Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Out With The New, In With The Old (Warning: Written While Drowsy!)

Voting in this year's incarnation of the Comic Book Corries at Comic Book Resources has made me painfully aware of one thing; I have read very few comics published within this calendar year. In fact, other than the Seven Soldiers mini-series, there are no current monthly comics that I'm following!

Every one of my other regular purchases, from Ex Machina to Astonishing X-Men, fell by the wayside in one way or another. In the former case, it was a decision to follow the series in trades after not being able to pick up the monthly for awhile and not particularly missing my single issue fix. In the latter, well... I love Whedon* and Cassaday's work a lot, and the first arc was my favorite ongoing superhero book of last year, but... they were fighting the fucking Danger Room? For six issues? There are some things that tax even my suspension of disbelief, which is usually as generous as Michael Jackson with young children.

What? He's a great philanthropist!

Who happens to like to bugger young boys.

Allegedly.

Other than Astonishing X-Men losing my interest in quick fashion, given the schedule it was on, I didn't really drop anything in disgust or frustration. It's just that I have an aversion to pull lists, limited access to a shop where I can find the comics I want without one, and a combination of the two that results in going months without picking up a single issue unless I really feel like going out of my way. That tends to seperate the likes from the loves pretty quickly.

Anyway, the King of Pop's likely sexual proclivities aside, most of the comics I've been reading this year that weren't written by a bald Scotsman were published before I was born. Admittedly, I don't feel bad about that. I've been reading a lot of reprints Will Eisner's Spirit lately, and, well... it's the Spirit! There's nothing I can say about it that can do it any kind of justice if you've never read it, and if you have, you don't need me to tell you. Eisner's story telling just hums, and even at 7 pages, each one of these stories is more satisfying a read than anything else in comics I've ever read. They're dense without being overwritten, which is something I can't say about most "classic" comics I've read, even my beloved Silver Age Marvels.

I've been reading a lot of those, too, and finding that I enjoy them more in small doses than in long sittings. One of the things I love about the Essential trades is that you get a huge chunk of comics for $14-$16 a pop, which means you get more reading for you dollar. I've been focusing mainly on the Lee-Ditko Dr. Strange stories, having just finished the long (especially in the context of the strip, since it ran as mostly self contained series in the Strange Tales anthology) Eternity storyline.

These stories have a palpable tension, since the good Doctor is on the run from his two most powerful enemies, Mordo and Dormamu, whom he knows will trounce him if he confronts them on his own. This is the kind of stuff that seems to be missing from the current attempts at high stakes, epic storylines in current superhero stories (I say seems because I'm not reading them. Don't you pay attention?). Dr. Strange gets to be cunning, heroic, and valiant in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds (which is my favorite Marvel superhero trait).

Sure, the big reveal of Eternity is a) sort of anti-climatic for someone who read those Jim Starlin Infinity Gauntlet stories where he sort of skulks around with other cosmic entities while Thanos is being awesome and great and would totally god if he wanted to be (that was the theme of all of those, wasn't it?) and b) does feature a plot twist that's kind of... lame, for lack of a better word ("You had the power inside of you the whole time!"). On the other hand, a) these are 40-some odd year old comics written for children and b) even in black and white, Ditko's mind trip alien worlds are a joy to behold. It's fun comics, and hey, it's nice to see an epic superhero yarn where the good guy wins in the face of bleak odds. In other words, classic Dr. Strange comics are better than I assume Infinite Crisis comics are. Although, come to think of it, Clea does get the shaft in the end... (Figuratively. The buggering reference of this ramble is over).

So, anyway, I've been enjoying my forays in to older comics. I don't regret reading them, for the most part. I mean, there are those Gerry Conway/Rich Buckler Fantastic Four comics I inexplicably picked up off E-Bay (although one of them had the hilariously awesome image of the Thing leading a makeshift FF of the Human Torch, Wyatt Wingfoot, and Medusa in to battle on a home made log raft that still brings a smile to my face). There's also that Pope John Paul 1-shot that Steven Grant wrote that I'm not even sure I have anymore. But I'm enjoying them. Good comics are good comics, no matter what the age. It's good to read the old school material, if for no other reason than to see that things you thought were mind blowingly original in recent comics weren't created whole cloth. And some of it, in the case of the Spirit, racial stereotypes and all, is better than the vast majority of anything being published today.

And yet... I feel like I'm missing out on what's going on in comics now. The problem with fixating on one kind of comic (and I'm sure this is true of the other mediums I'm not obessed with) means that you'll pass up a lot of other interesting work. There are some many comics out there I want to read, and I'm not getting to them because my recent preoccupation with reprints. That said, the two comics I want the most this year are Absolute Watchmen and Complete Calvin and Hobbes, with the Palomar Hardcover and Complete Bone on their heels. Of course, since I buy a lot of stuff second hand, I can probably wait long enough for Scott Pilgrim vol. 2 and Ice Haven to show up on E-Bay. I was patient enough to wait for the trades in the first place. Or I could just back off on all the Silver Age reprints and read something by people that couldn't be my great grandparents. Although those DC Showcase trades are tempting...

*Spellcheck wants to replace Whedon with Wheaton. As in Will Wheaton. Which makes me wonder if the former Wesley Crusher would have kept my interest in Astonishing X-Men. I bet even that weiner could have come up with some better than fighting the fucking Danger Room. God, I'm a nerd.

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