Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Super Disturbing Super Dictionary

Earlier tonight I was dusting my bookshelves, because "Project Runway" is on tonight and that means Jeannie is coming over to watch TV, and I noticed The Super Dictionary.

Aside from collecting comic books, I also collect comic-related items if I see something that interests or amuses me. I have toys, lunchboxes, plastic Slurpee cups from the 1970's, bookends, a statue or two, magnets, books about comics, and then things like The Super Dictionary, which fall into a category of weirdness all their own. Published in 1978 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, The Super Dictionary was part of a set of four books featuring DC Comics characters that were designed to help children learn to read.

The front features dynamic cover art by comics legend Joe Kubert:

The Super Dictionary

You can tell it was him because he signed it right under Superman's hip. The back cover features a somewhat clever image:

the back of "The Super Dictionary"

but the back cover is also the first indicator that things in this book are a little... off. While the idea of it being the same scene observed from two different angles is clever, the characters aren't actually in the same places if you look from one image to the other. On the front, Hawkgirl is coming through under Wonder Woman and right behind Batman, but on the back Batgirl has somehow gotten in front of her. On the front, Black Canary is behind the Flash, but on the back she's not only in front of him but he's turned away from the hole they're all jumping through and is waving someone else forward.

That's nothing compared to what's going on inside the book, though. Before we get to anything else, let's take a look at an unknown character that I refer to as King Crazy Eyes:

crazy eyes

What the hell is going on in that picture? Is anyone surprised that Wonder Woman is running away from that guy and trying to hide in the bushes? That guy looks like he should also be on the pages for creepy and maybe date rapey.

That's not quite as disturbing as the illustration for asleep:

Lois Lane, sleeping

Why is ninety percent of the Justice League membership in Lois Lane's apartment, watching her sleep? And speaking of apartments, why does the glimpse of Black Canary's include a picture of her taking off her clothes?

Black Canary's apartment

This is for children?

In their defense, it seems like someone at DC Comics did try to edit their content just a little. In the character biographies at the beginning, for example, they presented a nice writeup for Comet, the Super-Horse:

Catwoman, Comet, Conjura

without mentioning that Comet used to be a centaur and sometimes turns into a human rodeo cowboy who makes out with Supergirl. That was probably deemed too weird for kids, unlike Batgirl's bat-kini:

batgirl's bat-kini

or her weird arts and crafts project with Catwoman:

arts and crafts

or whatever's going on between the two of them in this picture:

batgirl and catwoman, gazing

I'm not accusing either of them of, you know, Bat-sperimenting or anything, but notice that the definition right above that picture is gay. Draw your own conclusions.

While we're on the word gay, boy has that definition changed since this thing was published. Can you imagine the protests if a children's dictionary today featured the more common current definition, especially here in Tennessee? It's not the only word that's changed since this was written, either, because The Super Dictionary comes from a time before political correctness. Case in point?


black definition

Conjura, a character who never appeared in a DC comic and was created for this book, is definitely not African-American, and Batgirl isn't caucasian:

white definition

She's a white. Although I've been called a white person or a white guy, I don't think I've ever been referred to as just a white. I guess this was common in 1978.

Getting back to DC's selective editing, though, what's even more amusing than some editor deciding not to include Supergirl's flirtation with equiphilia is some other editor deciding that it's totally ok to portray Green Lantern as the laziest superhero ever:

green lantern, super-lazy

(he makes a hand with his power ring instead of flying the extra three feet to change his clock?) or showing Lois Lane in all of her insane glory.

See, from about 1960 to 1986 or so, Lois Lane was a hot mess who spent half of her time nagging, bullying, or berating Superman:

lois lane, bullying

and the other half of her time fantasizing about marrying him:

lois lane, imagining

Superman, when not pretending to marry her, forcing her to marry someone else, throwing Lana in her face, or setting her up for some sort of prank designed to teach her a lesson, was much more interested in taking vacations alone with his jailbait first-cousin:


Those sunglasses look ridiculously absurd, by the way. Of course, Superman's disinterest in Lois might not have anything to do with his possible yet inappropriate interest in his horse-loving cousin. Instead, it might be a by product of his distaste for Lois' secret drinking problem:

lois lane, "tired" and possibly drunk

Click on that picture so it gets bigger, and get the full effect. That's not very tired, Lois. You look like someone punched you in both eyes. You're pouring coffee onto your kitchen table because you can't find the cup, and you don't even notice. Your tongue is white, and you seem to be wearing Wonder Woman's earrings. Lois, I'm saying this as a friend: I think you might have a problem. I'm not sure why you're not next to the word problem in this dictionary, but the word intervention comes to mind.

You're a hot mess, Lois, and I love The Super Dictionary for showing that to the world.

I bought my copy for a ten dollar "Buy it now!" on ebay several years ago while looking for something else, which was apparently a bargain since Amazon is selling them for between 30 and 115 dollars, but I didn't buy it because it was on sale.

I bought it because every page drips with insanity, and that's totally worth ten dollars.


Rod said...

Oooo.. that Super Dictionary is fantastic!

It actually makes me wonder about the feasibility of starting a whole collection of "superhero-themed vintage educational materials."

Joel said...

It depends on your definition of "educational". For example, I also own the Supergirl "Choose Your Own Adventure" book (, which could be considered educational in that every time you pick the option where Supergirl uses physical force instead of the option where she talks something out, you lose and the story ends.

strong cookie. said...

wow. this book is incredible.

"a white" hee. so ridiculous!