Friday, February 10, 2006

Clash of the Titans

So I've been thinking a lot about comics these days, which makes sense, seeing as how I work at a comic shop these days. You see an odd cross-section of humanity working at a comic shop, although I can't really say anything bad about them. People in glass houses and all that. The thing that makes a geek isn't what he or she is interested in, but when they begin telling people who don't give a crap all the miniscule details of their obsession. Let's just say I've learned when to shut up about the things I enjoy doing in my free time.
Still, comics are a great, and undervalued medium. We get the occasional old lady buying comics for her adult son who opines loudly on how comics are worthless, which of course, for her they are. But comics are a continuation of a great tradition. The Three Musketeers, Don Quixote, Great Expectations, all of them began life as short, serial publications that later formed a full novel. Comics are merely the 20th century evolution of that genre. And not only that, they could be seen as the perfect medium for our busy lives; short, compact bursts of information that can be single doses, or spread out over a year or two. In some cases, decades.
For the most part, my comic book reading has been confined to mainly independent or lower profile comics. The so-called 'literary' comics. Not to say I'm a snob, I love a good superhero yarn, but they never really interested me as much as books like Sandman or the current Y: The Last Man did. DC was my comics publisher of choice because one of their flagship characters was nothing more than an obsessed millionaire who dressed like a bat, lived in a cave, and got into fistfights with escaped lunatics. As you can see I was into the high concept stuff.
The only superhero books I really paid attention to were Alan Moore's dense reinventions and Batman, who isn't a superhero at all. The change in my attitude started rather slowly, with a loaned copy of the novel It's Superman by Tom De Haven. It's a great reimagining of the Superman myth from a more realistic approach. I'm not saying it's the Sopranos, but this Clark Kent actually lives through a very real depression era thirties. If your at all interested in comics, it's a great read. Then I noticed some good Superman stories by non-superhero writers like Brian Azzarello, and began to change my opinion a bit. I realized it wasn't really the character I didn't like, but the writers. Superman is too easy to make into a bland, one trick pony, but ocassionally great things can be done with the idea.
Once I got past that hurdle, along came DC's Infinite Crisis. Infinite Crisis is a huge universe spanning event that's going to change every single title that DC has. In fact, some of them have already ended due to the events of this storyline(I doubt that will last too long, though), and a few heroe's have died. Some of them you'll even recognize!
I have my coworkers to blame for the rest of my superhero acceptance. I was the only DC fan in a store full of Marvel fans, and it was only a matter of time before they tempted me over to the darkside. At first it was the low-profile title Runaways, which I contend to be the greatest book Marvel currently has in print. It's like the Arrested Development of comics; brilliant, but nobody pays any attention to it. The problem is, it has frequent guest stars from c-list heroes and villians across the Marvel universe, and it was enough to get me interested.
Of course, Marvel also just finished(some say started) their huge universe spanning event, House of M. In it, through a fairly simple but also boring to non comic fans, over 90 percent of the mutants on earth lose their powers. Bam, overnight their regular human folks. Only not quite regular. Some of them lose the powers, but not the freaky appearances, which is a bit disquieting. Basically what this did was set the clock back to the 1960's origins of the X-Men, where they were a minority persecuted by humans. This time around, with Xavier nowhere to be seen, the X-Men academy has become a relocation and internment camp for those mutants still left. It has some topical reverberations, but it's also turning out to be just a good read. Of course, after reading House of M I now have to read almost every single Marvel title to see what happens next. And I do. What I don't buy I read on break, or at least flip through, and I'm a hardcore comics junkie now.
In the end, I have to admit something that I'm finding very hard, given my past relationship with comics. In the battle between warring Universe Altering Events, Marvel is clearly the winner. It may be too early to tell, since Infinite Crisis has just really started, but House of M really outshone it. The thing is, Infinite Crisis is a horribly complicated story, with ambitious writers doing a pretty good job at keeping the pace and interest up. But House of M was a simple story executed almost perfectly. With DC you're forced to read everything and memorize 20 years of continuity, with Marvel you only had to read the 8-issue miniseries and whatever titles you already picked up, and you knew everything you needed to know.
DC seems to be falling under the weight of their own intellect. Where I once loved the more cerebral hich concept ideas, and was willing to forgive the occasional lapse in storytelling, Marvel has won me over with simple ideas playing into complex variations.
Of course, I work at a comic shop, so I'll be reading them both anyway.

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