The Hidden S in Phone Booth

Welcome to "The Hidden S in Phone Booth." Your writer is Mark Rhodes, a man known within many magazine circles including The Christian Science Monitor, Opera and Wizard. He runs a site called the European Film Report that looks at the art of filmmaking, and will tackle whatever he feels like writing about (similar to Tedd in Hank McCoy (Before the Fur) except with less love of Dazzler). DK Publishing has just released the updated (from the original 2004 version) DC Encyclopedia. The result is a heroic though flawed reference work that manages to be an excellent resource of the odds and ends of the DC universe. The work is most successful at compartmentalizing the mythology of DC into a manageable whole. Major characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman get several pages to explore their powers, their development, the key moments in their folklore and key plot lines and story arcs. Despite the pages devoted to the “A” list DC characters the information on this group of heavyweights is scarcely definitive (for instance, the ins and outs of Batman's 70 year career could fill a book this size). And, in many ways this is appropriate. Is there a lot about Batman that needs to be spelled out? Superman? Even most non-comic fans know a lot of the history of Superman/Batman because of the movies, television and it would be somewhat redundant to go far into the history of these well-known characters in a general encyclopedia such as this. The best use for this work is in its exploration of the “B” DC Characters like Aquaman, Green Lantern and the Flash. In other words, characters who have a high name recognition but are less well-known in the details of their history and evolution. The encyclopedia also manages to explore major plot lines in the comics (like the recent 52 series), major super-teams like the JLA and JSA and also minor super-teams like the Freedom Fighters, The Metal Men, The Doom Patrol, Challengers of the Unknown, Seven Soldiers of Victory and The Outsiders. Forgotten or marginal super-teams like the Sea-Devils, The Losers and the Global Guardians are given their proper due as well. Footnoted sections about alternate Earths (a real thorn in DC’s history), romantic pairings, secret headquarters, noteworthy team-ups and some of the offbeat Elseworlds stuff like Kingdom Come and the Frank Miller Dark Knight stuff (which people forget is considered an Elseworlds entry) are especially rich as they manage to encapsulate some of the major milestones and ideas in the DC universe in brief but detailed sketches. A lot of the fun of the book is the discovery (or rediscovery) of fascinating characters in the DC history. Great minor and /or obscure characters like the Demon, Captain Comet, Batwoman, and Tomahawk have their histories spelled out with key storylines to explore. Other characters which are considered major in the scheme of things are given small or minimal entries. John Constantine, Jonah Hex, The Joker, and Captain Marvel are given smaller than expected entries. On the other hand, characters like Arsenal, Captain Boomerang, Steel and Starman get larger than expected entries. There are noteworthy absences like The Spirit (which did not originate as a DC Character), the Watchman characters, most of the WildStorm universe and much of the Vertigo universe (in all fairness DK also published a recent history of the Vertigo line recently reviewed by yours truly). Despite the ommissions, the real difficulty with a book like this is that it is almost instantly out of date. The age of Wikipedia has made reference books, particularly encyclopedias, quaint objects of the 20th century. Along with this, any number of fan based sites could give more detailed histories of say Green Arrow, Jonah Hex or the 52 series (not to say anything of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). The book is still worth buying as it is a good, quick reference book that can be more readily utilized than the internet and more easily searched. For what it is worth, the work is also an attractive item with a great cover from the maestro Alex Ross. Would make a nice Christmas present for the comic historian and/or comic novice as it is a good way to introduce a novice to some of the folklore of the DC universe or help a comics history buff understand some of the connections between the characters and events that have defined the DC line. (Footnote; There is an amusing blog by one of the book's authors, Daniel Wallace, where Mr. Wallace goes into some of his experiences creating the updated DC Encyclopedia...


  1. Thanks for the review and the link, Mark! I agree with you that it's always easier to get facts & figures using Google or a wiki, but that there's something very nice (and altogether different) about holding a book and flipping through the pages. The browsing experience is different, too, since the information is all laid out in front of you instead of hidden behind a network of links.

    Long way to say I think both formats have their merits, and I certainly couldn't have finished my work on the Encyclopedia without using the internet!

  2. (Hope you are reading this)
    Hey Dan Great to hear from you!-loved your site and appreciate your candor about trying to pull a project like the DCE together-If you don't mind me asking how did you and your colleagues collaborate on this work and was there anyone you left out intentionally?
    if you get a chance would love to know...
    stay in touch.


  3. Hi Mark -- good question. For the 2004 edition, the list was basically handed to us by the DC editors. For this new edition, I came up with a list of additions I wanted to include, which covered both characters that we missed the first time (Psycho Pirate, Bouncing Boy) and characters that were newly-introduced since 2004 (Batwoman, Jamie Reyes Blue Beetle).

    Not everything I put on that list made the cut, but the important ones did. (I actually suggested including Kryptococcus the Omni-Germ.)


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