This past Wednesday, I was fortunate enough, along with Michael from The Orbiting Pod, to score invitations to the exclusive Private View for a suddenly-unveiled personal collection of vintage DC Comics single issues known, rather appropriately, as The Impossible Collection.
Held at the glorious Renaissance Hotel in St. Pancras, the exhibition was a luxurious one-night only affair. Welcomed warmly, we were greeted with bespoke, themed cocktails (including a cunning variation of a Manhattan, entitled ‘The Gotham’). The invited guests were an interesting mixture. We caught up with a few comics professionals, but for the most part the crowd was not ‘comics people’. As such, we found ourselves in relative demand when it came to wandering through the exhibit itself, inadvertently providing guided commentary for some of the lovely folks we met along the way. Even the security teams were engaged and very genuine in their conversational interest.
All in all, it was a positively delightful evening, elegantly catered and organised, and a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. Not least, it was a rare chance to see an absolutely absurd collection of DC Golden and Silver Age comics.
The Impossible Collection supposedly constitutes one third of the impressive personal comic book collection of Ayman Hariri, a Lebanese businessman who runs the construction company, Saudi Oger. One of the central concerns Michael and I shared, was the question of what comics and especially these incredibly rare and significant comics, mean to their wealthy owner. While this exclusive one-night only display was partly in service to the launch of Hariri’s new social media platform (Vero), and well-timed for the opening of the new Batman v. Superman movie, what came across from quiet conversations with some of the organising staff, those who had made and assessed the inventory of these books – what came through was that Hariri does have a genuine passion and emotional connection to the classic superheroes. Re-assuring. There are also apparently plans for a longer-form exhibition, possibly at a convention, later in the year. Wonderful news, because this is undoubtedly a collection that comic fans of all sensibilities will likely clamour to see, and it’s quite remarkable for a private collector to be prepared to share it in this way.
An interesting follow-up development, there was also some impressive original artwork on display and the curators of the exhibition have claimed that Hariri is in possession of the full interior art pages of Superman #75, The Death of Superman. Dan Jurgens who wrote the issue has marked that claim as false. A curious multiversal inconsistency – perhaps Hariri has been led to believe he owns all the original pages?
To say the absolute least, The Impossible Collection is both vast and magnificent. The selections were purely DC Golden and Silver Age, and featured most of the landmark issues and first appearances on which the DC Comics pantheon is built.
Action Comics #1, first appearance of Superman [two copies]
Batman #1, first appearances of Catowman and Joker, first solo Batman book
Detective Comics #27, first appearance of Batman
Sensation Comics #1, first Wonder Woman cover
Showcase #4, first appearance of Barry Allen, the second Flash, beginning of the Silver Age
Superman #1, first solo Superman book
Yes, two copies of Action Comics #1, a three-to-four million dollar book. One of the copies formerly belonged to Nicholas Cage and has been on some bizarre (mis)adventures of its own. As far as missing cornerstone issues, there was no All-Star Comics #8 (first appearance of Wonder Woman), Showcase #22 (first appearance of Hal Jordan, Silver Age Green Lantern), or Green Lantern #7 (first appearance of Sinestro – greatest of all the lanterns)…
The displays were both innovative and accessible. Given the different grades and means of storage for the books, the organisers had done wonderful work to ensure everything sat well together. Some comics were in Mylar sleeves, some naturally in CGC (Certified Guaranty Company) slabs, and some in what are termed ‘fortresses’. Girders and pipes were erected to a cool, non-distracting industrial effect.
It was an immeasurable treat to spend time in the presence of so many positively gorgeous old books, and truthfully, to be reminded of the wonder, the hopefulness, and the charming zany-ness of old DC. Wandering around these books, it was re-enthusing, wiping away the slightly jaded cynicism that can mount when in close proximity to the gritty and dark offerings released week after week these days. That’s not intended as totally disparaging, but these comics from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s have a real magic to them. There’s joy, fun, and most crucially a real and unapologetic fearlessness. Not for nothing are these our modern myths, central to today’s cultural landscape. Seeing such a range across decades also served as a great reminder of how comics, by their serial nature, record culture and history, and track change over time.
On a personal note, Green Lantern brought a massive smile and Wonder Woman – humbling, moving, all the things.
Though an understandable practicality with this time-sensitive fleeting display, when the collection sees a longer-term exhibit later in the year, it will definitely need some greater contextualisation. Michael and I were more than happy to find ourselves useful to others in attendance, but some kind of narrative will need to be provided to help folks find meaning if they don’t already have the requisite frame of reference.
Tremendous thanks to The Impossible Collection, Wickerwood and Fearlessly Frank, for an unparalleled evening. And to Filippo L’Astorina at The Upcoming for the terribly flattering snap.
Adam Karenina Sherif