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Thursday, March 9, 2023

Superman and Batman in Golden Look-Look Books

Hey children of the eighties, let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit those softcover Golden Look-Look Books that were so influential to us during our formative years:  

Superman vs the helicopter backpack bandits. Mine came with a free sticker

Golden Look-Look Books were an integral component of the Child of the 80s Grade School Experience™, along with a lunchbox and matching thermos set of your favorite cartoon characters and running shoes with velcro straps. Marketed as early learning educational material, Look-Look Books featured a vast array of then-popular characters from licensed properties and were often found in the children's section in libraries and department stores.

Since I'm dredging up memories from thirty-something years ago, I'll set the scene for you: you're in primary school and, after a long morning of managing two dozen unruly grade schoolers, your teacher decides to assign the class some 'quiet time' so she can nurse her headache under the guise of encouraging early childhood development. This usually involved siccing you and your classmates on the school library so the librarian can deal with you guys for an hour or so. Since most of us were still learning to read and most of the books were above our reading skill, we all made a mad dash for the most interesting books with lots of pictures of our favorite characters to look at -- this is where Golden Look-Look Books came in.

pile of Golden Look-Look Books.
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Golden Look-Look Books were a line of inexpensive 21cm x 21cm softcover books published by Golden Books, and not to be confused with Little Golden Books (also published by Golden Books) which were roughly the same size but hardcovered. You may also remember Golden Super Adventure Books, Golden Book n' Tapes (children's books that came with an audio cassette) or the large-sized hardcover Golden Book movie storybooks that provided child-friendly summaries of then-popular films. When you think about it, Golden Books, an imprint of Western Publishing, appeared to have cornered the market on children's edutainment since they also published activity books, coloring books, and puzzles. As 80s kids, we were inundated with Western Publishing products and just didn't realize it at the time.

Since Western Publishing had licenses to characters from Walt Disney, Warner Bros, MGM and Universal Studios (among many others), Golden Look-Look Books had a wide assortment of popular characters from cartoons and movies to choose from when deciding who to feature in their books (such as My Pet Monster, Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Bugs Bunny, Sesame Street, Pac-Man, Garfield, Barbie, G.I. Joe, Winnie the Pooh, Snoopy and friends, Peter Pan, The Rocketeer...and a few more I'm sure I'm forgetting). 

Even Nintendo had a few characters featured in Look-Look Books.
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Kids of the 80s were extra lucky because we were oversaturated with Saturday morning cartoons and action figure toylines who had no qualms with licensing themselves out to a publishing company who then marketed to us via "educational material" targeted towards youth. It was essentially advertising disguised as education. Did reading adventures about the Masters of the Universe remind me of MOTU toys and increase their value in my eyes? Hell yeah! Marketers, take note: this is how you create life-long brand loyalists.

Okay, enough history, on to today's feature presentation. As much I'd love to showcase ALL of these books, I'll have to stick to the ones with DC characters since we're a DC comics fansite. Let's start with The Adventures of Superman (Golden Look-Look Book edition):

This book used to belong to Jamie. Well, now we know who put the sticker on the cover.

While I'm not familiar with Patricia Relf or David Hunt, Kurt Schaffenberger started illustrating for Fawcett Publications back in the late 1940s and had wound up working for DC comics on the Superman titles from the late 1950s and onwards as penciller and/or inker. He had a notable run on New Adventures of Superboy as penciller from 1979 to 1984 (which is probably what he was doing when he got this gig -- the book was copyrighted in 1982). Unsurprisingly, a lot of comic book writers and artists (that only the hardcore comic book fans might be familiar with) often contributed to these books.

Superman's escape from Krypton pretty much sticks to the comic interpretation. Superman was a pretty big deal at this time (thanks to the success of the 1978 Superman film), and I'm relieved to see that they went with the colorful Silver Age costumes for Superman's parents rather than the dystopian movie versions. 

The page layouts of this particular book were very "comic book"-ish, and by that I mean the colors were vibrant and the story followed sequential steps and were separated by borders. It was probably stipulated from Golden Books that a brief origin story was included in this book so that kids could realize Superman's was from another planet and don't try these stunts at home.

Ma Kent knits tiny Clark Kent a pint-sized Superboy costume. Pa Kent gives lil' Clark about "doing the right thing". This is like a mini morality play. 

Flash forward twenty-odd years, and it's a grown-up Clark working with (his friend) Lois Lane. We're finally introduced to the villain(s) and see a bit of action.

While I didn't question these things as an eight year-old, now I wonder -- of all the villains they could've used -- why go with complete unknowns like "propeller backpack"-wearing henchmen? They could've literally used anyone else (i.e. Intergang, Lex Luthor thugs, etc...). Maybe they're from a Superman comic or cartoon I'm completely blanking on? Either way, not really a big deal -- it still works for the story.

...and now we're at the denouement: Superman discovers the culprit behind all this and brings him to justice. Prior to learning Schaffenberger used to draw Captain Marvel Jr comics for Fawcett I was going to comment that the Evil Mastermind was a dead-ringer for Captain Marvel arch-enemy Dr. Sivana (albeit with a bad toupĂ©e), but I think this kind of explains itself now.

The story ends with Clark giving a knowing wink to the reader that they're both in on the secret of who Superman actually is and that Lois is completely clueless. Hey, it's kind of like Superman is building a rapport with the reader. All in all, this was a pretty harmless book and a quick read with nothing too complex or offensive. Well done, Ms Relf.

Golden Look-Look Books would be absent of DC characters until the second wave of Batmania hit North America as precipitated by the 1989 Batman film.

A 'Special Edition' Golden Look-Look Book featuring Batman and the Joker was released in 1990:

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I don't own this one so I don't have much to tell you about it.  I do know that it was written by Jack C. Harris and illustrated by Al Bigley, Mike DeCarlo and Tad Zar Chow (penciller/inker/colorist, I'm guessing). Note that they went for the classic Super Powers designs of Batman and Joker as opposed to the Keaton Batman and Nicholson Joker designs.

Even the Super Powers Batmobile was adapted into this book. Image source:


Another 'Special Edition' Batman book was released in 1991, 'The Purrfect Crime' featuring Catwoman:

Andrew Helfer wrote this one, but the Bigley, DeCarlo & Chow artistic team remained the same. Let's just cruise through this one real quick:

The only thing I'm noticing here is that Catwoman's costume is looking very much like the one she wore in Mindy Newell's 1989 Catwoman mini-series -- which pre-dated Selina's Batman Returns black leather catwoman suit by at least 2 years -- and remained her main costume throughout Knightfall. [After which she switched back to a purple costume.]

Hey look, it's the "Cat-van"!

It took a tracer to find Catwoman's secret location? Why didn't he just get Robin, Huntress and Nightwing to drive around town until they spotted a van with cat ears parked on the street?

As you've undoubtedly noticed by this point, these 'Special Edition' Golden Look-Look Books are laid out less like comic books and more like illustrated stories. 

As the reader learns more about the motive for Catwoman's thefts they are left with an ethical dilemma: is it right to commit crime even if it's for the greater good? In this case, liberating felines from cruel conditions and neglectful owners. This is pretty heavy stuff for a kid; I think the Animal Liberation Front gives these books out for free as recruitment propaganda.

I would also like to give credit to the writer for not adding any romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman. Which would've came off as awkward.    

Thankfully, extremely rich Bruce Wayne is able to find a solution that makes everyone happy -- proving once again that money can fix everything.

Another Golden Look-Look Book featuring Batman was released in 1992, but this one just took several scenes from Batman Returns featuring The Penguin and the Red Triangle Circus gang and condensed it into a 24-page children's book:

There was a different creative team on this one: Michael Teitelbaum wrote it, and Rick Hoberg and Tad Chow illustrated it. Hoberg pencilled a lot of stuff for DC comics, and was probably best known for being the regular penciller on Mike Grell's Green Arrow in the early 90s.

Since this book featured the Red Triangle Circus gang, I would've been all over this. I do remember flipping through this book as a youth but for the life of me can't remember how it ends.

Since it incorporated aspects of the plot where the Ice Princess is kidnapped and falls to her death in a trap baited for Batman, I'm kind of wondering how/if they watered this down for a juvenile audience.

There were a few more Golden Look-Look Books set in the Batman The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited universe, but these were all released after 1995. Oh yeah, the Batman & Robin film got it's own Golden Look-Look Book, too. This has been a pretty exhausting article to research and write about, and I'm running out of things to say..., I'm going to leave on a high note and link to another blog's review of a Golden Super Adventure Go-bots book. Hope you enjoyed this article on Golden Look-Look Books and it brought back some fond memories of your youth.