For anyone reading this, welcome to the Comic Book Column! In future entries, I will be discussing several storylines and famous comic books. In this entry, however, I want to illuminate my own background in the subject matter, along with why I write about comics.
Growing up, I was enamored with anything science-fiction related: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Ben 10, you name it. I was entranced by the genre. These larger than life stories with settings that ranged anywhere from outer space all the way back down to the sewers of New York captured my imagination and took me away.
Superheroes were never a huge focus for me. I saw a few Spider-Man cartoons, and Batman was in my periphery, but nothing really stood out as amazing. This all changed in the third grade with the release of one movie: Spider-Man 3. If you’ve seen Spider Man 3, that must sound strange. Spider-Man 3, the movie that ended the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy on a rather sour note, inspired my interest in superheroes, and eventually, comic books in general. At the time, however, as a nine-year-old, I didn’t see the cringe-inducing dance scenes or the overstuffed plot. All I could see were the colorful costumes and amazing powers on display. From Spider-Man’s red and blue suit swinging on the big screen, to Venom’s gigantic mouth with razor sharp teeth and protruding tongue, I was fascinated.
I went to see Spider-Man 3 in the theater a few times, each time awing at the special effects and action sequences. The larger-than-life story of Peter Parker captured my imagination. My fascination escalated from then on. At the school book fair, I bought an encyclopedia on Spider-Man, reading up on each and every character and concept within this amazing world I had discovered. From the colorful rogues’ gallery of villains, to each and every power which Spider-Man possessed, I learned it all in no time. I then rewatched all of the 90s Spider-Man cartoons, along with the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, until I could recite lines verbatim. Every fight scene, every word, all became a part of me. Then I learned that there were 45 years of comics to read about this amazing, spectacular, sensational web-head, stories that were ongoing to this day. Needless to say, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s web-slinging wonder had me from that point on, forever.
Ultimately, this unbridled passion was very simple: I wanted to be Spider-Man. He was smart, funny, and kind. He had an amazing power set, and went on awesome adventures. I’d be hard pressed to think of a kid who wouldn’t aspire to these qualities. The most important part of this aspiration, however, is that I didn’t just want to be Spider-Man.I felt like I could be Spider-Man. I was no genius, but I felt I was a reasonably smart kid. I could make a good joke every now and then, although I was no great comedian. I may not have the proportionate strength of a spider, but ultimately, I did my best to be a good person. At the end of the day, I felt that being a good person was a fairly attainable goal. That idea resonated with me above all: be a good person and do the right thing.
Fast-forward about 13 years into the future. I remain more invested in the wonderful world of comics than ever. It may come as a surprise that I never really outgrew stories about people with strange powers in colorful spandex, but there are plenty of features that kept me interested in comics over the years. For one thing, while Spider-Man is still certainly my favorite character in comics, there have been so many different stories that have caught my attention over the years. From the drama of the X-Men‘s “Dark Phoenix Saga” to the dark and gritty corners of Batman by Frank Miller, comics maintain a plethora of characters in which I have become engrossed. If I grew bored with Spider-Man one day, Superman was a good change of pace. If the X-Men were too moody for me, I could count on the Fantastic Four to cheer me right up. I could explore any part of the Marvel or DC universes at any time I wished.
These characters are also diverse in their appeal and transmit different messages which can apply to different times in one’s life. In my angsty middle school years, for instance, the X-Men were relatable for their feelings of alienation and marginalization from regular society. Batman connected well in high school for his preparation in the face of any obstacle, all the while remaining calm and collected. In college, the dysfunction of Marvel characters such as the Hulk and the Fantastic Four resonated during a time of offbeat, idiosyncratic adventures. Through these diverse sets of character types, one message remained a constant, since I was nine years old: do the right thing.
The overall impact of this message on my life has only been exacerbated by one of the most comforting yet frustrating ideas in comic books: the story never ends. Today, all of the characters I have grown to love and learn from continue their stories in the pages of comic books. Spider-Man still fights the Green Goblin and struggles to make ends meet. The X-Men still protect a world that hates and fears them. Batman, for over 80 years, has continued to protect the streets of Gotham City. While there are certain criticisms over the fact that there can never really be a true, satisfying ending for these characters, I find this idea to be a comfort. All of the characters with whom I relate, from whom I learn, and about whom I love to read, continue on as I do. Spidey and I have been going strong since 2007, and even as he has had his marriage erased, gotten rich, been mind-swapped with Doc Ock, lost his fortune, and gotten back together with Mary Jane, he has remained Spider-Man. In the same way, I have gone through school, moved from my hometown, started college, and nearly graduated, while generally remaining the same person I am now. The amazing thing about comics is having these companions who travel with me through my journey, just as they journey themselves through different stories, writers, and artists over time.
It is this endurance of characters through comic books that make it such a unique medium. Even outside superhero comics, comic books have a way to continue where movies and television shows simply cannot. Actors grow old. TV shows end, never to return. Movie franchises finish off, and creators move on to new projects. The wonderful thing about comics is the way in which the medium can pick up where other mediums leave off. TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, and Firefly are all given room to continue and expand their lore within the world of comics, even after their respective TV runs are finished. Movie franchises such as Star Wars are allowed more space via a universe in the comic realm. Even childhood classics such as TMNT are revived and given new life within the pages of their own comic book. Not only do comic books allow for a continuation of these franchises, but the medium also has more story potential, unrestricted by special effects budgets or actor availability. From this freedom, movies and television can continue in a more imaginative direction than ever, including any characters the writer can think of, along with big ideas restricted only by a budget of the artist’s imagination.
It is my goal for this blog to share the love of comic books. I want to share all of the characters that have shaped my life from age nine onwards, along with the values they imbue upon readers everywhere. I want to discuss the best stories told in the medium of comics, superhero or otherwise. Most importantly, I hope this blog can illuminate what makes the medium of comic books so fantastic. The artwork, writing, and everything that makes comics what they are, deserve recognition for the distinctions they provide for the medium as a whole. It is these distinctions which have allowed comics to endure as long as they have, and allow them to continue to endure today. In the spirit of the enduring nature of comics, I intend to review not only comics I have read in the past, but also comics I will be reading for the first time as this blog continues. Even 13 years later, I am still discovering many wonderful comics, and will continue to explore this world for years to come. In that vein, I invite everyone reading to join me on this journey to discover endearing characters, larger than life ideas, and what makes comic books so enduring as a medium.