Saturday, January 24, 2009
COMIC BOOK MEDITATION
I should be working.
But instead I'm taking some badly needed time off to curl up at my writing desk and enjoy a little inspiration. By that, I mean catch up on all the comic books piling up next to my Godzilla 2000 action figure, which is next to my GOON action figure, which is next to my "DVDs I'd Really Like to Watch Sometime in the Next Two Years" stack (containing "Mighty Peking Man," "The Parallax View," "High Noon," and "The Who: Live at Kilburn 1977" among others...), all of which is a few feet from the HUGE stack of magazines I'm behind on reading ("Scientific American," "Written By," "The New Yorker," and "Mac/Life" are the top offenders right now...).
My desire to plough through all this comicky goodness was instigated by the recent fervor surrounding AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #583, now forever known as the "Spidey/Obama Issue." Apparently it's now officially the biggest-selling comic book of the 21st Century (so far). Already in its sold-out 3rd printing, a 4th printing hits shelves Feb. 4th. As someone who's been reading comics for 30+ years, it's exciting to see the medium interacting in such an exciting fashion with the real world. I suppose it's all part of "Obama-mania" that's sweeping the country... make that the world... but if a Spider-Man comic also introduces one kid to the endless possibilities of our political system--a democracy where anything is truly possible--then maybe AMS #583 can live up to all the hype.
Of course, all this got me to thinking about the comic books that changed and shaped me as a kid. The ones that really opened my eyes. Surprisingly enough, most of them were just ordinary issues of classic books. Nothing as groundbreaking or spectacular as AMS #583.
Take JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #106. This was my first DC comic. I remember wanting it because it had both Batman AND Superman on the cover. How cool was that? This lead to me reading a ton more DC comics and a lot of childhood geeky love. For awhile there, I read nothing but DC Comics.
Then my grandfather bought me my first issue of "Amazing Spider-Man." The issue was #110. The storyline was a relatively forgettable one: "The Birth of the Gibbon." The Gibbon was a super-villain patsy (for Kraven the Hunter) who never appeared again in a comic. It didn't matter. I loved the issue so much, Spider-Man replaced Batman and Superman (for the next few years) as my favorite superhero. But at this point, comic books were just that: cool stories with cool illustrations. Mild distractions from the crappy real world of childhood.
Then AMS #121 and #122 came crashing into my life and nothing was ever the same.
I guess, like many kids my age, the deaths of Gwen Stacey and The Green Goblin were my first real exposures to death. Sure, they were just comic book characters. But nobody ever died in comic books. Not really. Well, the Green Goblin DID murder Gwen Stacey... and in AMS #122 (still my favorite comic book of all time), a wounded, angry Peter Parker sets out to avenge the death of the woman he loves by finally KILLING the Green Goblin once and for all. It was the kind of pain that seemed distant, but which I could suddenly understand. I could now begin to--in an immature way, mind you--start understanding what real loss might be like. And in a twist I never saw coming, Peter can't commit murder (no matter how much he wants to). But GG ends up buying the farm anyway, thanks to his own greed and madness. The lines written to describe the death of the original Green Goblin are still unforgettable, and just as powerful as they were over thirty years ago:
"So do the proud men die: Crucified, not on a cross of gold -- but on a stake of humble tin."
The impact this single story had on me cannot be overestimated, as it was from this point on that I began to take comic books seriously. I began reading as many Marvel, DC, or Gold Key (yes, I loved Dark Shadows even back then... as witnessed by my complete run of the GOLD KEY DARK SHADOWS COMIC BOOKS in my parents basement. They're still in great condition!) as my dollar-a-week allowance would allow.
As the Eighties arrived, I became more and more distracted by girls and rock music. I began to drift away from comic books, just reading the occasional Chris Claremont X-MEN book by then...
Finally by 1985/1986, I had pretty much given up on the medium. Nothing seems to catch my attention anymore. All the old heroes seemed stale. And again, there were girls, girls, girls...
Enter ALAN MOORE and FRANK MILLER.
I remember the conversation very distinctly. I was talking to a fellow musician about how much comics sucked nowadays and he just looked at me and grinned. The next day, he handed me two things: the first was Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" #3. The second was "Swamp Thing" #56, the then-current issue in the Alan Moore run.
Just as AMS #122 had done so over a decade earlier, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and SWAMP THING just blew me off the planet!!!
Suddenly, my love of comic books was rekindled. But this time with an adult sensibility. Comic books were growing up, and so was I. Maybe there was room in life for comics and girls...
Well, you can pretty much guess the rest of the story. Alan Moore (still my favorite comic book writer to this day) and Frank Miller quickly gave way to Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, Todd McFarlane's run on SPIDEY and SPAWN, then the discovery of independent books, etc. And I haven't stopped reading them since. My first trip to the San Diego Comic Con back in the mid-1990s only cemented the frenzy. And trust me, a day doesn't go by at my day job on EUREKA where some comic book reference doesn't come in handy. What's that? Sheriff Carter wants to sacrifice himself by taking the dangerous phasing solution from Captain Eureka, in order to save Zoe and Zane? Yup, that's just like Cyclops risking everything to save Jean Grey from the curse of the Phoenix (although Sheriff Carter had better luck...). Hmmm. I guess reading comic books does pay off in the long run.
Pardon me while I get back to my reading.