Beaty, Bart H., and Stephen Weiner, eds. Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. 2 vols. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012. $295.00. xvi+424, viii+393. Hardback. IBSN 978-1-58765-865-5. Many thanks to the Collin College Central Park Campus Library for providing a copy of this work for review.
This two-volume set embarks on am ambitious project of surveying the most important and influential works of graphic literature in the American canon. Some of its entries are rather obscure, but are included because they influenced so many later artists and their effects can still be seen today. The need for such a work is obvious because “graphic novels have spawned a body of literary criticism since their emergence as a specific category in the publishing field, attaining a level of respect and permanence in academia” (1:ix). The present collection is a goldmine of information both for academics and fans alike and includes entries from both independent scholars and professors from major universities such as Harvard and the University of Melbourne. Each entry, and there are more than 130 of them, includes a brief summary of major plot points and themes along with an analysis of their place in the larger world of graphic novels. Of particular note is the editors’ attempts to sort publications according to story arc and their handling of reboots and retellings that have become so common since their first major use in the 1960s (1:xiii). There are also brief biographical sketches of the artists and authors with each item. Though the price tag is a bit high for the average reader, this work would be a major asset to any library collection looking to expand its graphic novel or alternative literacy reference material section.
– Prof. J. Holder Bennett, Collin College