Monday, January 14, 2008
A Life of Comics, Part 1
I was walking home the other day with a bag full of comics. I had just dropped over 25 bucks at the comic book store (Million Year Picnic here in Cambridge). I spend about this much every week. In my bag I had BPRD, Nova, Simon Dark, Mighty Avengers, mostly superhero titles, a few horror titles, and one or two indies. I realized suddenly that I am going to be 41 in a few weeks, and that I have been reading and collecting comics for about 35 years. For the last 15 or so, I have been buying my comics in the same store. And let me tell you something. I still love them with all my soul and all my heart. And more specifically, while there is a special place in my life for Clowes, Tomine, Ware, and Kochalka, it's superhero comics that I adore.
Over the years, I have had bouts where comics fell a bit to the wayside. Computers (Atari 800), punk rock (Boston Hardcore), girls, sex, drugs, getting clean, jazz, the study of religion, writing, marriage, a child; each of these things, in their way, distracted me for a time, but no matter where I have been or what I have been doing, broke, flush, student, unemployed, or book contract in hand, I always found a way to read and buy comics.
I acquired my first collection from the ages of 6 to 12. It was the seventies, and I had some wonderful things; X-Men 94, tons of Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes, all those great giant size Batman and Superman Family comics. Thor with the "Pop Art" stamp on the upper left corner, Fantastic Four with the Impossible Man, High Evolutionary, and Galactus. So many wonderful comics. My family moved from Florida to Massachusetts in 1980, and when the moving truck unloaded on that fateful January day, my box of comics was not part of the delivery.
For a few years in the mid 80s I bought almost every superhero title that came out. My favorites at the time were The Avengers, Ann Niocenti's Daredevil, Cloak and Dagger, and Walt Simonson's Thor (simply one of the best runs by a single creator). I also collected back issues of Creepy and Eerie, the weird tripped out comic called Nemesis the Warlock, Grim Jack, reprints of Zap, Sandman, and of course Watchman and The Dark Knight Returns. One day I found myself desperately needing money. I sold the whole collection for $300.00. (Don, can I please buy them all back?)
It was really the work of James Robinson that brought me back to superhero comics. His Starman stands out as one of the great ongoing series. But I still had a love hate with superheroes. There was some that was good, but a lot of it was still terrible. But I could never really let go.
Now here I am, as I said almost 41, and buying tons of superhero comics. But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I was able to understand what it was all about. I had gotten home with my comics and was excited to read the new Giant Size Avengers. I was a little disappointed with the book. I was about to go on to the next comic in the stack when I noticed that they had reprinted an old issue of the Avengers. And lo and behold, it was my favorite single comic of all time: Avengers #58, titled "Even an Android Can Cry." The story follows the Vision, who after helping the Avengers defeat his creator, Ultron, wishes to become a member of the team. Iron Man and Thor duke it out with him to see if he has the stuff to be an Avenger. The issue also includes the Vision's origin, one of the most marvelously convoluted origins in comics. Henry Pym, the golden age Human Torch, and Wonder Man all somehow figure into the creation of this android that can become ethereal, diamond hard, fire a laster from a diamond embedded in his head, and put his arm through someone's chest and then change his density so that the victim is wracked from the inside.
Ultimately the Vision is accepted into the Avengers. The last page of the comic is a single panel. The Vision is holding his head in his hand and a long tear flows from his eye. Off panel, Captain America is saying: "...even an android can cry." WHAM! When I was nine or ten this captured my imagination like no other moment. Even Tolkien didn't produce this kind of emotional effect for me. There was a mythology here that contained this wholly unique character, something like a god, also a construct, but he was vulnerable. This ability to capture the deeper quality of myth and imbues it with humanity is something that keep me, at 41, still reading superhero comics.
Part 2 coming soon.