Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brief Thoughts On Marvel Comics From An Ancient Fan Returning To The Fold

Fuck DC.

I've nothing against Superman and Batman and Sgt. Rock (OK, I DO have something against Superman, but that's just me, not them, and I've worked through much of it with my therapist, Dr. Luthor). It's just that when I was a kid, DC Comics were white bread in a whole-wheat world. Pale. Filling yet unfulfilling. Lacking depth, lacking complexity, lacking substance.

Marvel heroes were the stuff of my childhood mythos. Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Defenders, the Inhumans, Prince Namor, Thor, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and even Luke Cage (who I knew as Power Man) and Iron Fist-- these were my comic-book heroes.

Well, it just so happened that about three months ago I happened across the novel Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. I liked it. It was over-the-top gonzo bile. Right up my alley. Turns out Warren Ellis writes comic books. Who knew, right? (Gimme a break -- I'm an agoraphobic 40-something with a library card, I don't spend a lot of time mulling over trends in the graphic novel industry. I barely know who Neil Gaiman is. I just know that Chris Claremont wrote the good X-men books.).

So I pencilled "Warren Ellis" into my mental notebook and forgot about it.

Then a comic book store opened next to my neighborhood supermarket. And it became too easy to stop in before the weekly shop and... yeah. You comic book people know the rest.

Marvel's Civil War story arc -- wow. And Warren Ellis writing Thunderbolts. Wow wow.

Stepping back into the Marvel Universe was great. All the old familiar faces and places. The Baxter Building! Like what you've done with the place, Dr. Richards! Hiya, Beast! You're certainly looking more feline these days! Oh, there's Hank Pym. What an asshole. Guy can grow to tremendous size, but he'll always be smaller than his inferiority complex.

There were changes, of course. The Sentry? Worst. Superhero. EVAR. Or at least worst-written. I know Marvel heroes are always wrestling with their inner demons, but The Sentry is so paralyzed by indecision that you just want to slap him. And there seem to be some new mutants running around Dr. Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Hulkling? Wiccan? Eh. OK. Whatevs.

But the biggest change I noticed was in the tone of the comics themselves. They seemed... smarter. More knowing. More engaged with the world beyond their covers. Still stuffed with ridiculous amounts of muscle and spandex, still filled with THWACK and BAMF and BOOOOOOM, but somehow more sophisticated than I remember.

Well, actually the BIGGEST change is the price. Comics are no longer cheap! In fact, they're damn expensive.

But I can't help but grin when I go to the comics store and a new comic is in and I know that after I schlep the groceries home I'll have a good half-hour of pure escapist enjoyment...

Plus, that Thor #600 might be worth something someday.


Tom Clancy said...

Funny, I went through a similar loop: big Marvel fan as a kid, nothing for years and then back into the fold. Warren Ellis was one of the things that got me back into comics.

That said, I read almost no straightforward hero comics anymore. They have to be characters I really loved as a kid or just something really cool. But I've found a ton of good stuff outside the tights & fights genre. I'd really recommend Ellis' Planetary, Global Frequency and (a more trad superhero take) the whole Stormwatch/ Authority stuff.

Two more things:

1. You can now waste hours of your life on Wikipedia reading character histories.
2. Not that I'd endorse it or anything, but whole series of comics back issues are available via bittorrent. One could, if they wished, justify that sort of thing by looking at the outlay for comics on a monthly basis and the fact the creators aren't seeing much, if anything, from the sale of back issues/ trades.

Astrobrain said...

Heya. Your friendly neighborhood comic book store guy here. I recalled you told me the name of your blog, and decided to look it up. I'll be checking in.

First, glad I can help reintroduce you to a bad habit. Like there aren't enough of them, right?

Second, your friend Tom hit the nail on the head. If you don't want to drop your cash with me there's always bittorrent. I won't blame you for it. How do you think I stayed in the comic book loop for the year it took me to open the store? I sure as hell didn't give money to my competition.

In any case, Mr. Ellis is a madman. I was lucky enough to meet him in San Diego a few years ago. He had a hangover, clearly didn't want to be at the place, and was exactly as you might expect him to be -- so pissed that you might expect him to kill you as soon as look at you. I took the chance of being gutted, though, and shook his hand, got some comics signed, and walked gently away.

He apparently has calmed down a bit. And his tolerance for fat Americans has grown a bit, too, so I hear.

Bitter Old Punk said...

Hiya, Astrobrain! He's too modest, so I'll pimp his store for him: Astrobrain Comics is a new comics store in Hoover, just down the way from the Publix on Highway 31 across from the Hoover New Giant Municipal Building Thing. It's a nice little shop filled with cool stuff, and you should go spend your money there instead of wasting it on hookers and crack.