Confession time. I’ve never been a huge fan of superhero comics…
It’s cool. I anticipated this reaction. Torches to the left, pitchforks to the right—let’s try to keep this lynch mob orderly, shall we?
Read below the fold if you want to hear me out.
That isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of superhero books. I’ve just never had the burning passion for supers that some comic fans do. Let me amend that: I’ve never had a burning passion for mainstream supers stories. When I’m at the comic store, I browse the latest X-Men, Avengers, JLA, what have you. But when I get down to brass tacks, I always wander off and find something out of the super’s space to take home with me. Lots of Vertigo books, my well-documented love of ElfQuest and Poison Elves, quirky books like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and so on.
Again, that isn’t to say that I don’t like supers. I just have a really hard time getting into the goliath titles that dominate the market. I always read them in spurts. And I’m usually pretty late to the party (I seriously just read Civil War in its entirety for the first time. Nerd card revoked). Why, you ask? I don’t have a good answer. It’s partly the baggage that goes with the canon. Let’s be honest—DC and Marvel’s core titles are laden with a decades long publication history, not all of it stellar. It’s pretty daunting for a new fan to walk into a store, pick up a flagship title, and have a clue what’s happening. Sure, they may recognize (some of) the characters, but like all good soap operas, the devil is in the details. Marvel’s Ultimate line and DC’s New 52 are attempts to address this issue (so clearly I’m not alone in having it), but neither initiative is particularly satisfying to me (The Ultimate titles seem to be accelerating towards the same confusing morass the Marvel’s prime universe, and the New 52 is an editorial nightmare…).
But more than that, it’s the fractured mythologies. Again, I don’t want to suggest that the mythology behind the world’s favorite comics is bad—its not. But I’ve always been a fan of consistency. Consistency is a pipe dream for the big guys. It’s a natural consequence of having such storied histories and having so many cooks in the kitchen. But the result is that I’ve always been drawn to Johnny-come-latelies in the super hero space, diving back into Marvel and DC for the crises and crossovers, long after they’re neatly packaged up for me, rather than reading the monthlies.
A couple titles that have always stood out for me are Jim Lee’s classic Stormwatch and WildC.A.T.S. Their issue 1’s landed in the early 90’s, when my route home from school had me biking past the comic shop every day. I got onboard early and hung in there for a while. What I didn’t realize at that time was how far over my little head those books were reaching (much later I went back for Warren Ellis’ lengthy stint on Stormwatch. Mind=blown). But what I could appreciate was the “togetherness” of the storytelling and the mythos. The origin stories and plots of those books are as radical and diverse as the Avengers, but there is an evenness of tone that Marvel can’t really approach after decades of character development and world building by dozens of writers. WildStorm titles never really contended with that (though I can’t speak to them post-DC).
“Deconstruction” is a term that gets thrown around too much in conversations about the superhero genre, but I do find that my tastes run towards books that hold a mirror up to the tropes that traditionally define the genre.
Rising Stars remains one of my favorite books, because in true deconstructionist fashion it examines the consequences of introducing super humans to a mundane world. Likewise, I’ve been nose deep in Powers and Astro City lately, both of which explore similar themes of a world coping with super humans and other fantastic forces beyond the ken of ordinary people. My most recent read is Planetary (did I mention that I’m often late to the party?), which is at once reverential and incisive in its treatment of classic comics, as the titular organization tries to uncover the origins and subtext embedded in their increasingly strange world. Titles like those make the well-trodden paths seem fresh and new. Personally, I find stories like those far more compelling than Magneto making another attempt at world domination—but that’s just me.
We’re fresh out of the gate with the Wardenclyffe Horror, but David and I are already looking towards the future, thinking about other books we’d like to do in the future. One in particular is our own quirky take on supers—of a sort. It’s actually the project that got us started on this whole kooky path. It’s down the pipe a bit, but fresh off the success of our Kickstarter, it seems more plausible than ever that the world will have a chance to see our take on some classic themes.
If that sounds at all enticing stay tuned… big things are in store for the Spring (of 2014).
I’m a fan of superhero comics. Even the Marvel/DC titles. I don’t read them monthly (I prefer a complete storyline at very least) but I like them. I think that at least being marginally aware of titles like Marvel and DC are essential to enjoying titles like “Powers” and “Astro City”, especially the latter, as their stories are frequently anchored in the tropes that the mainstream titles play straight. It sounds like you found the right balance. And you can’t go wrong with Warren Ellis. If you haven’t, you need to tackle “Transmetropolitan” as soon as you can.
For me, even though I read a bunch of the more mature, artistically accomplished comics, superheroes are always going to be a sort of “comfort food” experience. They’re a little hit of nostalgia, a part of my childhood that I can now appreciate more fully as an adult. I don’t for a second pretend that Marvel or DC are “True Art” (whatever that may be), but the same kind of disposable fun that the pulps were back in the 1930s and 1940s.
So, no torches or pitchforks, just an appreciation of what comics bring to the table for each of us. May I make a suggestion, though? (Well, I’m going to anyhow, so I hope you said “yes”.) This article kinda reeks of defensiveness for liking what you like because it’s not what other people like. Fuck that. Your tastes are your own, and you don’t have to apologize or belittle your interests because they’re not shared by everyone else.
Thanks for the kind words. My “defensiveness” was more of an attempt at playful self-denigration than an earnest sense of self consciousness. 🙂 But I do appreciate your sentiment. My tastes have always veered left of mainstream and I have no issues with that (or so I tell my shrink… j/k!).
I’ve been watching “Comic Book Men” recently, so I’ve been developing an appreciation for the passion that truly hardcore fans of classic titles demonstrate, but I’ve also been increasingly aware of how my appreciation for the same titles is really rooted in how they’ve given more recent titles a baseline to buck, as it were.
As for Transmetropolitan–I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment. Check out my 11/6 Election Day post for a little Warren Ellis/Transmet love.
I have to say, I find the hardcore fans a bit daunting. Personally, I just can’t get that worked up over the things that some people want to rage over. “Yep, I see your point, but no, I’m not going to boycott everything the company has done because of this thing you don’t like.” Then again, I’m an easy audience. Give me SOMETHING to like, and I can forgive a lot.
Sorry if I read your tone wrong. I’ve been participating in a discussion on The Escapist about so-called “fake nerd girls”, and some of the responses by the “True Nerds” are thick with obvious, barely-sublimated self-loathing and anger that their precious interests are becoming popular amongst casual fans. It’s made me a little overly sensitive to that, I guess.