I’ve been listening to a lot of Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batmanpodcast, and one of the things Smith is always careful to do is to find out his guests’ histories with comic books themselves. Since it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be a guest on Fatman soon (I’ve taught comic books to college kids, Kev, if you’re reading!), I thought it might be fun and helpful to outline my own history of comics here. It’s fun because, well, I get to think about that golden time in my life, which at this point is “any time before today.” It will be helpful, though, because next week I want to start an intermittent project that will emerge in part from my long, but not lifetime, history of comic fandom. So consider this a prologue, if you want to.
Note upon having finished the whole post: this thing is sort of self-indulgent. It’s not any longer than anything else I post though, so it shouldn’t take you long should you decide to go through it. And I try to point out some interesting highlights and ideas as we pass them by.
There were always a few comics at the edges of my room when I was a kid, but I don’t really remember most of them. Probably they were things I noticed in the drug store when we went in and my mother would buy them for me, one or two at a time, no big deal. I was mostly into cartoons, man. I mean, all kids are, but at the tender age of 14 I was still willing to unironically claim that animation was simply better than everything else. By 14 I was already a comic book fan, though, so let’s rewind a little there.
So I was into cartoons. Go ahead and guess my age when I tell you they were Ninja Turtles and Transformers, and some Japanese shows in translation like Robotech or G-Force (which I only learned later were Macross and Gatchaman). And if you poked around, I still had some comics.
I cannot tell you to this day why I got interested in comics. I just did. And I was specifically interested in X-Men comics – you know, like everyone else in the 90s. I have here in front of me what is the first X-Men comic I ever owned. It’s Uncanny X-Men #274, which is the March 1991 issue. I imagine I must have gotten it soon after it came out, but I didn’t really notice it until a few years later – dare I say it, when I was roughly puberty-aged?
You have to see the cover to understand.
Yup. There you go. This is an awful cover. Terrible. But it has a half-naked woman on it. Who the hell are these people? I didn’t know. What are they doing? I was only marginally more sure of that. By the way, my copy no longer has this cover. It begins, instead, with a poor, too-many-words page of a news report about things happening that I don’t know anything about, but not explained enough to make me care. But I’m pretty sure I just skipped this page when I was a kid. The rest of the comic is weird, with a character I’ve never heard of before taking control of the Earth’s magnetic field while Magneto, inexplicably a good guy, tries to fight her with a basically powerless Rogue at his side. Rogue bitches the entire issue about how she doesn’t have powers – even though this means she can touch whoever she wants – and Magneto drones on and on in captions in a way that proves it was the early 90s and everyone had read the fucking Dark Knight Returns.
This sounds like a mess, and that’s because it is. But back in the 90s no one paid any attention to the hypothetical “what if someone picks up this issue first? What if they haven’t been reading for years?” So it’s hard to blame it too much for being kinda bad. But for me when I started reading X-Men comics, this was still a mystery. It was a Savage Land story, and the writers never really went back to that well in the years I was reading.
And what about those years? Well, it was the 90s. I was there for a few of the famous event storylines, from the Marvel/DC mashup and the funky nanotech takes over the world story to the Age of Apocalypse and the death of Charles Xavier – which was about the time I stopped reading. I hadn’t really liked Age of Apocalypse – I can recognize now that I was turned off by how painfully grimdark it was trying to be. And Nate Grey was the survivor of that storyline. And I already disliked Cable, so a grimdark+ version of Cable? Christ. So when he went back in time to kill Magneto and thus stop all the awful things happening that, well, that happened, and killed Xavier instead, I was kind of done. I still cared about things like continuity, and that single move basically invalidated the years I’d been reading. By the way, this whole thing is hilarious if you think about it, since the favorite pastime of time-traveling savior/murderers is to kill Hitler before he gets to power – and that never goes well for them. So A: Nate Grey has never read a book I guess, and B: why didn’t he try to kill Hitler? I mean, Hitler’s persecution is what made Magneto crazy evil. Aside over.
I poked around a little longer in comics, then went kinda dry when I went to college. I read some manga here and there, and started reading tons when the Tokyopop tankoban era started. I was indiscrimately buying stuff in the store that just looked good. When the internet started to look like it does now, as a child resembles its future self, I slowed down and stopped doing that, because I could either read it online or read about it and realize it would be bad.
I was getting more insistent the things I read be good (however I define it at the time), but that does not mean I thought superhero comics were “bad.” I did learn some things from my cross-pollinated reading, though. The big one, as I implied above, is that continuity across years and decades really doesn’t matter. Go ahead and start a brand new story with the same characters. How many different versions of Tenchi Muyo are there, now?
I slowed down a bit when I started grad school. Then I got into superhero comics again through a couple of friends, and that’s pretty much got us caught up.