I have a co-worker who absolutely does not understand my interest in comic books. So disinterested is he that when I talk about the subject (the actual books or adaptations) with some of my other co-workers, he puts on headphones and deliberately and obviously ignores us. I don’t think he’s trying to be insulting as such, but he makes it clear the conversation could not be less interesting to him. To be fair, when he discusses football with one of my fellow cube-dwellers, I tune that out. On the other hand, I sort of understand why people are interested in football (having lived in a couple of football-obsessed cities in my life). But he does not understand my, or my co-workers’, interest in comic books and related media adaptations. I also feel he makes no effort to understand it either. That’s fine; we all have different tastes and interests. Still, I feel that since I enjoy this medium and related adaptations, I would like to share that joy with others. I’ve already attempted to share that with my comic book movie guide. And this co-worker has watched some movies, but only the “Batman” ones (of course).
So, in another attempt to share my joy, I present my journey into this very weird medium. Perhaps this will help a reader understand why I care so much about this medium if they don’t share my affection for it.
As I said before, my very first introduction to comic books was a child’s hardback book featuring an abbreviated version of Wonder Woman’s origin story and entry into man’s world. Naturally I hadn’t heard the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, and hadn’t internalized the story of Adam from Sunday School, so the idea of creating a little girl from clay seemed fantastic and new to me. However, since this wasn’t a proper comic book, I didn’t connect this story with that medium. I regarded it as a fairytale.
A Relevant Side-track:
Now, while I didn’t read comic books, I did read a lot of what could be considered classical literature, including a translation of Homer’s The Iliad and the follow-up, The Odyessy. This is the story of the Trojan War and Odysseus’s ill-fated quest to return home after the conclusion of the war. I was not introduced to superheroes as such, but I was introduced to a world of powerful beings and epic drama. Achilles was immortal except for one tiny weakness, Hector was a champion who fought Achilles knowing he was doomed to die, Odysseus was physically weaker but had a superior intellect, and all the while the gods themselves schemed and interfered to influence the outcome. Once Odysseus tried to go home, he and his doomed crew suffered through a series of fantastic misadventures with the sirens, the Cyclops, and the sorceress Circe among others.
The Next Encounter:
I would say my experience reading those classic Greek myths sort of primed me to set a high bar of disbelief for fiction, and that is absolutely vital to really enjoying comic books. My parents, for reasons that are still a mystery to me, purchased four comic books (I can’t remember how old I was, nor do I remember if these were new or not) pretty much out of the blue. I remember one was the conclusion of the Death of Superman story, one was a Silver Surfer comic concluding the fight between the heralds that resulted in Nova’s death at the hands of Morg, one was the Technis Imperative (a one-in-done story that set the former Teen Titans against the JLA to try to save their friend Cyborg), and the fourth was a Fantastic Four comic in which Sue had just adopted her much-hated four-shaped boob window costume. The Technis Imperative was probably the best of the bunch in terms of introducing a newbie to a complete story. It was a complete story, for starters, but it also featured panels of the evolution of the Titans from their original costumes and powers to current costumes and powers. I remember being confused about a lot of back story I was obviously missing, but I understood enough to enjoy it. I don’t remember the plot of the FF comic, and what struck me most about the Superman and Silver Surfer comic was the dramatic deaths (which is the point, I suppose). I had no idea how these characters got where they were (although I was vaguely familiar with Superman and Lois Lane) and I was curious how everything had gone so badly for them. But for all that, I didn’t pick up another comic for a long, long time.
The Miracle of Television:
Now, I had seen some episodes of Spider-man and His Amazing Friends and remember enjoying them for what they were. But the ’90s, for as bad as it might have been to the actual comic book medium, was a great time for cartoon adaptations. There was a Spider-man, Batman (and a bit later Superman), and the X-men. With Spider-man and Batman, I already felt like I kind of knew these characters just from pop culture osmosis, so while I enjoyed those shows (and in retrospect understand how great the Batman series really was), it was the X-men that really captivated my attention. I had no familiarity with the band of merry mutants and I was immediately drawn in by the new characters, fantastic powers, iconic costumes, complicated relationships, epic storylines, and somewhat overblown drama. Basically par for the course for the X-men. And while the cartoon compacted and sanitized some of the storylines and characters, the cartoon didn’t dumb it down too much all things considered. After the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas, I knew this weird, crazy world was one I wanted to explore more.
The Actual Comic Books:
And so I jumped into the X-men. I had friends who had large collections and they gave me what they considered their favorite stories so what I read wasn’t always current. I’m pretty sure one of the first storylines I read was “The Inferno.” For those of you not familiar with this storyline, the basic idea is that a presumed powerless clone of Jean Grey has become the powerful queen of the demons from the magical realm of Limbo and is trying to invade and destroy the X-men, her son by Cyclops, and the world in general. Dazzler had a solid mask stuck to her face with a dagger. What I’m trying to say is that it was pretty freakin’ weird. I wasn’t intimidated, though, as the television show had given me a pretty good idea that this world was weird. I do have to admit as I read through the comics (not in order, of course), I quickly realized that the actual comic book world was much, much weirder than the cartoon.
And From There…:
Perhaps this explains my love of Marvel. I didn’t collect many comics of my own, but I had friends with large collections and a roommate with a lot of disposable income. I think I probably read more indie comics than DC, such as ABC’s “Promethea” and “Top Ten.” Oh, Alan Moore, you so crazy. Eventually I had my own disposable income and started some of my own collections. I did pick up Harley Quinn for a while because I love that clown. I also picked up Amazing Spider-man and Ultimate Spider-man. I tried some of the other Ultimate lines, but dropped those within a year. “One More Day” broke my heart, “One Moment in Time,” stomped on the pieces, and “Brand New Day” was fine except for anything to do with Peter Parker/Spider-man, so that subscription lapsed. These days I don’t seek out too much on my own but I do still rely on heavily my friends and their collections to get my fix and refer me to cool stuff (also, thanks to Lunar Archivist for giving me some good places to start with DC).
To the Future…:
And of course I enjoy much of the adaptive media. Not all, obviously, as I have complained about before and probably will again. But there’s also good stuff I hope to enjoy as well. Right now I’m conflicted though. DC Comics is in a very bad place, and Marvel Comics are somewhat hit-and-miss, although I’m glad to see Spider-man is back and I’m intrigued by Captain Marvel. Perhaps I’ll even go back to the X-men, although not to the team being led by Cyclops. We’ll see how it goes. As for adaptive media, there’s good and bad. The Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far is not disappointing, the WB/DC-verse largely is disappointing, and the television landscape is all over the place. In any medium there are high points and low points and sometimes they exist at the same time. I’ve ridden this wave through guns and pouches and I can ride it through “nothing must be fun ever” as well. Maybe one day I’ll even make up with Spider-man and Cyclops.
For all the highs and lows I am still a true believer.