The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


DC Universe

DC Universe

The Brave and the Bold by Michael Curry

This is a very fast read because it’s more of a compendium of issue summarizations than a book. It’s especially interesting if you like Batman and the idea of comic book team ups. There is no in-depth analysis, but it’s very good at giving you a blow by blow of how this long running series evolved.

Sandman by Neal Gaiman

Sandman is something of a legend among comic book fans. While I’ve never read any of those books, I know they are characterized both by interesting storylines and beautiful artwork. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that translated well to this fully dramatized audio format. So while I was glad to have an opportunity to finally see what all the fuss was about, I didn’t actually feel like I found out about all that fuss. The book was entertaining but not breathtakingly so. Perhaps the problem was that I started the novel with unrealistically high expectations.

Batman and Psychology by Thomas Langley

This is a fun overview of Batman and much of his supporting cast of friends, heroes and villains from the slant of trying to understand the characters through the modern psychology. I found the overview of the character’s history in comics, television and movies the most interesting part of the book with insights from the various authors and artists who have worked with Batman to be also highly interesting. There is a section where Langley explores how the Comics Code interfered with the development of Batman and resulted in Catwoman being exiled from the book for about a decade that was particularly fascinating. If you like Batman you will probably enjoy this book.

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

I really enjoy superhero novels. I’ve probably read more than 200 of them—some amazingly good and some worthless pieces of excrement. This one ranks among the best. It is marketed as a Batman novel, but Batman doesn’t exist yet in this book. Instead we have eighteen year old Bruce Wayne who has not yet settled on his obsession to fight crime as the Batman. Wayne has just come into his billions when he tries to help the police in a high speed chase by using his sports car to stop the bad guy. They thank him by charging him with interfering with the police and he is sentenced to probation and community service—which he has to complete mopping the floors in Arkham Asylum. The novel than takes a turn toward Silence of the Lambs or Broken Time. An eighteen year old murderer, believed to be connected to the notorious Nightwalkers, will speak to Bruce when she’s refused to speak to anyone else. So the detective in charge of Bruce’s probation tries to use him to draw her out and the whole situation gets out of control.

This was a hard book to put down. While Bruce at eighteen is not what I imagined, he was a likeable character I could relate to. And having people like Harvey Dent showing up in the book really added to the enjoyment. This is Bruce before he’s lost to his life’s mission as the Batman and we get to watch him move closer to that vocation as the novel progresses. Hats off to author, Marie Lu, on a novel very well done.

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

The DC Icons series offers a glimpse of prominent figures in the DC universe before they have quite become the heroes (and villains?) the fans know. They are, presumably, geared toward a young audience, and thus far have been very effective. It’s also an obvious opportunity to retcon the subject of each novel for new audiences.

In Soulstealer Maas makes a couple of daring moves to set the stage for her story—she decides to link Catwoman’s origins to the League of Assassins (it’s possible that this is actually part of Catwoman’s background, but if so, I had never heard it before) and much more controversially she chose to set Catwoman against Batwing—not Batman—bringing all the tension and attraction from the original relationship to the new one. To do this she takes Batman out of Gotham on a secret mission and leaves the defense of the city totally in the hands of Luke Fox/Batwing.

Catwoman, fresh out of her training with the League, has come to Gotham with an agenda and begins carefully setting both Gotham’s elite society and its underworld on edge through a series of daring robberies. She hooks up with a young Poison Ivy and through her with Harlequin—who’s price for making it a trio of crime is the freeing of Joker from Arkham Asylum.

Batwing and the Gotham PD grow increasingly frustrated by their inability to stop Catwoman’s very public crimes. Yet something is not right in the background. The League of Assassins begins appearing, but they are trying to kill Catwoman, not support her plans. As law and order becomes ever more tenuous in Gotham it begins to become apparent that Catwoman is playing for much larger stakes than anything in a bank vault or around the necks of Gotham’s elites at the next gala.

This is an increasingly emotional story as the reader gets a glimpse into the woman behind the cat mask and heroes and villains both are forced to confront their biases and figure out where they really stand.

Why Superman Doesn’t Take Over the World by Brian O’Roark

This is a book that promotes itself on being about the economics of superheroing, and it is. Everything in the superhero life is looked at through the lens of the field of economics. But I think it’s really about motivation. Why do superheroes become superheroes? Why do they wear costumes? Why do they sometimes fight with each other? Why don’t they all become rich from their powers? Why don’t they try to take over the world? It’s not actually very deep, but it is a lot of fun.

Slugfest by Reed Tucker

Here’s a great account of the history of American comic books’ must famous rivalry—Marvel Comics versus DC—with all the personalities, ingenious innovations, and mindbogglingly stupid decisions that have characterized it over the past sixty years. If you are a fan of superhero comics, this is a must read. You will find the series you have loved in these pages and understand how they fit into the continuum of comics or better yet, shaped its future. You’ll also learn a lot about the men and women who helped create the modern comic—or who stubbornly stood in the way of their development. If you aren’t a big comic book fan, it will help you understand how superheroes have come to dominate movies and form an important niche in television, plus give you some insight into the industry that someone you know is so passionate about.

Slugfest is not an entire history of the comic industry and its related subindustries like the comic book convention. It focuses quite well on how Marvel and DC fought with each other, inspired it each other, changed each other, and very occasionally worked together to produce great collaborations. As someone who read his first comic book at camp the summer between third and fourth grade, I was absolutely thrilled with the book. I think you will be too.

The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon

This is a great little book about Batman and Batman’s fans—giving both the history of the characters and how fans have responded to his evolution. The point that comes through most strongly is that there are actually many “batmen” – not just the one. In a non-comprehensive list: there is the Batman of the 1960s television series, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, several from the various movies, the detective, the Super Friends, and well you get the idea—and no fan appears to like all of these different “batmen”.

This book will walk you through all of it, showing how things like the charges of indecency that led to the comics code, and the reactions of fans, helped the character to evolve. To make the book even more fun, you will see yourself in many of the pages, responding to the new Batman being offered at any given time.

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon

Superman has been around for more than eighty years, often getting changed but in the end being pulled back to the core concepts that originally fueled his creation. He is the ultimate nice guy, willing to suffer anything to help people. In this book, Glen Weldon walks the reader through his long history in sometimes excruciating detail. I’ve never thought of myself as a serious Superman reader, but I was amazed at how many times—even in the periods before I was born—I remembered what Weldon was talking about. It turns out that reading Superman anthologies in the doctor’s office, picking up stray copies at friends, and reading a lot of books that Superman appeared in, plus the television series, movies, cartoons, songs, and so much more, actually has made Superman a common feature in my life. It was fascinating to see how often I “recognized” a particular incarnation, and fun to walk through the many retcons and other changes that his writers have subjected him to over the years. If you give the book a try, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by how well you know Superman too.