Wednesday, November 07, 2007

By Jove, I've Outgrown My Childhood!

I've been reading comics as long as I can remember, but the single issue that really made me latch on to comic books in a big way was Fantastic Four #254 by John Byrne. I was just absolutely captivated by the story; there was friendly reparte among the FF, a villain they didn't/couldn't just wallop into next week, an alien dimension, pop culture references, a good action sequence... There was a great sense that I was stepping into the middle of a story, but one that was easy to step into the middle of. There was stuff that happened earlier, but I didn't need to know that because I was in the story NOW.

Today I picked up Fantastic Four #551 by Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Pelletier. I was struck by how, despite it being a very different story than #254, the book had much the same feel. There's the friendly reparte, multiple villains they can't wallop into next week, time travel, a little action... There was again that sense of stepping into the middle of a story, but one that was easy to step into the middle of. There was stuff that happened earlier, but I didn't need to know that because I was in the story NOW.

On all accounts, it was a good, well-crafted comic. The story, as implied above, is solid in that the reader is given everything they need to know. It's also well written so that the reader is not left feeling like s/he is just reading exposition to make sure they have all of that information. I feel as if I've read a good complete comic, but there's still an incentive to get the next issue based on the story alone. The art is superb as well. The characters from the future actually look older, as opposed to just having white hair. And you can see a great depth of emotion in everyone's facial expressions. I was even struck by some of the textured inking that was done to emphasize some of the more "raw" moments. Kudos to the whole team that put this issue together!

For anyone who's been reading this blog, you'll know that I'd dropped all of my marvel reading except Fantastic Four because the sandbox wasn't fun any more. Their whole line just reeked of negative emotions, and I've continued to read FF almost exclusively for the nostalgia factor. So let me say that #551 is precisely the manner in which I'd hoped to continue reading the title. It felt akin to what I fell in love with, but without re-treading old material. No small feat, to be sure, so let me provide more kudos to the creative team on that front.

Here's the thing, though...

It still wasn't fun. There really wasn't that negative weightiness which caused me to drop all the other marvel books I was getting. By all rights, this issue should elicit in me a very similar reaction that #254 did all those years ago. Oh, sure, I understand that part of what grabbed me with #254 was the simple newness of everything, and it's wholly unreasonable for me to ever expect from the Fantastic Four anywhere near the level of excitement I got when I first discovered them. But #551 really wasn't all that nostalgic for me. I suppose it must have been on some level -- after all, I'm writing this post and actively remembering how I felt when I first read #254. But my recollections are strangely more academic than emotive.

"Ah, yes. Byrne opened his story with a seemingly disconnected prologue as well."

"Good to see McDuffie has brought back some of the banter that used to be a hallmark of the book."

If I were 11 years old again, and waffling on whether or not I should give up comics, I'd bet that this issue would've sucked me in just as readily as Byrne's did. But I'm 35 now, and I spent over two decades hanging out in that universe. A couple of years ago, I'd have told you that a romp in a superhero-laden world was fun and a great way to relive my childhood. But it's just not doing it for me any more, and I can't even say that it's because I'm just not reading quality material. This was a darn fine comic book, but I'm getting more "warm fuzzies" these days from the three or four decent comic strips in my local newspaper.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you considered the possibility that depression is tainting your view of comics? Losing interest in hobbies is a pretty common symptom. When I went through some major depression some years ago, I lost interest in comics entirely. But as I got back on my feet, my interest picked right back up.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought, but maybe the comic SHOULD appeal to 11 year olds. I am 38 and am saddened by the lack of comics I can give my 9 year old son. Even Superman contains page after page of material that's inappropriate for him. Don't get me wrong. I love the Ultimates and such, but if I can't hook him on something other than the Cartoon Network and Showcase books, there is no future for our industry. Give the kids what belongs to them, or their kids won't even know what comics are, because they won't exist.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with the second poster.

You have my condolences because you've discovered THE AWFUL SECRET.
I'm 40 and, after a life of superhero comics reading and full immersion in the Marvel Universe (and swearing up and down that superheroes could be for adults thanks to visionary work of Alan Moore in the mid-to-late 80's), in my late 20's I discovered an awful but inescapable truth: superhero comics SHOULD be for kids.

There's nothing wrong with you because a comic has a full compliment of elements that once worked successfully on you in your childhood and they don't work now - the problem is with the assumption that they *should*. Read something else. Try some of the Comix stuff if you haven't already (Don't listen to people who sling around terms like "pretension" and "arty" while they cherish their bad Sci-Fi Channel dramas and High School "soap-opera dynamic" movies and shows. Theirs is the world of JACKASS and NASCAR and AMERICAN IDOL, a world they can feel easily superior to because they know what the world "teleport" means). Spend time on those works of great literature you always intended to get around to. Step up to the high ground and challenge yourself. Leave Sue & Reed & Ben & Johnny for the kids or, at least, drop them for ten years and then see if it's worth coming back.

If that sounds haughty, I apologize. But it is some hard won truth. You don't have to abandon superhero comics, but just keeping a character or a writer you like and jettisoning the rest is the way to go. Let go of continuity. Let go of the soap operas.

(whispers)The horrible truth is this...BAM! POW! SOCKO! Comics ARE just for kids (well, okay, they've really slid into solid teenager area now) but very few are written for them anymore. They - arrested adolescents who wanted to write serious stories about guys who could fly (because writing about real people in the real world and how they relate is just too much work) lied to you. Realize that superhero serial-comics worked best when there was a continous overturn in the readership at "first sexual encounter age" and when they weren't written by guys who's lifelong ambition was to write them. You'll feel much better.

Trust me, from personal experience, you will.

Matt said...

Man, what gives with this post? Did it get linked from some high-traffic site? I can't help wondering whether everyone has read more from the blog than just this post before commenting... Hm.

plok said...

I believe Sean's starting to get linked from Journalista now, Matt.

I've taken breaks, too. From the Big Two sometimes, other times (less frequently) from comics in general. And I don't think Anonymous #2 is being haughty at all (plus I really enjoyed that comment!); I love trash culture and guilty pleasures, but I like 'em best when they're trashily guilty. And I'm not at all tempted to read McDuffie's FF, though I'm sure it's fine: I want different stuff from my longjohn fantasies now, than the stuff I wanted when I was younger. Youth, vigour, and dream-logic; a blindfolded trip through the psychological funhouse; imagination and fecundity. Joy in movement.

And, every once in a long while (okay, a very long while!), a story that couldn't be told in any other genre. Or, even rarer: a type of voice that flourishes best in the hothouse garden of power/identity fantasies. These things can be found, and I still believe they're great. I've really loved coming back to them, in fact.

And then there's the medium of comics itself, which I've loved coming back to even more.

It's still not Ulysses, though.

I think I'm past both breaks and soap operas, honestly. Maybe I've stabilized, with regard to the superheroes?

Hmm...

plok said...

Sorry, I meant Anonymous #3.