Comic Book Decades

Every once in a while, I'm at a loss for what to read.  It's not that I don't have options; I have too many.  Between literary fiction, non-fiction, YA, and a full range of comics, sometimes it's hard to know exactly what I want to invest my precious reading time in.

One thing I'm always in the mood for are Marvel comics from the 70's.  I could go on and on about my love of these comics, but I'll save that for another day.

Anyway, this got me thinking about how, pop culturally speaking, we like to define things in terms of decades.  It's most prominent with music, but we do it with television, fashion, etc.  We do it a lot with comics, too, the most notorious of which being the 90's, which we often blame for the comics' fall from the top.

It made me think about the past few decades and which comics I most associate with each.

A few caveats: I'm using publishers as my guide.  I know I could break it down further into titles or genres or what have you, but a lot of these decades are before my time and I simply don't know them well enough to dig that deep.

Along those lines, I'm skipping the 30's.  I know, I know, it's the decade that gave us Superman and Batman, but that's more or less all I know of comics published in the 30's.  While I'm no expert regarding other decades, I have at least some knowledge of, at the very least, what other publishers were putting out.

So, without further ado:

The 40's

Yes, I unceremoniously stole thunder from Batman and Superman by skipping the 30's, but they're a big part of the reason why I'm giving this decade to DC.

Here's the thing: I will always associate WWII with DC.  I realize that the patriotic icon of that era is Captain America, but the Justice Society, the All-Star Squadron -- these are the guys I link to that time.  I think it's because DC stuck with them decades later, often still telling stories of that time period, while Marvel never really went back with Captain America to such an extent.

I eat this shit up, which is why I was so disappointed when the new "Earth 2" book from DC has nothing to do with the superheroes of the '40's that I enjoyed so much.

The 50's

Oh, I love me some comics from the 50's, or, specifically, I love me some EC Comics.  They far and away
produced the best comics of that decade.  It was groundbreaking stuff featuring artwork that was above and beyond anything else that was seeing print.  The fact that they inadvertently led to the creation of the Comics Code just underscores their importance.

Honorable mention here should go to DC, given that they started what would become known as the Silver Age in the 50's.  Kind of a big deal.

The 60's

Kind of goes without even mentioning, doesn't it?  You just don't get any bigger than the start of the Marvel Age of Comics.

The 70's

Oh, yeah.  I realize, that as a business, Marvel shot itself in the foot in the 70's, to the point where it required an extremely firm hand to bring it back to life.  The lunatics really were running the asylum.  But that's why it was so awesome.

It's no wonder that Marvel became a symbol of counter culture given how obvious the drug use (and metaphors) was in these comics.  Crazy shit happened in Marvel Comics of the 70's, crazy shit that was completely unpredictable.  You want aliens?  Demons?  Monsters?  Maybe even superheroes?  It was a insane mishmash of genres that we just don't really see anymore.

The 80's

This was a tough one, actually.  This is the decade I started reading comics, and I read mostly Marvel books, so my sense of nostalgia wants to give these years to them.  At the same time, I know how important the burgeoning direct market was, particularly the growing independent comics scene.

In the end, though, I went with the company that not only dabbled in the aforementioned direct market, but also produced two of the seminal comics of all time: Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns.  DC also did a nice job of diversifying their line in the 80's, including a line of licensed books TSR books that I really enjoyed.

The 90's

You'd think I'd go with Image here, wouldn't you?  After all, they changed the face of comics.  But they're not getting the nod from me for this decade.

No way I can pick Marvel or DC here, obviously, given what happened in the 90's.  Well, not their main
lines, at least, because my pick for this decade is Vertigo.

Look at the books Vertigo published in the 90's.  Seriously, go Google it, because it would take up a lot of space for me to list them all here.  This was the heyday of that line and it was probably the one, specific location where comics were doing the most good for the medium.  People who never read comics were sticking their toes in with books like Sandman and Preacher.  Imagine if the rest of the industry hadn't gone batshit insane; Vertigo might have actually been able to expand our audience.

Not that Vertigo was exempt from the insanity of the 90's; you can find a ton of Vertigo mini-series from the 90's in quarter boxes.  But at least those books were trying something different.

The 00's

Like a phoenix from the ashes, Marvel came back to life.  And they did it the way they'd done it back in the 60's, by appealing to teenagers and having a little bit of an attitude while they did.  This time around, though, they also took a few pages from the 70's play book, and decided that maybe letting creators have room to create could actually pay off.

It's amazing to look at the books Marvel published at the beginning of the century in comparison to what they publish now.  Today's books seem so safe when compared to what they were producing ten years ago.  And look at the lines they created to try things: Marvel Knights, Ultimate Comics, Marvel Adventures, and MAX.  Sure, each line had varying degrees of success, but they weren't afraid to try new things.

If nothing else, Marvel gets huge credit for finally doing away with the ridiculous comics code authority.

The Teens

Even with DC's reboot, the Big Two are playing it pretty safe these days.  Their lines are dwindling down to just a few big brands under which all other books must live.  Make Batman an Avenger and I think we're pretty much covered.

The place for experimentation on a large scale is Image, who are currently owning this decade.  Creators' rights have never been as paramount and it's thanks to Image.  They're publishing books the Big Two would never touch by creators the Big Two would never touch in genres the Big Two would never touch.  It's hyperbolic, sure, but Image are doing more good for the medium right now than any other company, and I'm tempted to add an "ever" on to the end of that.

So those are the comic book lines I think of when I think of each decade.  Because that's how my brain works.

Obligatory "New 52 One Year Later" Post

Warning: detailed discussion of comic books ahead!

A year ago, DC relaunched their entire line of comics with 52 brand new first issues.  They also reboot their shared universe, although they made a point of saying that the two franchises that made them money -- Green Lantern and Batman -- would remain mostly the same.

I would have to imagine that deciding what to do with the GL and Batman lines was a tough call, but I'll get to more on that in a minute.

So here we are, a year later, and everyone is giving their views on why the relaunch was either good or bad.  God forbid I stay silent!

I was a huge fan of the idea of the relaunch, although that was mostly because it was something to be excited about with regards to corporately owned comics.  The Big Two hadn't gotten me excited about their products in years.  It was also nice to be given and opportunity to try some titles that I might not have ever thought to try in the past.  Smart retailers were offering deals for people who ordered all 52 new #1's.  That's what I did.

The initial launch was equal parts good and equal parts bad.  The failure to hire creators who weren't straight white men was a colossal mistake for a company whose expressed goal for the relaunch was to modernize and diversify.  While it was great that Jim Lee's Justice League was the flagship title, having a special midnight sale and only offering the one book was a big misstep, particularly given the efforts to bring in non-comic book readers.  All they were going to find was a single, superhero comic for them to try, instead of a wide range of genres that might actually be appealing to them.

The upside was that there WAS a wide range of genres as part of the New 52, including some cross genre pollination of traditional superhero characters.  DC really seemed to try to return to it's pre-Crisis roots with its line up; they weren't just superhero books anymore.

The problem with that is that they seemed obsessed with the number 52, and I challenge you to find me 52 different creative teams that are, if not great, than at least good.  Oh, and they have to be able to produce a new issue every month.  That's not going to happen.  So the quality on the New 52 books fell off a cliff past a certain title, and the books in free fall were usually the non-superhero ones.

Here's the thing: As I've been reading these comics for the past year and watching as they've slowly but surely changed things in the Batman line that were supposed to remain untouched -- changed them for no apparent reason other than that they feel they can, I've realized that the reboot has been a fairly spectacular failure.  The relaunch, on the other hand, has been pretty good.

I would go so far to say that I think Marvel is getting this part of it right -- they're relaunching, but not rebooting.  I think Marvel's big mistake is dragging it out over months.  I don't think that will get non-fans into the stores the same way.

There is one clear way of determining whether or not DC's reboot (not relaunch) worked: Would still having all that old continuity (such as it was) have made the current batch of titles impossible?

The answer is no.

Let's look at what's been most successful in the New 52 so far, and I mean that in both a sales sense and based upon critical reception.

You've got the "dark" line of books, anchored by Swamp Thing and Animal Man.  Both could have existed in the old DCU and, in fact, both seem to suggest that their former histories are still somewhat intact.  After all, both are returning to their former roles when these series start.

Aquaman is cool.  Again, a big part of Aquaman's initial arc was based upon the fact that he doesn't get any respect, something that was very true of the old DCU.  Nothing that's been laid out so far couldn't have been worked into old continuity -- lord knows his origins has been reworked often enough.

Speaking of which, look at Superman.  A new costume is easy to explain.  A new history is just as easy.  The dissolution of his marriage to Lois would be tricky, but there's already a pretty reasonable proposal for that story floating around, co-written by the guy who's currently writing Action.

There really isn't a single thing about the New 52 DCU that couldn't exist in the old one.  In other words, we've gained far, far less than we've lost.

This happened.
Even if I look past the asinine changes they keep making to Batman's history for no discernible reason (and that's another blog post all together), and even ignore the complete disappearance of the first great legacy character, Wally West, think about the other things we've lost.  The whole Gotham Central saga that eventually led to Renee becoming the Question -- gone.  The wonderful family that was the original Teen Titans who grew up and stayed Titans -- never happened.  All that glorious history, filled with all those ridiculous characters -- wiped away.

Look at it like this:  A few weeks ago I read the pretty wonderful The Marvels Project by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.  About halfway through I realized that we will never get that kind of story set in the DCU.  That's just sad.

If I look at whether or not the New 52 has been a success simply through my own experiences, then it's been a horrible failure.  I bought every single one of those first issues.  I don't buy any of them monthly anymore and I've just cut the string on buying any of them as trades (basically because of the Batman debacle).

No, strike that, the New 52 has been pretty good for me -- a lot of those first issues snagged me a nice profit on eBay.

Superhero Movies, Part 1: The Dark Knight Rises

Last weekend I happened to stumble upon the incredibly uninspired Avengers cartoon.  Seeing the Hulk in action made me want to watch the Incredible movie version again.  I didn't have the chance to watch it at the time, but the simple thought seemed to trigger a thematic movement in my reality.

A few days later, the news broke that Anne Hathaway had been cast as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final Christopher Nolan Batman movie.  The same news also revealed who Tom Hardy would play: Batman villain Bane.

Not coincidentally, I'm sure, TNT showed the second Batman movie this evening.  TNT is really good at playing movies that kind of force you to watch them, even if you already own the movie on DVD.

Between the Batman movie news, TNT, and my desire to watch the Incredible Hulk again, I have found myself on a superhero movie kick.  It's good timing, too, given how many of these movies are going to be released this year.

The Dark Knight Rises casting story caused quite a stir, although I think more for those who don't read comic books than for those who do.  Want proof?  The phrase "Batman Bane" was one of the most searched on Yahoo last week, because only people who read Batman comics actually know who Bane is.

Those of us who do read comic books talked about how odd the choice seemed, given the library of much more popular Batman villains.  Bane, however, has advantage of being a character who easily translates to film.  He also doesn't have much of a fan following or any pop culture recognition, so he's ultimately a blank slate for Nolan.  There's also nothing particularly campy or over the top about him, or at least such a portrayal can be easily avoided.

I do wonder how much Nolan will delved into the drugs that give Bane his superhuman strength, or if that will even be a part of the movie.  Simply giving Bane such abilities begins to take the movie away from its strengths, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Nolan drop it all together, or at least make Bane's usage of the drug (known as "Venom" in the comics) less frequent.

It will also be interesting to see if we'll get a brief appearance by Hugo Strange, who had a hand in creating Bane.

As for Selina Kyle, I had something of an epiphany about her character earlier this evening.  One of the things that most people have pointed out as being curious is the fact that the press release announcing Anne Hathaway's casting referred to her character as "Selina Kyle."  It didn't say anything about Catwoman.

That's kind of strange, given that Catwoman is a household name and not many people know the name Selina Kyle.  If they're going to name Bane, why wouldn't they name Catwoman?

My theory is that Selina Kyle will never be called Catwoman in the movie or, if she is, it's just as a joke.  She'll still retain all the elements of the character: she's a cat burglar, she's a love interest to Batman -- I would guess she'll probably even love cats.  But I don't think she'll ever use the name or ever wear any kind of costume.

Which makes sense.  Nolan would want to keep this movie as realistic as possible and costumes have been off limits so far for anyone other than Batman.  I wouldn't expect Bane to wear anything resembling a costume, either.

I have high hopes for The Dark Knight Rises, despite the title.

Now, Green Lantern, on the other hand...

The Greatest Comic Book Character of All Time

At a certain point in my comic book reading life, I discovered that I really, really loved old comic books.

Part of my love for old comics stems from the fact that they made no attempt at anything resembling realism and, if they ever thought to incorporate any kind of current events into a story, it was always blown completely out of proportion.  Old comics were epic in their ridiculousness.  You don't see that these days.

Nicole has suggested that I also like old comic books because they're a window into that time period, which I guess is true.  Comic books, like most forms of art, are a reflection of what's going on in the real world.

I think it's this reflection of the world around it that was the biggest factor in my determination of who the greatest comic book character of all time is.



The Contenders

Now, I know that there are a number of characters that enter into this discussion, many of which are dependent upon a person's knowledge of the medium.  And this all depends upon the definition of "greatness," particularly given that what impacts the comic book industry is different from what impacts the medium which is different from what impacts mainstream pop culture. 

It would be pretty easy to make the case for Superman, given that he, in theory, started it all.  But keep in mind that Superman wasn't the first comic book character, just the first superhero, and while Superman also drifted heavily into science fiction over the years, even by stretching things Superman only dips into specific genres of the medium, albeit the most popular ones.

That said, Superman has also been on the cover of Time magazine and was arguably the first comic book character to appear in a successful movie.  And from a purely psychological point of view, who doesn't wish Superman existed?  Who hasn't wanted to fly?

It would also be pretty easy to make a case for Spider-man and I'll admit to having a soft spot for Peter Parker.  I'll also admit that my favorite period of the character's life was the college years, although sadly it seems like I'm one of the few who feels that way.

It's hard to argue against Spider-man's impact on comics, although those in the know would point out that the Fantastic Four are actually the harbingers of the Marvel age of comics.  Many would also argue that the Fantastic Four better represent the Stan Lee writing style, given the group dynamics.

While perhaps a bit more dynamic than Superman (Peter Parker has an easier time delving into slice of life stories than Clark Kent), Spider-man still face a similar problem in that he locked into particularly types of stories.  He's so locked in, in fact, that Marvel went so far as to devolve him, magically erasing his marriage, because evidently that's too far removed from what Spider-man is about.

But it's hard to point to a character that meant more to a certain generation when they had a 1 as the first number in their age.

The fact that I've managed to undercut Superman and Spider-man is probably a good hint as to who, for me, wins this particular contest.  Yes, Batman is the greatest comic book character of all time.

Batman

More so than any other comic book character, Batman reflects society.  He has roots firmly in the noir and detective stories of the late 30's, only to merge with the superhero movement of the 40's, the moving to any and all fads during the 50's and early 60's.  He later bought into his own hype, reflecting the hugely successful television show.  In the 70's, he returned to at least some of his roots, yet still embraced the counter culture, social upheaval of the time.  In the 80's we got the Dark Knight and saw a darker Batman influence an entire generation of comic book creators and their work.  In the 90's he jumped from one massive change to another in an effort to boost sales, reflecting exactly what the rest of the comic book industry was doing, and even what was happening in Silicon Valley.  After the turn of the century, we saw Batman become a movie icon again and the comics attempted to cash in on the new publicity with little to no success.

While most comic book characters hold rather steadfast to their identities, Batman's MO has been to constantly change.  Yes, the old chestnut of a boy who watches his parents murdered and uses his fortune to fight crime still holds, but even that has changed over the years.  No, Batman is a vigilante -- the vigilante -- and that is, ultimately, the extent of what we need to know.

Is he a detective?  A superhero?  A criminal?  Is he friends with law enforcement?  A loner?  A playboy?  Is he as much of a problem as he is a solution?  Is he a down in the dirt, street level fighter, or a guy in a space ship traveling to other worlds?

Batman is all of those things and more.  Even better, Batman can be all of those things and more and none of it is outside the realm of who and what the character is.

Batman is limitless and timeless and almost always a reflection.  And that's why he's the greatest comic book character of all time.

What I'm Reading (Comic Books)

Since this blog recently took a sharp turn away from Chuck reviews and into lengthy diatribes on comic book related matters, I figured it might be a good time to delve into what it is I'm actually reading these days, comics-wise.

This is actually a surprisingly short list, to the point where I'm wondering if I'm forgetting anything.  There are also some noticeable absences, which I'll address later.

Here we go:

The 6th Gun (ongoing, Oni Press)

A kind of random discovery, I only even picked this up off the shelves because someone I follow on Twitter mentioned buying it.  Once I flipped through it, I was intrigued enough to give it a shot, and I was really glad that I did.  I grew up mostly on superhero comics (delving into alternative/underground books when I went to college, naturally) and they make up the majority of what I still buy.  This book is a nice pallet cleanser and, really, just a well done comic with an interesting hook.  It's also made me realize that I used to buy a decent amount of Oni's output, and that maybe I should be looking into their other books.



Godland (formerly ongoing, Image Comics)

I more or less check out everything Joe Casey writes.  Not all of it hooks me, but his batting average is pretty high.  Godland is completely insane which is why I read it.  I dare you to find me a comic book with better dialogue -- it doesn't exist.  Godland is a space opera in the classic sense, but littered with modern sensibilities.  Sadly, it's ending soon, but I'm thrilled that it ever existed.  And, again, just as with Oni, I realized that perhaps I should be reading more Image books, as the house ads in Godland are always really interesting.

Batman and Robin (ongoing, DC)

While I check out everything Joe Casey writes, I buy everything Grant Morrison writes.  His batting average is so high that I'm willing to risk the three to four dollars to try something I might not be sure about.  That clearly wasn't the case with this book, as it was part of Morrison's epic Batman story.  I absolutely love Dick Grayson as Batman and I couldn't be more thrilled that he's sticking with that role.  I also like his dynamic with Damien, the new Robin.  I enjoy the dynamic so much, in fact, that I'm actually going to stick with this book after Morrison leaves.  We'll see how long that lasts.

Legion of Superheroes (ongoing, DC)

Anyone who reads comics and isn't fooling themselves will admit that a substantial portion of the industry is ruled by nostalgia.  This can be infuriating when it directly effects the forward momentum of stories, particularly given the vast backlog of comics out there that have yet to reprinted.  I own a good number of Batman Archives -- I have no desire to see Batman return to the stories told in the 50's.  All that said, the Legion is a book I read purely out of nostalgia.  I have a soft spot for these characters and I've been buying this book for six months now even though it hasn't been particularly good.  Granted, it hasn't been particularly bad, either.  I'm hoping the first arc was just a warm-up and I really wish a new artist would come on board.

Adventure Comics (ongoing, DC)

If I'm so middle of the road on the Legion book, how can I explain reading two of them?  Well, I'm not actually reading two of them...yet.  But I will start picking up Adventure when it begins focusing on the Legion Academy.  And while nostalgia plays a part, this book has an advantage over the Legion book: Phil Jimenez.  I can't wait to see a Legion book that actually looks good.

First Wave (limited series, DC)

A few months ago, I illegally downloaded the first issue of this series.  You heard me.  And I really liked it.  I liked the pulp feel.  I liked the art.  So I went to Meltdown and I got the first issue (which I'd already read but now paid for) and the second issue, which was already out.  The story has kind of gone all over the place, but the art is still great and I'm still getting my dose of pulp.  I'll be interested to see if it can tie everything together in a satisfactory manner, because it seems like that's going to be hard.

Joe the Barbarian (limited series, Vertigo)

I almost didn't put this on here since there's only a single issue left in the series.  Again, it's Grant Morrison, so I bought it, but the art alone probably would have given it a chance.  It took a few issues for me to really start getting into this, but now that I have, I really enjoy it.  It falls from this list in only a month, though, when the last issue comes out.

Batman, Inc. (ongoing, DC)

Strangely enough, there's a part of me that isn't interested in this.  I know that Morrison will make it engaging, but his initial Batman storyline was so epic that I don't see how he can possibly match it.  I suppose it would also be safe to say that I've lost interest in Bruce Wayne, as the last few years of Batman have been about anything but Bruce.  Again, though, I have faith in Morrison to make this good, but consider me guarded.

Dungeons and Dragons (ongoing, IDW)

You know, I'm kind of surprised I just typed that out.  I've been going through a big fantasy fiction phase again, taking me back to my youth.  I don't read any IDW books and the price point is a bit much, but it's a small publisher, so at least I know they're not just gouging me because they can.  I enjoyed the #0 issue, so I'm willing to give this a shot.  We'll see how long my sense of nostalgia lasts, though (at least six months, if the Legion is any indication).

Ex Machina (trade, DC)

Yes, I'm something of a trade waiter, although not nearly as much as I used to be, which surprised me when I was making this list.  I have never read Ex Machina in any other form than this, so while the series is over for anyone who read it monthly, it's still going on for me.  It seems like it ended long enough ago for this to be the final collection, but for some reason I think there's actually one more after this.  Again, though, this is another title that will soon fall from my list.

The Walking Dead (trade, Image)

Image is actually really good at cranking out the collected editions of this series, possibly because they know how many people got on board by getting the cheaply priced first trade paperback.  Now that the television series is doing well, I would expect Image to maintain their schedule, since anyone looking to read the comics will probably do so at a bookstore.  This title has too many cliffhangers for me to read it monthly.

But What Does It All Mean?

This isn't to say that the above are the only comic book related items I spend money on.  I'm still picking up the trades of Sandman Mystery Theatre, but that's a book that is finished and generally only seems published once a year.  I'm also a big fan of both the DC Archives (which are apparently not too popular with DC) and Marvel Masterworks, as well as the late, lamented EC Archives.  Books like that can put a fairly big tent in your wallet.  At some point I'd also like to finish getting all the collected editions of Sandman, since my individual issues are in storage aka my parents' house.

There is one fairly bold absence from my list: I don't read anything published by Marvel.  Just a few years ago, that would have been incomprehensible.  These days, nothing Marvel publishes interests me, and the few things that do catch my eye are overpriced.  The last Marvel book I read was Atlas, and as much as I enjoy the work that Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman do, I have zero interest in reading about the Red Hulk (which is the book they're currently working on).  Perhaps I'm getting old (as evidenced by the number of times I've used the word "nostalgia" in this blog), but Marvel doesn't offer me anything that I'm interested in.

Also notable is the rather low number of Vertigo books I read.  This is kind of surprising, given that I'm willing to buy OGN's from Vertigo, yet seem unwilling to read much less expensive comics.  There's not a lot that Vertigo puts out in comic book form that I'm really interested in, and the last book I did enjoy I fell behind on and never manages to catch up, although I'll probably get the trades.

It's strange to think that I'm only buying 7 ongoing books, given that there was a point in my life that I probably bought 7 comics a week.  But I'm losing 2 limited series (3, if I were to count the one that ends tomorrow) and an ongoing soon, so I'm open to suggestions.

A Love Letter to My Local Comic Book Store(s)

Recently, the Mrs. and I have considered moving, a hefty task under normal circumstances, but Herculean when you live in the hot, sprawling mess of a city known as Los Angeles.  Switching neighborhoods could span a few miles, but with traffic added in you could find yourself living an hour away from where you used to hang your hat.

While I really like the apartment we currently live -- and the thought of all the work involved in moving makes me tired -- I didn't have any real apprehensions about finding a new place...well, I had one (still have it, in fact): I don't want to move too far away from my local comic book store.

Record Store Syndrome

When I was in college, I worked in a record store.  I got that job mostly because I was always there and I knew everyone who worked there; they might as well pay me to actually do something.  I was there all the time because the store was, in and of itself, a scene.  We talked music, we talked shows, we talked new releases vs. old releases, genres vs. genres, and so on.  It was a place you could go where you knew you could talk about music with like minded individuals.  You didn't just go there to buy something; you went there to hang out.

Those stores are dead and buried thanks not to large chain stores, but to the move from CDs and records to digital formats.  I'm as much to blame as anyone; I haven't set foot in a record store in years.



Digital comics have come a hot topic lately with many proclaiming the eventual death of paper comics and, by extension, the brick and mortar, mom and pop comic book store.  But I have to wonder if this is really the case, if I'm going to see my local comic book store go the way of the record store, or if the comic book store can survive purely for one reason: community.

While the surface level of comics might have become fashionable, by and large the dyed in the wool, life long comic book fans and the things they hold dear are still an oft ostracized sub culture.  It's easy for an actor to proclaim that they're a nerd or a geek, but that's still a good looking person who makes lots of money doing something they love saying that they like Superman -- those aren't the people who need the comic book store community, who value the comic book community.

Once a week, you're not the weird person who reads comic books.  You're no longer surrounded by people who think that all comic books contain superheroes, and that all superheroes wear costumes, and that all fight sequences include the words "bam" and "pow."  Once a week, you are surrounded by like minded people who share an interest with you, people you would probably never meet if it weren't for the local comic book store.  It is the watering hole for those who look at things a bit differently.  It's the sports bar for those that have long boxes stacked high at home.  It's the gym for those who know the power of these stories and who want to talk to others who feel the same way.

The Comic Book Store Works In Mysterious Ways

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I of course made it a priority to find a comic book store.  The first one I found was The Golden Apple.  A few weeks after I started going, I stepped into line behind someone who looked familiar.  It was comic book writer Marc Andreyko.  Now, that might no seem that strange, given that The Golden Apple is a popular store and comic book creators enjoy going to their local store as much as anyone.  But I wasn't actually standing in line behind Marc Andreyko, comic book writer; I was standing in line behind Marc Andreyko, former Watch the Skies employee.

Back in my hometown of Kent, Ohio, we had a short lived comic book store run by artist Jay Geldhof called Watch the Skies.  It was a great store and a welcome addition to Kent, as it was in dire need of a well organized, enthusiastic comic book dealer.  One of the people who manned the the counter at Watch the Skies was Marc Andreyko.

Marc and I recognized each other and, of course, were baffled by the odds of two people who met in the store meeting again at The Golden Apple on the other side of the country.  That is the power of the comic book store.

My Shop of Choice

These days, my shop of choice is Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, one of the 3 best comics shops I've ever been to (see below for the other 2).  Meltdown is easily the most active comic book store I've ever been to as well.  On any given night of the week they have signings, Q&As, workshops, art openings, stand up comedians -- you name it.  Anything that has to do with comic books or anything somehow connected to comics, it all fits in at Meltdown.

And just like I got to know Marc at Watch the Skies, I try to go to Meltdown when I know Atlantean sympathizer, Chris, is working.  Somehow Chris and I have developed a Namor/Reed Richards relationship, if you substitute bravado with jokes.  What's great about this is that often times others will join in our back and forth and suddenly I'll find myself talking to people who, up until a few moments ago, had been complete strangers.  It can't help Meltdown, either.  I think if people walk into a place where it seems like the customers and the employees are enjoying themselves, they're more likely to have a good impression.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two important shops from my past.  The first is one that will always hold a special place in my heart, and it's not even really a comic book store: The News and Photo Shop in Kent, Ohio.  For some strange reason, News and Photo carried comics, and not just a spinner rack, but up to date new releases, delivered every week.  Eventually those comics moved to Watch the Skies, but they eventually moved back to News and Photo.  To this day I don't know why a store that mostly sold periodicals and cigars had such a great selection of comics.  Honestly, that store probably kept me from rotting my brain completely, as it led me to buy some actual literary magazines while I was buying comics.

Oxford Comics and Cards in Atlanta, Georgia is another great store and a place where I made one of my few friends in Atlanta.  Being a woman and working in a comic book store has got to come with some downsides simply due to the vast difference in numbers between the genders.  So it wasn't shocking that, during one of our first conversations, Lindze mentioned her husband right away.  And since I didn't want her to think I was a dirtbag, I mentioned my girlfriend right away, too.  Once it was clear that I wasn't just a socially awkward guy hoping to find a date, Lindze gave me a glimpse into the nerdy underground of Atlanta.  She would also get drunk and punch me, but I'm a tough drunk.

I said that Meltdown is one of the three best comic book stores I've ever been to.  The other two are Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in Charlotte, NC and The Laughing Ogre in Columbus, OH.  I only went to Heroes once, but I was blown away by it, not just because it was freaking huge, but because it was clean, well organized, bright, and the staff was extremely friendly.  But since I only went there the one time, I don't know if they ever would have matched The Laughing Ogre in terms of friendliness.  I went to college a little over an hour away from The Laughing Ogre, and even though there was a comic book store in my college's town, I had my pull file at the Ogre.  Sure, the store in town was every bad cliche rolled into one, but comics are comics, right?  It wasn't really so bad that I had to drive 2 and 1/2 hours round trip every few weeks.  No, I did that because that was how great The Laughing Ogre was -- and still is, I would guess.

The comic book store is something unique and something that I don't think will ever die.  As Chris said the other day while gesturing all around him, "You can't put this in an Ipad."

It's crazy to think that with all the advances in technology that make us all less and less social, someday it might be the comic book fans who socialize the most.

Comic Book Review: Batman and Robin #13

Batman and Robin #13

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frazer Irving

Published by DC Comics

I know just enough.

I won’t pretend to know everything that’s going on in Batman and Robin #13. I’m not sure I’d believe anyone who said that they conclusively know everything laid out in these pages. But I know enough to understand the basics of what’s going on, and I know enough to know that I want to know more. It’s a rare commodity in a comic book these days to tell a story and leave your reader wanting more, but Grant Morrison has been doing that with Batman for years now.

If and when they repackage Morrison’s run on the various Bat-books as multiple Absolute collections, I can only hope they include a #0 volume containing Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, because that’s where the story begins. Many people are probably confused by Morrison’s depiction of the Joker in Batman and Robin #13, but it’s in keeping with the view of the character Morrison laid out in Arkham Asylum. I’m thrilled to see that come to fruition.

Morrison also continues to show that he understands the difference between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and does so without being heavy handed. At no point do we get an issue filled with “this is what Bruce was like, this is what Dick is like.” Morrison gives us their differences in smaller ways, like how Dick calls Commissioner Gordon by his title as opposed to “Jim,” or how Gordon tells him that the members of Gotham PD like Dick better than Bruce. Both moments ring true to the characters, and indicate that the title of this series might not be a reference to Dick and Damien, but to Bruce and Dick.

Frazer Irving is a fantastic artist and well suited for a book of stark contrasts. His Joker harkens back to Bob Kane’s original depiction. Here, he looks like someone who could really exist, deformed, yes, but not exaggerated to the point of being absurd.

On one hand, I don’t want this series to ever end. I really enjoy reading about Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne. I love the dynamic that Morrison has set up. But on the other hand, I can’t wait until it reaches its conclusion, just so I can go back and read it from the beginning. I can only imagine all the wonderful new moments and fantastic revelations I’ll pick up on when I can read the story as a whole.

I can remember the last time I was ever so eager to go back and read my back issues. Oh, wait, yes, I can: it was the last time a Grant Morrison written Batman title was released.

(Originally published at www.comicbulletins.com)