Friday, August 21, 2015

MCU & Me: Issue #2 - Origin Story, Part 2 (Wagging the X-Dog)

Reading and collecting comics was a big part of my life for many years. I read a lot. I collected even more. I lived through the variant cover years, and still probably have multiple copies of too many gimmick releases to count. I have/had comic book t-shirts, graphic novels, action figures, role-playing games, videogames. I was a fan. I supported not just one, but two comic book shops in whatever town I was living in at the time. (In Cheyenne, it was Comic Quest and The Book Rack. When I lived in Bozeman, MT, I became a regular customer of Bases Loaded as well as what I'll remember as being called Aaron's or something along those lines, despite the fact that Aaron sold the business to a couple who really didn't know comics that well.)

I was to start film school in Montana in 1995, and I remember (and still curse myself a little bit) that I sold my ENTIRE comic book collection to help finance the move from Cheyenne to Bozeman. I hadn't looked at the comics in a while, and they weren't doing me any good just sitting in a closet, long box'ed and lonely.

After my first year of film school, I came back to Cheyenne for the summer, and noticed that a grocery store carried Wizard magazine on their shelves. Something called me to the issue, and I found out about the recent DC Versus Marvel event. By the time I was headed back for my second year of film school, I found out where Bozeman's comics shop was. It took me less than a day of being back in Montana before I stepped into Bases Loaded for the first time, and I started reading and collecting comics again.

I was near-obsessive. I'd often times go to Aaron's and flip through their long boxes, hungry for whatever comics they put in their quarter bin. (They had a deal - 25 cents a comic or five comics for a dollar. I would regularly go in there with a $20.00 and walk out with 100 comic books.) I'm not overly proud of it, but I did spent a little bit of my student loan money on a particular back issue at Bases Loaded (Iron Fist #14); I probably wouldn't have been able to afford my habit at Bases Loaded if the owner (Larry Oxford - RIP) hadn't put me to work there and paid me the equivalent of minimum wage in store credit.

As far as comic book movies and media was concerned, I sampled a lot of it. The cartoons (but I didn't tell anyone - I don't know why). Whatever I could find on television. And the movies. Back then - only seventeen years ago - comic book movies weren't necessarily the hot property. They weren't the blockbuster fodder the studios and the theater chains now enjoy. Instead, one afternoon when I went to a showing of a particular movie based on a comic book, I asked the person selling tickets if the movie was good.

She shrugged and said it was all right . . . for a comic book movie.

Granted, the movie in question was Spawn (dir. Mark A. Z. Dippé), but still.

As a kid, I had seen the Superman films. In 1989, I saw Batman (and each installment of the following films of that franchise as they were released theatrically, but in my defense, I didn't pay for my own ticket for the last one). And in 2000, my wife and I met a group of friends at the local movie theater for a showing of X-Men (dir. Bryan Singer).

I was still reading comics at the time even though there wasn't a local comics shop in Bozeman then. Aaron's had closed and the owner of Bases Loaded was killed when he was struck by lightning.* However, we could still get our comics off the shelf at the local Hasting's, and my roommate Mike and I bought a business license and started working on setting up a comic book business ourselves. (This didn't last very long, and I don't think we ever made any money, but we did get our comic books at a discount.) To try to drum up some business, I brought flyers to the theater when we went to see X-Men and put them up wherever I could. The manager on duty wasn't too keen on that since we hadn't asked for permission, and while I was thrown out of the theater, I didn't miss out on the movie as I got a voucher to come back the next day to see it.

I liked the movie. I don't know if I loved it as much as most, but I thought it was a solid film, and so did a lot of other people.

As did Marvel.

And this is where my disconnect from comic book movies and media really began.This is not a criticism of the film. I enjoyed it, and I think I've seen it a few times since its original 2000 theatrical release (and, man, does that make me feel kinda old). I saw the first two sequels theatrically as well. I was on-board for the movies.

But back then, I hated what they did to the comics.

For me, the movies would not, could not have existed without the comic books. The comics were the source, the font from which all of this was made possible. The comics were the dog (or x-dog).

The films were the tail (or x-tail). And yet, elements from the movie - most obviously the costumes - became part of the comics for no reason outside of uniting the brand, and to me, it just didn't seem right.

Or, in a very selfish the world-revolves-around-me way, it didn't seem fair.

I enjoyed the movie for its own merits. But now, thanks to this big screen adaptation of the comic I'd supported through years and years of variant covers (I still have copies of the multiple-covered X-Men #1 drawn by Jim Lee), artist changes, character deaths and resurrections (and further deaths and ridiculous resurrections - don't get me started on Colossus), price increases, editor-in-chief changes, events, annuals, character redesigns, the Image founders leaving Marvel en masse and then coming back as freelancers, relaunches, etc., etc., etc., the book was changing in a deeper way than ever before. Without me and my fellow comic book readers, that movie would have never become the first installment of a franchise still chugging along today.

I know this isn't the first time this has happened to a still-in-production property jumping from one medium to another. (It wasn't even new to Marvel Comics during the time of my fandom. I enjoyed Firestar's appearances and role in the Avengers title excellently relaunched by Kurt Busiek and George Perez in 1998, but her first appearance was in the "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" cartoon in the early 80s.)

This trend would continue in less obvious ways in the comics-to-film adaptations, but I kept going to the movies through 2007. Seeing Spider-Man 3 (dir. Sam Raimi) was the last time I saw a comic book film on the big screen, and even by then, I was skipping most other comic book movies (I haven't seen a Batman film post-Batman & Robin (dir. Joel Schumacher).)

I haven't gone out of my way to see anything comic book related TV- or movie-wise since then. I've also stopped reading comics on a regular basis. However, most of my dearest friends swear by the current run of movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I have to admit that as it plugs along, I do find my curiosity piqued now that that Doctor Strange - a character who happens to be another one of my favorites - is set to hit the movie screen.

(Scott Derrickson is the director of Doctor Strange. I appreciate that Derrickson has some horror in his background, but . . . he was the man behind Hellraiser: Inferno and the The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, so I don't know if I should be overly excited.)

I haven't read mainstream comics regularly in years. It's not like the suits and tights aren't still part of my world these days. I've leafed through some of the newer comics, and I read and write superhero fiction and novels.

Despite 1978's Superman (dir. Richard Donner) being my first comic book film and my many years enjoying DC's books over their competition's, Marvel Comics is the base upon which my comic book fandom was built.

I reserve the right to pull the plug along the way (it is my blog), and I admit to having some preconceived notions going into this. "That's not MY Captain America," is something I've said - mostly in jest - to my friends who've told me they think I'd really like Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. Joe Johnston). (And then I usually make some reference to Cap Wolf.)

What will I get out of this journey? I'm not 100% sure. I'm hoping at the very least I'll enjoy the movies. Maybe I'll have more to talk about with my friends who only know the movie versions of these superheroes that were so much a part of my childhood. Perhaps these films will further inspire my own superhero fiction. Or, if nothing else, I'll be mostly up to speed when the Doctor Strange film hits.

(Note: When I first started writing this series, I had intended to go through every one of the films and TV series in order. I've since decided that that's just not going to happen . . . and I'll explain why later.)

* A group of us - all regular customers of Bases Loaded - attended Larry's funeral. Mike and I both wore comic book t-shirts under our suit jackets (his sported a Superman emblem while mine displayed the Silver Age Green Lantern symbol - yes, we were Kal and Hal). We made it to the funeral on time, but we managed to get lost on the way from the church to the burial itself . . . which is exactly what Larry would have expected from a couple of goofballs like 1999-me and Mike. I think Larry would have enjoyed the X-Men films.

Friday, August 7, 2015

MCU & Me: Issue #1 - Origin Story, Part One

I first started reading comics seriously in junior high school. There were a few comic books here and there throughout my early childhood - occasional Star Wars comics (I was a huge Star Wars fan growing up), an issue of Fantastic Four #274 (I obsessed over that comic, and with the Thing, Frankenstein's Monster, She-Hulk, and this weird black-skinned alien thing that kind of looked like Spider-Man, what wasn't there to obsess over?), an odd Supergirl comic preaching the importance of using a seat belt, and a reprint of a horror comic that I'd love to track down again some day.*

And, of course, there were superheroes on television. On the cartoon-front, I had "Super Friends" and "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends." I had a live-action version of "The Incredible Hulk" (I don't know if I remember the original show or the time Mister Rogers visited the set more!), and two live-action Spider-Mans (the show featuring Nicholas Hammond, and the vignettes on "The Electric Company").

But it wasn't until the mid-80s that I started reading comic books regularly. Before class, there was a group of fellow junior high school students in the lunchroom huddled around a stack of comic books, mostly Marvel titles. It didn't take long for me to discover what held the attention of these other kids. I was hooked as soon as someone put a copy of Uncanny X-Men in front of me. This would have been in late-1986, and I came to start reading Uncanny X-Men in the middle of and right after the Mutant Massacre event.

I started reading Uncanny X-Men regularly, as well as a number of other Marvel titles, like Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (issues #116 and #119 were particular favorites of mine, which may explain why I like Sabretooth as a villain so much). Somehow I ended up with issues #97-#100 of PPtSSM, probably through one of the two comic book stores in town. (Forgive me - I thought The Spot was cool.)

The Book Rack was a store my parents would take me to every few weeks, and I would always dig through the back issues. I'd also buy the newest issues of whatever I was reading at the time, and maybe even bring in something I was done reading to trade it in for credit so I could pick up something else. I briefly owned the Mary Jane-Peter Parker wedding issue that way.

When I started driving on my own, I also started going to Comic Quest, the other comic shop in town. I was endlessly amused that it was located on Logan Ave. Unfortunately, Comic Quest isn't there anymore, and it looks like there's still a Book Rack in Cheyenne, but I suspect it's not "the same" and may not even carry comics.

I was a strictly-Marvel comics reader back then, and typically stayed with the mutant books. I started to dive into Doctor Strange's books, as well, my interested in blending magic and the supernatural with superheroes really starting to blossom (no doubt that pump was primed by that Fantastic Four comic a few years before). During my junior year in high school, however, my creative writing teacher steered me toward giving the Avengers titles another look. It didn't take much to turn me into an Avengers fan from that point on. (Thanks, Mr. Roberts!)

I never REALLY believed the street was named after Wolverine, but I wanted to!
I was a comics reader who liked what he liked and that was that. I didn't try DC because I already decided Marvel was better, I didn't like Captain America because I decided Wolverine was better, and so on. My attitude changed in the mid-to-late-90s.

I had drifted away from comics for a little while (shortly after Image Comics burst onto the scene), but for some reason after my first year of film school, I decided to give comics another look. The first round of the Amalgam Comics caught my eye, and through that, I finally started sampling DC's output as well.

Green Lantern (my Green Lantern is Kyle Rayner) became my favorite DC title, and when Grant Morrison took on the JLA, I was hooked. I eventually drifted to being more of a DC guy than anything else, and while I kept track of what was happening in the Marvel books, I was more interested in following the adventures of the characters populating the DC books. (I even drifted away from the Avengers eventually as I wasn't really enjoying the creative team or creative choices any more. When Jack of Hearts - one of my favorite Marvel characters - was killed, then brought back to life, and then killed again, I was ready to let the House of Ideas go.)

I stuck with DC through Infinite Crisis and the following 52 event(s), but, again, I started drifting.

(It should be stated that I didn't just read the superhero books. Over the years, I bought comics from companies like Chaos!, Image, Valiant, Dark Horse, CrossGen, BOOM! Studios, etc.)

Why did I start to drift away from comic books? There are many reasons. Finances, lack of interest, changes in direction, etc. Even today, I read very few if any comic books outside of the occasional collected edition that I already own. I still keep track of what's happening at the big publishers, and if any of my favorite characters (for some reason, my favorite characters are usually the lower-tier or less popular guys and girls) make an appearance somewhere, I'll at least try to find out what's going on. (You hear that, Marvel/Disney? I'm ready for another Jack of Hearts appearance!)

* This horror comic told the story of two boys playing outside, tossing around a baseball. One of them (maybe because he was dared to by the other) threw the baseball through a window in the old creepy house at the end of the street. Neither boy went to retrieve the baseball because it was, as I said, an old, creepy house. Years later, the two boys are now grown men and have girlfriends/wives (I don't remember for sure). They're showing off their old neighborhood and see the old house again. They decide to finally approach the house (maybe to apologize for the baseball incident years ago?), but no one answers the door. The door is open, however, so they let themselves in and find a skeleton sitting at a table as if it was eating breakfast. It's covered in dust and cobwebs, and there's a crack in the back of its skull. A baseball is sitting next on the table as well, with pieces of broken window glass around it. If anyone has a lead on this comic or this story, please drop me a line at