Tuesday, June 07, 2011


While this might possibly feel a bit out of scope for this blog, I'm going to talk about a long-running, yet fringe hobby of mine. I call it a fringe hobby not because the hobby itself is a "fringe" activity, somewhat outside of society's mainstream (although you could perhaps argue that that is true) but because I've only really dabbled on the fringe of the hobby. I'm talking about comic books.

I've always loved superheroes. Almost as long as I can remember. When I was a very young kid, there were re-runs of the old Spiderman animated cartoon, as well as some of the other Marvel properties. I watched them religiously. In the earlier 80s, I clearly recall that my favorite hour of TV every Saturday was Spiderman and his Amazing Friends partnered up with the Hulk. Honestly, I got a lot more of my superhero action from these cartoon shows than I did from reading comic books. Not that I didn't read comic books from time to time. My dad brought a bunch of them home from work once or twice (I'm not sure how he got them, but they were clearly unusual collections of odds and ends that were often poorly matched, and I only rarely had contigous issues to read in order. This included titles like Indiana Jones, the Micronauts, Star Wars, The Shield, and more mainstream superhero characters like the Teen Titans, the Justice League, Batman, Superman, etc.)

I always gravitated to the Marvel characters, probably because they had better TV shows when I was a kid (not that I didn't religiously watch the Superfriends at one point too, of course.) By the time I was a teenager, I had a bit of spare cash from time to time, and hey, comic books were hip-deep in the transition from the "Bronze Age" to the "Modern Age." I started buying some Marvel titles with a fair bit of regularity. Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers, the West Coast Avengers, Alpha Flight, and occasional forays into Spiderman or the Hulk. But mostly, I got really pretty big into the X-books. This was near the end of Chris Claremont's run, with Marc Silvestri on pencils (switching to Jim Lee at some point there too) and when the X-books had a number of titles. For some time, I regularly collected The Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and the New Mutants, as well as Classic X-men, which as you'd expect were reprints of the Claremont/Byrne collaboration.

It's to these that I now turn, briefly. This last weekend, my wife and I went out to see X-Men: First Class, and because it promised to deliver on some really classic X-men action, I was quite excited to see it. I first started getting pretty big into the X-books about the time that Fall of the Mutants was running. That crossover event, which I just recently re-read, is really not all that good compared to most of the rest to which if can be compared. Certainly it's nothing classic. But at about that same time, Classic X-men had everyone's favorite mutants flying through space to defeat the Shi'ar mad emperor D'ken who threatened to use the M'Kraan crystal to destroy all of reality. I kept buying Classic X-men for another year or two (the sum total of my more intensive comic book collecting phase) and sadly, looking at it now I'd got the first half of the Dark Phoenix saga, but not the second half. Blegh.

Some X-men fans will tell you that the X-men doing space opera is not the X-men, but to me, that was always a big part of their modus operandi. Heck, the Shi'ar are a classic X-villainous (usually) entity, and are hugely important to the continuity. Corsair, a Han Solo like space pirate and rebel against the empire is freakin' Cyclops' father fer cryin' out loud. And what is probably the most iconic and famous X-story ever told, reprinted no less than 11 times (so far) is the Dark Phoenix saga in which an interstellar court of Kree, Shi'ar and Skrulls bring the X-men to the Blue Area of the Moon and duke it out.

Of course, a number of other real oddities are "classically" X-men too--the Savage Land being a prime example. But I really enjoy the space opera stuff, when it's done well.

So, while feeling a post-First Class X-men buzz, I went to the library and browsed what we had in trade paperback collections. Marvel (and DC, for that matter) have spent all kinds of time reprinting their comics in trade paperback format, and if the sheer number of them for sale at basic bookstores is any guide, it's a profitable and successful business for them. I applaud it, because it's the only way I'd ever consider buying comic books these days, and I do find myself moved to pick up some tpb collections from time to time. I stumbled across "The Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire" and read it last night and today. Great story. A bit on the dark side. Quite a bit, actually. Serious. Sophisticated. Extremely well illustrated, mostly by Brian Tan, who has a real Silvestri or Lee like "Top Cow" art style, which because of Silvestri, Lee (and later Kubert--I always forget which of the two, though) drew the X-men during most of my collection of them, this much more detailed, "Top Cow" style art is what I always associated with the X-books.

Not sure if I have a point to all this. I also have the Dark Phoenix Saga in tpb coming via Interlibrary Loan. I've read it before, but not in a long time; it's time to read it again, and it looks like my own collection doesn't have the whole thing after all. Although you'd think the movie I just saw (and Thor before that) got me into this, and I'm sure they played a role, what I'm really most calling the proximal cause for me rediscovering comic books after not thinking about them much for a long time, is me playing my "karate supers" video games--stuff like Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, etc. Of course, the Street Fighter characters famously teamed up directly with Marvel characters in the Vs. series (including a fight scene actually on the Blue Area of the Moon, curiously. In Marvel Superheroes vs. Street Fighter, if I remember correctly.) But the main characters are superheroish enough. Ryu, Ken, Terry Bogard, Guile--they clearly have superpowers. And although they don't wear spandex and have secret identities, they also fight against characters that are very recognizable as comic book style villains. M. Bison and Dr. Doom have an awful lot in common in terms of characterization. Although martial arts and "chi" play a role in explaining a lot of these superpowers (which, actually, they mostly don't bother to explain at all) there's an awful of instances of superscience, cloning, DNA manipulation, and whatnot in all these games too.

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