Comics and I have an interesting relationship. I’ve been through phases in my life where I exclusively read comics to the point where I finish no books, and also where I read no comics whatsoever. When I pick something up though, I tend to obsess about it. I’m itching for Saga to start back up again to the point where I’m rereading regularly. One thing I’ve never been much a fan of in comics though is the superhero.
I spent most of my youth, like many kids from the UK, reading stuff like the Dandy and the Beano, Topper and Whizzer and Chips. Eventually discovering the might of 2000AD. My favourite 2000AD characters were Nemesis the Warlock, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Johnny Alpha, and my all time favourite, Sláine. I guess you could call some of these guys superheros if you wanted to stretch the semantics, but you see a distinct lack of spandex here.
I followed people like Garth Ennis into Preacher, discovered Alan Moore and stumbled into Swamp Thing and Hellblazer, worshipped Glenn Fabry’s art to the point of trying to emulate him at every free moment in sketch books.
Very occasionally, I’d dip into your bona fide costumed superhero story. I was probably most faithful to Batman, though not really. I read a few X-Men here and there, but I never really enjoyed Marvel, though I couldn’t tell you why. The first superhero story that really grabbed me, was Watchmen. Draw whatever conclusions from that as you see fit.
I am a sucker for superhero movies though. The 1989 Batman movie was one of my favourites, and I still think Keaton vs. Nicholson is one of the best hero/villain pairings of all time, both actors being as unhinged as each other. I loved the first X-Men movie, the second not so much, then there was a wishy-washy period but I don’t really remember, then First Class, and we’re back in the room.
The new Avengers stuff has been mostly great fun, even something as left-field as Guardians of the Galaxy has been knocked out of the park, to steal a cliché. I’ve not got so much into the DC stuff, but I’m not unusual in that respect. I enjoyed V for Vendetta, but I refuse to speak about the abomination that is Watchmen, and if you mention that Keanu Reeves Constantine, I’ll sacrifice a goat and get you possessed by a shit demon.
Ironically though, I read more DC than Marvel as a kid. I enjoy the MCU stuff in general, but except for the first two Nolan Batman movies, most of the DC stuff has sucked, or I haven’t been moved to watch it.
Of late, I’ve been reading a tonne of comics. I’ve been going back through Sandman, Hellblazer and Preacher from the start. Three of my absolute favourite series. I’ve been picking up a fistful of newer stuff as well, and oddly, it’s almost exclusively from Image comics: Saga, Chew, Prophet, Umbral, Birthright, The Fade Out.
On a whim, yesterday, I decided to pick up an X-Men collection from Comixology: ‘Uncanny X-Men Masterwork Vol. 1’. This collects ten or so issues from the mid-70s. Now, the first thing I noticed about the writing in these episodes is quite simply how AMERICA-VS-THE-COMMIE-BASTARDS the narrative was. The little origin story of Colossus, when he meets Prof X, is sort of hilarious.
“But if I possess such power as you say – does it not belong to the state?” Colossus says to Xavier.
The depiction of Thunderbird as a white-man hating native American is cringy, as is the meeting of Storm pretending to be a storm goddess to the uneducated natives in Kenya. I appreciate it’s a product of its time and environment, but it’s very difficult to read. It’s like that scene in ‘On Her Majesties’ Secret Service’ where Bond enters a room filled with women of shocking racial stereotypes, all clad in bikinis. I guess we didn’t have quite the level of Cold War hysteria in the UK, and perhaps that’s why I never really managed to relate to the Marvel/DC worlds, which, to me at least, always seemed to carry that undercurrent.
I don’t really know enough of the history of these great story arcs to know the answer, just as I can’t remember what I was thinking as a 12-year old reading them. As an outsider to the traditional superhero paradigm though, I always saw it as thinly veiled patriotism, or even jingoism, even with the multicultural origins of most of the X-Men. That shit never washed with me as a kid, and even less so now.
I’m being harsh, and I’m being unfair, I know that. This is a first impression. I’m determined to delve into the titanic vaults that are Marvel and DC’s superhero collections and see if anything sticks. As things stand though, I’m not a big superhero fan.