitant in putting this post together mainly because doing so will inevitably highlight a rare misstep by Herring & Robinson – a typo on the spine of the Superman volume. But a telephone call and an exchange of emails resulted in an apologetic arrangement that I should return the book for correction when I send my next box out to them (hopefully sooner than a year later as passed between my last batch and this one!). Given the consistently high quality of work and customer service that has been my experience with H&R, I expected no less, and I hope that my inadvertent highlighting of it does not put anyone thinking of using their services off from doing so. I continue to recommend them highly.

Anyway, here is some commentary along with illustrations for each of the books:

As I consider befitting the story by Grant Morrison which kicked off DC's New 52 initiative, the Superman in Action Comics volume is bound oversewn in navy blue textured imitation leather, with red printing and panel lines on the spine, burgundy and gold headbands, and a dark red/burgundy sewn-in ribbon marker. The contents page is pretty straightforward since it contains simply the first eighteen issues of the newly renumbered series as well as a special “zero” issue commemorating the first year of the New 52 and the 2012 annual – so, a total of twenty comics. Whatever problems I have with the New 52 in its conception and overall execution, Morrison's story here was as expected a magnificent achievement, harking back to the original vision of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster of a working-class champion while incorporating elements from virtually ever subsequent period of the archetypal super-hero's history into a story that ultimately transcends time, space, and dimension. I had hoped to get the bound book back in time to read it on our vacation in early June, but didn't get it sent out for binding in time and have not gotten to it in the weeks since. But I am looking forward to a straight read-through in the near future – and repeated readings in the future. That's one thing I always say about Grant Morrison, that I find him the most “re-readable” writer in comics today, always finding new and deeper meaning every time I go back to one of his stories.

It's nearly impossible to explain the title of the two Legion of Super-Heroes volumes – “Retroboot” – with any brevity, but I'll try. As I detailed in my long-ago post on the New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (link), after about twenty years and two interim reboots, starting in 2007 there was an attempt to bring back what was essentially the Legion that I grew up with, which had for all intents and purposes disappeared between 1985, when the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the subsequent rebooting of Superman without a teenage career as Superboy nullified the original inspiration and launching point for the Legion, and 1994, when Zero Hour attempted to fix a host of other line-wide problems that had developed in the wake of the original Crisis. Starting in the “Lightning Saga” cross-over between the Justice League and Justice Society, what where recognizably original Legionnaires who had not been part of story continuity for over a decade returned, with barely any in-story explanation, which set up a puzzling situation because they were not part of the then-current second reboot of the franchise that had been launched just a couple of years before (2005), a radical reimagining dubbed the “Threeboot” since Zero Hour had launched the first “Reboot” in 1994. Well, explained or not, the unexpected reappearance of the original Legionnaires quickly gained the name “Retroboot” and sucked all the air out of the Legion of Super-Heroes room, dooming the “Threeboot” to eventual oblivion. Because what began in “The Lightning Saga” continued in a six-part story pairing the Retroboot Legionnaires with their inspiration Superman in Action Comics, a generally successful attempt by Geoff Johns to reconcile the three distinct visions of the Legion (Original/“Retroboot,” Reboot, and “Threeboot”) in a Final Crisis ancillary series, Legion of 3 Worlds, and various other appearances collected here in “Retroboot Vol. 1” which ultimately paved the way for a brief renaissance of the Legion of Super-Heroes in not just one but two parallel series for the first time in a decade, which are collected here as “Retroboot Vol. 2” and ran up until Flashpoint changed everything . . . sort of. Actually, as discussed in that same long-ago post linked above, the main Legion title was perhaps the least-affected corner of the DC Universe in the shift to the “DC nUniverse,” but that's a tale for another volume to be collected later.

Anyway, to match the many other LSH volumes I have, collecting about forty of the 55 years' history of the title in its various incarnations, I had these volumes bound oversewn with royal blue buckram cover material and gold foil for the spine panel lines and printing. Unlike every other volume, since the first of these two had no predominating series whose issue numbering I could use (in addition to the dates at the bottom of the spine) as a distinctive identification, I simply designated these two volumes “1” and “2” since I wanted the title for both to be “Retroboot.”

The diverse titles in which the stories in the first volume appeared also posed a bit of a problem in putting together a contents page. Here I made a decision that I already regret, simply listing the items included in alphabetical order rather than the stories in reading order. That's what can be seen here:

In the case of volume 1 in particular, there is therefore no correlation between what appears on the contents page and the order of the stories inside. Moreover, some of the stories are included from various published collections rather than the original issues, which makes my organizational map something else:
  • THE LIGHTNING SAGA from the Justice League of America collected edition
  • Text insert about Karate Kid and Duo Damsel's adventures in the 21st century
  • SUPERMAN AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES from the collected edition
  • Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” from Action Comics #864 – but substitute the last page as printed in DC Comics Presents the Legion of Super-Heroes #2, and the subsequent short stories printed there: “Friday Night in the 21st Century” and “Who is Clark Kent's Big Brother?”
  • FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF 3 WORLDS from the collected edition
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes”; “Long Live the Legion, Part One”; “Long Live the Legion, Part Two – Lightning Lad”; “Long Live the Legion, Part Three – Running Hot and Cold”; and “Long Live the Legion, Part Three – Star Crossed” as printed in DC Comics Presents the Legion of Super-Heroes #2
  • Text insert about Mon-El's adventures in the 21st century
  • LAST STAND OF NEW KRYPTON from the original issues, in story order – Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton #1-3, Adventure Comics #8/511-11/514, Supergirl #51-52, and Superman #698-699
  • Superman/Batman #72-75
Volume 2 is only slightly less discorrelative, so here's the organizational map for that one too:
  • The Legion stories from Adventure Comics #515-520
  • The Brave and the Bold #34-35
  • Supergirl Annual #2
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #1-6
  • The Legion story from DC Universe Holiday Special 2010
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #7-9
  • The Legion stories from Adventure Comics #521-522
  • Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #10
  • Legion of Super-Villains #1
  • Adventure Comics #523-524
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #11
  • Adventure Comics #525
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #12
  • Adventure Comics #526
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #13
  • Adventure Comics #527
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #14
  • Adventure Comics #528
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #15
  • Adventure Comics #529
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #16
Whereas the stories in the first volume mainly have Geoff Johns reestablishing the “original” Legion in a form last seen about 25 years before, as written then by Paul Levitz but with certain unspecified changes happening over an unspecified period afterward, as well as certain unspecified changes to their history necessitated by changes to continuity in the post-Crisis period (if that doesn't make sense, well … you had to have been there...), it introduces certain story themes that would be picked up in the second volume when Levitz returned to the title with which he is most identified from his long association with it in the 1980s – most notably what I would call across both volumes “the fall and redemption of Earth-Man.” Sort of – actually, his “fall” had happened before his first appearance as the villain of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

There is ultimately not nearly so much to say about the Young All-Stars volume. Arguably even worse than the Crisis on Infinite Earths devastated Legion continuity in what was then being written as the 30th century, the collapse of the DC Multiverse into one Universe ripped the foundation out of Roy Thomas' great All-Star Squadron expandaptation of DC's Golden Age by eliminating a number of the central characters. Now there was no Superman during the World War 2 era. No Batman. No Wonder Woman. Where it was possible to rationalize earlier versions of current heroes, the elder heroes were retained (Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, et al.), but All-Star Squadron went into a fatal tailspin. Young All-Stars was Thomas' effort both to continue the narrative he had established and to fill the “energy vacuum” left by the absence of the “trinity” and others with an all-new group of heroes infusing a sense of newness and youth. Iron Munro, whom we would ultimately learn was connected to the protagonist of Phillip Wylie's Gladiator, Hugo Danner, a prototypical Superman who appeared in a pulp novel most of a decade before the original Action Comics #1; Flying Fox, a Canadian American Indian analogue to Batman … well, “flying fox” does sound better than “flying mouse” ...; Fury, an Amazon possessed and empowered by the Ancient Greek Erinyes or Furies; filled out with Neptune Perkins and Tsunami – Aquaman analogues with the latter also being Japanese American to allow Thomas to explore some rather uncomfortable issues of World War 2-era domestic US policy – as well as the pre-existing sidekicks Dan the Dyna-Mite and Sandy; these were the Young All-Stars. It was a valiant effort that ultimately could not garner the interest or sales that All-Star Squadron had in its heyday, and it lasted only the 31 issues and one annual contained in this volume. I have fond memories of it nonetheless, in part because Roy and Dann Thomas (his wife) were of necessity freed somewhat of trying to adhere to what was now basically disestablished DC Golden Age continuity and able to let loose with some wilder stories that incorporated elements from classic literature including Lovecraft and Poe in addition to Wylie.

I ordered this book bound to match the three-volume All-Star Squadron set that I had done last year: oversewn with navy blue buckram and gold foil panel lines and printing. The contents page is, thankfully, absolutely straightforward. The only real decision I had to make was whether to include a conceptual cross-over to Young All-Stars Annual #1 in the pages of Thomas' other series' Infinity Inc. Annual #2. Ultimately I decided that comic would be better included in a prospective volume collecting that series itself.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!


  1. I don't have all of my Young All-Stars collected yet, but I was also planning on doing this when I get them. I would love to know everything you can tell me about your process and the results. You got it all collected with oversewn. How big did it turn out? Is there gutter loss? I assume it is very secure being sewn and not glued. Did you take out any adds or letters pages to make the volume smaller, or did you leave everything in?
    Sorry for all the questions. This will be my first book binding. I may not even have the issues collected for another year or so.

  2. BatFan ... This post [ http://randomramblings-absentmindedprofessor.blogspot.com/search/label/library-bound%20comics ] has some information on my general preparation. The main thing I have changed is that instead of wrapping the prepped comics for a volume in newspaper I now put each volume's comics in magazine-or-larger-sized comic bags, taped securely to take up slack. Yes, given the thickness of the book, I did take out any front/back ads I could, plus the back covers; I always leave the letters pages because I consider them inseparable from the comic and indispensible as a window into the fandom of the period when these books were first published. (I think current comics should still have letters pages, and wish the publishers would always include them in their collections. I am a historian, after all....) The sewn book block itself ended up being approx. 1-7/8" thick; with the boards the book itself is approx. 2-3/16" thick. There is no unacceptable gutter loss in these books -- each page was almost always framed in a 1/4"-3/8" white boarder during that period. The gutter pretty much eats that up, but that's okay with me. Sometimes a narrow sliver of the left side of the cover ends up lost in the gutter as well, but that's okay with me too. The letters pages sometimes run right into the gutter as well. I've always been satisfied with oversewn, and yes it is very solid and secure. I can't recommend Herring and Robinson enough. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  3. Oh, one other comment, although you didn't ask about it. I always do have them trim the edges of the book block. With modern comics that typically print right out to the edge, occasionally something important may be lost, but with the ample frame around all the edges of the pages during the pre-modern period that's no problem here either.

  4. Thank you so much for all the information, and a very speedy response. It may be a while before I'm able to go through it myself, but I will be sure to let you know how my experience goes. I'm really glad I was able to find someone else who did exactly what I want to do, too. And, to learn that you had it turn out pretty much perfect.