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Review: Super Heroes: My First Dictionary

Super Heroes: My First Dictionary
Written by Michael Robin
Illustrated by Various
Downtown Bookworks; $15.99
Ages 3 and up

The title and cover say it all: This is a first dictionary, offering short, simple definitions for more than 500 words, all organized around the theme of superheroes; the DC Comics-owned superheroes, to be exact. Sometimes the names of superheroes are themselves the things being definied (Atom, Batgirl, Bizarro, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, Nightwing, Supergirl, Teen Titans) and sometimes there is superhero-specific jargon being defined (cape, secret identity, sidekick, superpower, villain).

Most of the words, however,  are basic ones of the sort used in everyday conversation (above, bowl, cat), but the sentences used and the illustrations chosen to define these words are superhero-related. So, for example, in the three words above, the sentences are “Superman holds a car above his head,” “The Flash eats soup from a bowl,” and “Streaky is a super-cat.”

I imagine a reader of any age with any interest at all in DC superheroes will enjoy looking at this book, and even little kids—boys and girls are the apparent audience, based on how frequently female superheros and villains are included among their male peers—who aren’t yet fans of the DC superheroes may find themselves interested by or enticed into the world of DC super-comics based on the cool, colorful characters who appear within. These characters all appear in the cleaner, more elegant drawings of the Golden, Silver and early Bronze Age than how they are more likely to look in more modern comics, when artists pursued their own styles over those suggested by house style or style sheets, and coloring became richer and more realistic.

The illustrations are culled from DC Comics covers and interiors, the images “sampled” and reappropriated, sometimes taken somewhat out of context. For example, the definition for “tiger” is “Animal Man dances with a wild tiger,” next to a picture of an angry Buddy Baker grasping a tiger by its paws and spinning it around; it’s been a while since I read a reprint of that 1965 story from Strange Adventures #180, but I’m pretty sure Animal Man was using his powers to defend himself from being mauled by a tiger, and not dancing with it. That, of course, often only serves to make them more funny, if one tries to imagine what sort of story an image came from to support out-of-left-field sentences like “Superman can’t believe his eyes—he’s on a world full of talking rabbits!” or, better yet, “Supergirl and Zatanna argue over a Yeti. Even friends disagree sometimes!”

The artwork all comes courtesy of over 50 different artists, including some of the best and most influential DC artists of all time, such as Murphy Anderson, Wayne Boring, Dick Dillin, Mike Espositon, Ramona Fradon, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Sprang, and Curt Swan. Among the most modern artists whose work appears are probably John Byrne, Terry Dodson, Duncan Fegredo, and P. Craig Russell. It’s well worth noting, however, that not all of the artists whose work appears in the book are mentioned by name in the fine print of the title page, where 46 artists are named under the heading “We would like to thank the following illustrators whose artwork appears throughout the book.”

For example, I saw one Batman image that was clearly the work of Mike Mignola, and another that was just as clearly the work of Norm Breyfogle, but neither of them are thanked or mentioned. Of course, only older readers, and those with the most experience reading DC comics, will likely notice or care about that. It’s well worth noting that readers in that particular demographic, as far removed as it may be from the target audience, should find a lot of interest in this as well, from the aforementioned art, the often humorous definitions, and just what the make-up of the book—the characters and art chosen, how often they appear—says about where an interested third party (publisher Downtown Bookworks) sees the DC’s deep roster of super-characters at the moment when it comes to appealing to a very young audience.

J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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