For those of you who have been keeping up with my posts in the @MeltdownComics blog, some of you might know that I’m:
A) A DC Comics guy.
B) A believer in Superman.
C) A Slave to story, but also artwork (like 90% of comic book readers).
Let me share a quick story with you:
When I was a young padawan, somewhere around the age of 10, I met a guy, let’s call him Robert, for the moment. Robert was a student who required the aid of my mother; and she prompted me to meet him for the first time. At this time, some people might think it necessary for me to mention that Robb is a quadripelgic. But I didn’t see that. What I was greeted with was someone my age, who loved all the same things that I did, yet didn’t want to enjoy them on his own. When we first met, Robb asked me if I liked video games.
I said, “Of course!” Who in their right mind didn’t love video games during the year of 2000-2001?
What Robert asked me next would be the foundation of a long relationship for years to come.
“Would you want to play mine? I’m not very good, and I like watching others play, instead,” he said.
I believe what I said was something along the lines of, “sure,” but to a 10-(ish)-year-old, having someone ask you to play a next-gen console FOR THEM should have been met with a “hell yeah I will!” Let’s say for the sake of argument that I was concerned about my first impression, so I played it cool. From then on, Robb would go on to educate me about all of ‘nerd-culture’, this was before “”””””nerd-culture”””””” (and yes, I’m layering that in quotes) became a popular, commercial exterior that one could inhabit.
“Why is he drawing that distinction???” you may ask.
Because I am a proud Millennial. To some, that might seem like a redundant phrase, but to me, it is the identifier I was born into. To many of the people who first read Jack Kirby’s (RIP) New Gods, and were forever changed, I would be willing to bet you forever identified yourself as someone who started reading at the “peak” of comics. Some people might identify as having read comics when Watchmen was first coming out.
All of that is fine….because it’s not about when you started reading, it’s about if you still read. Are you still a comic book reader? Or have you allowed yourself to become jaded, and stop? That’s the true sign of someone who was only ever interested in the exterior of “nerd-culture:” they find a reason to duck out. The truest “nerds” will find a million and one things to gripe about, but will never leave comics behind, because these books matter too much. You might have heard the signs of either someone about to leave, or someone proving their allegiance, subtly:
“DC comics are so ANTIQUATED!!”
“Oh here goes Marvel again, up to their same time-travel narrative they ALWAYS do!”
Often times, we become so VERSED in the world of comics, that we forget why we started reading them in the first place. I’m writing today to remind those that read superficially, or those that have turned comic books into nerd-rage-fuel, why you might have picked up a comic book, those years ago.
Think back to your earliest superhero days. Who did you want to be?
Was it Superman? I bet I knock out half of you in one swoop with that one.
How about Batman? Yeah, another large percentage.
Captain America, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Trini the Yellow Power Ranger ……the list goes on (some of you even got upset that your hero wasn’t mentioned.)
The point is, we will forever need to look at how a story could mean something to us, if we ever desire to derive meaning from that source.
The example I’ve been leading to:
My first trade-paperback I ever read, thanks to Robb himself, was Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ KINGDOM COME, from DC Comics.
That will forever be the book I reference to. Forever.
When I first started reading KINGDOM COME, I thought, “I don’t want to read about a geriatric Superman.” But I was encouraged by both Robb, and his dad, John, Robb’s own comic influence, to read it cover to cover. Once I opened it, that was an easy feat, because the pages were lined with ALEX ROSS artwork. For those of you who haven’t read an Alex Ross book, do it, because there is arguably no better artist than he. For those of you who hate Alex Ross, get over yourself. I don’t care what bad experience you’ve had with him, because he was selling pieces of his art for “too much,” or because he wasn’t the nicest to you that one year of Comic-Con. There will forever be a moment in an artist’s life where he did not please a fan, and it will forever be YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, as a fan, to still take the most from the piece of art that they have created. For the years to follow, I would find it difficult to read books that didn’t feature the same photo-realistic look of superheroes that Ross’ pages feature. Eventually I would find the charm underneath the cartoon-based art, but that would be after some years.
But that was just the hook, Ross’ art. What held my attention in KINGDOM COME was the epic storytelling of Mark Waid. It is a very fine line to walk, in any medium, between entertaining an audience and offering something outside of entertainment. What I understood about Waid, despite how young I was, was that he gave a shit about what he was writing, that he knew a great deal about the characters he was privileged to work with, but also wanted the reader be engaged. Waid wasn’t flexing in an esotertic fashion all over the page. His commentary and themes were presented as such, because he wants the discussion that follows after the read. “I had fun,” becomes “I don’t even know what I would do if I were Superman in those circumstances.” Though he isn’t the first or only person to take comics seriously, I believe him to be an early figure t to subversively open a dialogue on the importance of comics and their teachings to generations to come.
For me, my initial read of KINGDOM COME will always be clear. For those of you who haven’t read it, but are interested, I’ll set up the first third of the book for you, as a tease to read the rest (this is often how I pitch the story to customers in store, if you come in, I will still bid you the same courtesy):
Superman has retired, not exactly through his choosing. We thought we knew better than him. We gave into fear and said that we needed to take harsher extremes against criminals who repeatedly killed innocent civilians. Superman opposed, and another figure answered the call of the people. Distraught by how quickly we, the people, turned against him, Superman flies into exile and solitude.
Surely this new champion would improve upon Superman’s reign. Surely he would continue to teach the youth how to responsibly use their powers, and lead these decent metahumans towards a path of virtue. That isn’t the case. This new champion abandons the people, leaving them to figure out their own lives outside of his exterminating of villains. But what happens when that becomes the model of power? What happens when danger and threat are no longer premeditated, but random byproducts of a reckless sect of the youth, who care little for others outside of their own existence?
That’s when it’s time for Superman and the Golden Age heroes to return.
Sound like an epic to you?
The reason I chose this book to start with, and part of the reason why I think it’s important I identified myself as a Millennial earlier, was because it was the first time I considered why we need superheroes in our lives, something beyond the thought of rescuing a cat from a tree. Examples of characters achieving feats, and conquering fears far greater than our own; superheroes are our North Stars.
For years to come, after my initial read of KINGDOM COME, I would watch my generation grow distant from the idea of Superman.
“He’s just a big, blue boy scout.”
“I can’t relate to him, he’s got no depth.”
I don’t imagine this post will eliminate those sentences from ever being uttered again. In fact, I imagine there could be blow back from people who have inhabited a persona that lives to oppose his optimism. Or it could all just not matter.
The fight against that pessimism is the task at hand for my generation, I think I knew that when I read it. We have to be torchbearers. An entire generation of great human beings, who accomplished tremendous feats, have laid a foundation for us. And it is our responsibility to continue that greatness, whether it be in the field of comics, and/or beyond. There will come a time when I, and my peers, must step up.
That is how I feel about a book from 1996, about a character created in 1938, that I read around 2001, and am talking about it in 2014. I encourage all of you to read KINGDOM COME and consider how it relates today, and I think you’ll find a deeper appreciation for characters you’ve been exposed to for years. But then I would encourage you to read a New 52 era Superman story, to stay current, to grow with the character and embrace this era, because there’s worth in this age to. And if you disagree, then you’re only feeling the same feelings writers and artists felt when they took the character into another direction themselves, artistically, so I would encourage you to do the same.
Know what came before you, what you grew up on, where you’re at, and you’ll know where to go.
Thanks for reading!