When I was but a wee slip of a thing, the original Superman movie came out (1978). I responded to it on so many levels that I can scarcely describe them all here, but the sheer romance and scope of the narrative: parental fidelity (doubled!), the injunction to do good, the sadomasochistic flirtation with Lois (to be explored in its full, self-denying fruition in the sequel), the helplessness of that first taste of Kryptonite, the humor, the drama, the tenderness of finding Lois dead, the erotic fixation on Chris Reeve, believing a man can fly.... This has been explored elsewhere, but the bottom line is that this began a fixation on comic books that was just this side of addiction. We're talkin' sneaking comics hidden in my tube socks under my jeans into the house, we're talkin' being kicked out of the Wawa in South Jersey for reading comics with the phrase, "this isn't a library," we're talkin' switching from bag lunches to school lunches to grub food off of friends and use the lunch money to buy comics. This lasted from age nine to my college years when, finally, the hold began to wane, but not before Alan Moore upped the ante of comic writing with "The Killing Joke," "Swamp Thing," and "Watchmen."
Nothing was so sweet as coming home with an issue of Moore/Bissette/Totleben/Wood's "Swamp Thing" and a fresh roll of Sprees, to lie on my stomach on my bed, the comic on the floor, and scan, then re-read the damned four-color addicting object. That's what it was like.
I gave up comics in college about the time that Marvel decided to use the X-Men craze to tell stories across multiple titles--some you couldn't give a rat's ass about--to get you to buy even more comics. It was a craven, cynical market move, and it killed my interest.
Sure, from time to time, I would pop into St Mark's Comics or Forbidden Planet to bewilderlngly examine the many titles I couldn't find myself caring about. This all changed last year (plus) when DC started to amp up their Infinite Crisis event with "Identity Crisis" and the "Countdown" (and mind you, I was cajoled into even caring about this by friends who were following it: to wit: DC had hired a dude to oversee production, and he had the idea that they could tell a story on an extremely large canvas, using all the books they were publishing. This ambitious scheme involved 1) creating a stronger continuity among all the books where there wasn't one before, 2) highlighting the "Big Three" of the canon, being Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and drawing a specific series of relationships among them, including Batman's obsession with Wonder Woman and the constant speculation, among the people living in this world, that Superman and Wonder Woman were lovers, and 3) pulling it all towards a Crisis (the twentieth anniversary of the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" [which I read in the original] that did away with the much-beloved [to me] multiverse of Earth-1, Earth-2, Eartch-S, etc. [which DC feared was "confusing," but frankly if you don't get the idea of a multiverse or a time-paradox, for that matter, you shouldn't be reading comic books in the first place]), which would shake up the DCU and make for clarifying, and hopefully, exciting new possibilities. The sheer gall of the enterprise captivated me, and I started buying comics again--on a weekly basis--for the first time in almost two decades. Wednesday became Comics Day.
I think the two--the only two--media that have the ability to explore narrative on a very large scale these days are comic books and, yes, TV series. After resisting for five years, and after the many demands of well-regarded, smart friends, I finally got into Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. You have to understand that I don't watch TV, and the title itself was enough to turn me off, but "Buffy" became a major education in surprises. It turned out to be an amazingly well written, very intelligent, exploration of a panoply of themes that got me in a way I wasn't expecting. I don't particularly care if you're a Buffy fan, but Joss Whedon was doing stuff with "Buffy" something that has been hailed on The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Veronica Mars, and The Sopranos as ground-breaking stuff before those shows were even an itch in their Daddy's pants. And on network TV. AND on fuckin' the WB. And all the while, you thought "Reality" TV was the bomb.
Because comics and TV series are basically trash media, no one wants to really give them their due. But the truth is that there is a generation of writers who came up through theory-ridden programs of lit and film, and they are using that education to write some of the best drama available in our culture in, that's right, TV and comic books: the only two media that afford such a large space to explore character, narrative, and storytelling in such a big, operatic fashion. Twenty-two episodes a year is an amazing gift; unending runs of a comic are the same; these people are exploring the uses of their media in a way that no one has done since Laurence Sterne, Woolf, Joyce, or maybe the postmodernist writers of the 1950s. [I don't have the energy to include the non-narrative arts: cubism, architecture, surrealism, etc. Oh wait, maybe I just did.]
Girls, this is exciting stuff.
So, suffering Sappho, that's why I read comics.
I'm not sorry that you don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm glad as hell that I do. There is so much more going on in the world than you think, and it might just be happening in places you don't expect. Open your heart to trash, motherfucker; it just might be smarter than you are.
And, again, that's why I read comics.
A great big shout out to Michael's So I Like Superman and his Uncle Mikey's Funnybook Round-Up and GayProf's Center of Gravitas, which offers a vintage Wonder Woman cover for every post, and most especially this goes out to the unfortunately-titled, but admirable Joe.My.God, who has never, ever, touched a comic to my great sadness.
O Joe. O Joe, My God; O Joe, my fuckin' God, how can I keep praying to you with this knowledge? Oh, my God, Joe. Oh. I am heartened, not that my opinion matters at all, by your enjoyment of this post, which can only be inscrutable to you [My favorite line is: "Random Woman, you stay low. We're moving in."]. Oh, Joe, My God. My God, why have you forsaken me?