Sunday, December 15, 2013

I'm blaming comic books for everything

I'm blaming comic books for everything.

I'm blaming them because they warped my imaginative and creative development.  Ever since my sister got her hands on a copy of Jim Starlin's Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel, the least likely of all possible developments in my youth, I've been chasing comic books ever since.

Death of Captain Marvel remains one of the most awe-inspiring comics I've ever read, completely unlike anything else that has been attempted in the thirty years since its original release.  (Keep in mind my experience with it goes back maybe twenty years, I'm not really sure.)  Frank Miller, Alan Moore, all the Big Dramatic Life-Changing story arcs of the '90s ("Doomsday," "Knightfall," "Emerald Twilight," the Clone Saga), they came from this one comic book.

Marvel's Captain Marvel was not the original.  The original Captain Marvel was for a time one of the most popular superheroes in the world, and then DC decided he resembled Superman far too much, and then he went away, and that caused a great many interesting things to develop.  The '80s were a particularly good breeding ground for the results.  If you've never heard of Miracleman, you're merely one of many people still waiting for that particular result to surface again.  And then there was Death of Captain Marvel.

Marvel's Captain Marvel, then, was not originally such an important part of the DC trademark dispute aftermath.  He wasn't much of anything.  He was so not much of anything that Marvel even allowed him to be almost totally reinvented to a virtual duplicate of the original Captain Marvel, which originally he wasn't (although the British Marvelman definitely was, and that was where Miracleman came from, the first of the postmodern superheroes).  When that didn't work, Marvel decided their Captain Marvel was expendable.  So Jim Starlin got to do whatever he wanted with him.

So he gave him cancer.  And Captain Marvel was allowed to die.  And Death of Captain Marvel was all about his journey toward death.  Thanos, that large-chinned figure you may recall from the end of the Avengers movie, is involved, but as with the best Thanos stories, there is not a lot of typical villainy involved.  There's philosophy, and even poetry, not literally, but lyrically, the way Starlin provided Captain Marvel with the coda he never deserved.  This is comic books at their finest.

And so that was something I chased, probably unconsciously, for years.  I was also going for the more obvious material, which was why Spider-Man was one of my original favorites, why I glommed onto Robin because he was the classic surrogate figure for a young fan, and why Green Lantern originally became a favorite just because he featured my favorite color.

I chased comic books for years, trying to duplicate the Death of Captain Marvel experience.  That's why I ended up being such a big fan of Grant Morrison, because he seems to write in that scope with every story he tells.  I look for those kinds of stories in comic books all the time.

And without realizing it, I started to write like that, too, and read like that completely outside of comic books.  I craved scope.  I craved it like it was the most important thing in all of storytelling.  Truth is, I still believe that.  I absolutely do.  I crave it now because I'm realizing more and more how important it is to me.  I think big, or try to, as a matter of course.  A story has to work on many different levels.  The characters have to be important, and the things happening to them have to be important, too, and there have to be many other characters important to that story.  It has to have scope.  It has to mean something.

In a book, I grow bored if it seems the author tried, very hard, to have scope but failed.  I grow bored if there's no scope to be found at all.  I don't want the simple.  Comic books are many things, but if you always assumed they were simple wish fulfillment fantasies for little boys in a world they otherwise couldn't comprehend, you're wrong.  They're the greatest synthesizers of modern mythology possible.  That's what Superman was from his debut to today.

That's why I prefer the movies that star Superman and Batman, by the way, because they realize this more than those that star the Avengers.  The Avengers have everything they need to understand their scope, but they always back away from it.  I hate that.

Embrace the scope.  Maybe swig it a little.

And so I'm always looking for the books, the movies, the TV shows, the music (hello, Beatles!), and yes, the comic books that try to accomplish this task.  And that's the way I try to write, too.  I think I've realized why I'm always so scared that my dream of becoming a comic book writer will actually come true, because I've spent so much time working on the scope in my prose that I never really developed it in my comic book scripting.  Every time I've tried to work on a comic book script, I've panicked.  I haven't listened to my own instincts.  And every time I write, all I want to do is listen to the story explain its scope to me.

It's something I recognize in the work of new comic book writers.  They panic just like I do.  They try to be too precise.  This is something I get to recognize the more sporadic my reading of comic books becomes.  I read them heavily in the 90s, but it took about half the first decade of the new millennium for me to have a chance to get back into them.  And then I obsessed over them.  I immersed myself in them.  And it was good but maybe I also started taking them for granted.  A few years back, I started pulling away, and this year has been the most sporadic of all my years reading comic books.  And I think this is a good thing.  It gives me greater perspective on them.  It gives me, I guess, a little of the scope on the whole thing that they've been giving me all along.

I blame comic books for everything in a good way...


  1. Many of us go for that scope, but it's a difficult thing to pull off well.
    I'll admit it's been years since I read comics, but anyone who thinks they are simple cartoons with simple stories is mistaken. They are complex stories and incredible works of art.

  2. One of the best things about comics can be the cliffhanger. It leaves you wanting more then you realize you have to wait a month to find out the conclusion.

    1. Some readers don't understand how awesome that is.

  3. I probably can't blame comics since I hardly read any until last year.

    1. And you have much to learn, young padawan.


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