Saturday, September 24, 2016

Strange Book Saturday: The Super Dictionary

It's time to explore another strange book from my shelves. Even before I fell down the deep, dark hole that is comic book fandom, I was fascinated by this volume.

The Super Dictionary is best known for the following meme (and it’s variations):

Lex Luthor: criminal mastermind, sugar addict.

Intentional or not, there's a sort of comedic genius in this phrasing. (Please, someone, direct me to the comic this panel was borrowed from. What was Lex originally stealing? Cakes of uranium?) But even beyond this entry, Super Dictionary is much loved by the internet. You can find blogs and articles dedicated to its strangeness.

The Super Dictionary was published by Warner Educational Consultants in 1978, and it is now, sadly, out of print. Several of the characters in The Super Dictionary appear to have been created just for the dictionary. These characters also appeared in a series of elementary readers known as Super A (and possibly AA, B, and BB). According to some internet sources, the art in Super Dictionary was repurposed from earlier comics, which would explain its sometimes unsettling disconnect from what's being defined.

I think what makes the Super Dictionary so fascinating is that A) it offers such weird, out-of-context images of our favorite superheroes, and B) it fails, so beautifully, as a dictionary for young readers.

Consider this entry:

"A Slow News Day"
or "Instilling Globophobia in Children Everywhere"

What exactly is this image supposed to represent to children? Why is the balloon shaped like a pterodactyl? I suspect this panel was taken from a story in which Wonder Woman fought dinosaurs and they just doodled in some strings. In case you are wondering, pterodactyl is never defined by The Super Dictionary.

Even when the entries have no images, they are headscratchers:

Ted and Teri Trapper are married detectives created for The Super Dictionary. They spend many of their scenes being ant-sized for no clear reason. They also have the sanest Super Dictionary experience.

Okay, yes, breakfast defined as the first meal of the day works. And I can understand dividing the concept of breakfast into categories (cold/hot, healthy/children’s cereal, late/early, homemade/on the run), but indoor/outdoor never seemed like a important part of the meal’s definition. Does Super Dictionary worry that children will stand outside, shivering, munching on pop-tarts because no one explained that breakfast could be eaten indoors?

The individual oddities of this dictionary’s entries were enough to make it worth owning. But I also enjoy the accidental narratives created by reading the dictionary in order:

Batman is a terrible guardian.

I can't tell if Robin is being sarcastic or just resigned.

"Be careful of the outside covering of your body. If you scratch the finish, I can't get my full refund."

The dictionary reminds us that Robin has nine more toes, but that still doesn't make this okay.

"Can I leave you here in this alley? Can I continue to ignore my responsibilities?"

Robin's life is just sad.

Look at how wobbly Robin is, Batman. I think you really damaged his toe.

"You think my constant repetition reeks of desperation, but it doesn't!"

Look at Robin's face. He knows that even the dictionary is mocking him now.

I guess it's never too early to introduce children to the looming horror of parental disappointment.

Batgirl and the robin are sharing that "maybe if we ignore him, he'll go away" look.

During the panels where Green Arrow isn't courting Black Canary, he's a ball of barely contained rage.

HULK SMASH PUNY ARROW! (The cop is trying to nod himself out of frame.)

Black Canary's face says that she knows exactly what those problems are.

I'd say that it's nice to see Green Arrow express something other than anger, but he looks pretty mad about that tear.

And Lex Luthor just loves him some cake.

I don't think I've ever seen him this happy. And I've seen him kill Superman.


  1. This is hysterical!! Translated by Dick and Jane, if English was not their first language--and they were robots!

    1. That's probably the most apt description of this text possible.