Friday, March 11, 2005

How I lost any credibility I have ever gained, part 23.

So I had this minor epiphany that started last month, when I was lost in Wondercon. There I was, surrounded by movers and shakers and groupies of the comic industry and grown men dressed up like Dream of the Endless and Star Wars Stormtroopers, and I thought to myself: I have no idea why I’m here. It wasn’t in the sense of literally having wandered in there by accident or anything, but a more randomly existential kind of moment. For more than half of my life, I’ve been into comics: They’re what I think in and think of; Lines of dialogue from Eddie Campbell’s Alec and old Stan Lee books stick in my head in more obvious places than conversations I’ve had. I could tell you what age Superman is supposed to be, eternally, without having to think about it, but it takes me a couple of seconds as I count up from 1969 to work out how old my sister is these days. I find it easier to think of what Blue Beetle’s costume looks like than my first girlfriend.

Okay, I may be exaggerating with that last one, but you get my point. There’s something about me and comics that have just always gone together, much to my shame as much as my pleasure. It was one of the first things I can actually say about myself with any certainty: I am a comic fan. Except, standing at Wondercon, watching the Manga Fairy Girls and the Soldier Boys wandering around and being stared at by the men in Flash t-shirts in line to get Geoff Johns’ signature, I felt completely disconnected from the whole thing. Shit, I thought. What if I’ve stopped being a fan?

This wasn’t the first time that I’d thought this, worryingly enough. A couple of weeks earlier, the latest comics blogosphere meme was to list 100 things you liked about comics. And they didn’t have to be in any order, or limited to stories, creators or any kind of specific categories; they just had to be things that you liked about comics. The lists were things of wonder, things that you’d read and bounce between “Oh, yeah” moments (Power Man and Iron Fist? Gil Kane? The strange pointy genius of Steve Ditko’s hands? Of course!) and “Um… okay…” moments (I have never been able to understand what people see in The Ultimates, I have to admit. I’m sorry), but things that were just full of enthusiasm and love. The problem came when I tried to come up with a list. Or, to be more specific, the problem came when I failed at coming up with a list for the third time.

It’s not like I didn’t start off strong. Each attempt started in the same way: Eddie Campbell’s Alec (“Grafitti Kitchen” in particular). Hugo Tate. Larry Young. The Isotope. The Invisibles. And then it went on, going in random directions, stopping off at things like Jack Kirby’s Super Powers comics from the ‘80s and Mary Jane Watson’s first proper appearance in the Amazing Spider-Man, with one of the greatest lines of dialogue ever written… but then it always stopped too soon. Each time, no matter what, I’d run out of things I loved about comics somewhere around number 54. I’d get to Kyle Baker and Evan Dorkin and the thing of beauty that is the whole Green Lantern concept (He’s a policeman! In outer space! With the most powerful weapon in the universe, which just happens to be a magic ring!), and then I’d run out of steam, somehow. I kept thinking about all the things that I didn’t love about comics, instead: Mark Millar. FMK threads on the Bendis Board. The state of the direct market.

This was not a good thing.

I’ll let you into a secret, as it’s just you and me right now, dear reader: For all the Fanboy Rampaging I do elsewhere, I secretly envy the fanboys. I genuinely think that the occasional lack of perspective, the obsessive tendencies and anal retentiveness that people have for certain comics or certain creators is an incredible beautiful thing that I am entirely envious of. I mean, sure, I make fun. I think it’s deserved most of the time, and I’ve never had anything against cheap laughs. But at the same time - and, y’know, this is just between us, right? – there’s something about such devotion that can’t be ruined by the real world. It’s got to be nice for the complete fanboys to have Hal Jordan to look up to, or to hold John Byrne in such esteem that he becomes a strange demigod figure in their lives. It’s something that’s entirely theirs, no matter what. Me, I get too caught up in everything else: The creators’ intent and the publisher’s plans and what it means to the industry and what other people think. I read things like Plastic Man with the fact that it sells like shit and is probably seconds away from being cancelled at a moment’s notice in the back of my head the entire time. I read things like New Avengers purely because they’re what other people are talking about, and I want to stay informed. Fanboys, though… they have a purity of intention that offsets their insanity in all other areas. And at no time did I secretly feel almost envious about this more than when I couldn’t think of 100 things I loved about comics. After all, if comics were one of the bigger things in my life and I couldn’t think of 100 things I loved about them, what did that say about me? If I wasn’t a comic fan, then what was I? A comic reader? Or worse, I had a blog and I was supposed to write a column about comics. Was I just a comic pundit?

While all of this existential dread was happening in the background, I was still reading lots of great comics: Dave Gibbons’ The Originals. Grant Morrison’s We3 and Seven Soldiers. Brian Vaughan’s Ex Machina. Jessica Abel’s La Perdida. It’s just that I didn’t really get them. I could see the process, I could see the skill, but for some reason, none of them gave me the chills. Maybe I had outgrown comics, I thought to myself, depressed. And then I read the one comic that actually made me enthusiastic about comics again, which just happened to be the strangest, most unexpected, one you could imagine: Young Avengers.

Now, I’ll admit it: When Young Avengers was announced, I was on the front line of those waiting to bury it with snark and sarcasm before I’d seen it. The entire idea sounded completely shitty: It’s the Avengers, but they’re teenagers. With names like “Hulkling.” What more proof could there be that Marvel was determined to run itself into the ground creatively? You’d think that something like this would make me love comics again?

Well, yeah.

You see, it’s that the comic works despite everything. The comic works despite the snark and the crappy premise and the months of Joe Quesada hyping it up to anyone and everyone who’d listen, which really should make it unreadable judging by his past examples of championship (Rawhide Kid, anyone? Trouble?). Somehow, just by being funny and melodramatic and colorful and full of people doing extraordinary things, the comic transcends all the hype and buzz and spite and everything to just plain be a good superhero comic that’s fun to read. For twenty-one pages of self-referential time-travel wiseassery, it made me remember that all of that other stuff isn’t really as important as losing yourself in a comic for awhile.

It’s that whole forest, trees, thing, I know. But you know what? When you forget about the state of the industry and what everyone else is saying and writing and everything, comics can be pretty good after all. Even if you have just told the world that Young Avengers saved your comic-loving soul.