Looking Back at Comic Books

A DC, Marvel, and Random Character Cross-Over

Recently I was thinking about cataloguing my comic books.  Recent family events convinced me to get on with it and so I spent all weekend putting the information into the KDE collection database Tellico.  It had lots of useful fields to fill out, so I figured I was probably only going to do this once and so I may as well do it correctly.  I entered in the names of the writers, pencillers, inkers, and so on.  And I learned some interesting stuff.


I collected comics during my middle school years.  I had bought some books here and there before that, but the nearest comic shop was kinda far from our house.  It was in middle school when I finally had enough weekly allowance money to collect some titles and they were available in the magazine rack at the Incredible Universe, a Best Buy-like store, which we visited at least once a month.  So for a three year time-span I collected comics.  Then I discovered girls and my allowance had to cover the costs of taking them on dates and to cheap dinners, so comics had to go.  Recently I’ve been catching up on some of the big comic book events I missed in the intervening years like the excellent Batman Story “The Killing Joke”.  And my wife has even gotten into the Buffy Season 8 comics.

Hugh Jackman Wolverine

It was fun going back over the books and skimming them as I put the data in.  There were ads for TV shows, movies, and products long gone.  And I realized that lots of the titles were puns or references to literature that I didn’t understand at that age.  In fact, when I get to an entertainment lull (when I run out of video games to play) I’m thinking of going back through some of the books to see what I didn’t get as a kid.  I was a really bright kid who read above my age, vocabulary-wise, but there are certain jokes you can only understand when you’re older.  I’m also thinking of going to the local shop and buying some books around the Onslaught story-line.  I was avidly collecting books in that story and then some well-meaning church jerk told my mom that magic the gathering was Satanist and that they were playing it at the Comic Shop.  So I was never able to finish the story.

I was always more of a Marvel guy than DC Comics.  This is proven by the fact that I have over twice as many Marvel comics as DC Comics.  And I wouldn’t even have that many DC Comics if a relative hadn’t given me a bunch of comics as a present.  Partially it was because I related a lot more to the mutant, outcast theme of the Marvel universe.  A lot of the heroes in the Marvel Universe had their powers thrust upon them.  And the X-Men even took this further and made it a metaphor for puberty, a metaphor I was at the perfect age to understand.  And the X-Men also represented minorities to me.  By contrast, the two DC heroes I knew – Batman and Superman were completely different.  Superman was an alien who, depending on the writer, was a Mary Sue.  (Proof: So many writers have a hard time writing for him in our cynical post-1970s world) Batman had no super powers – he just chose to be a detective.  In fact, where most of the Marvel characters – good or bad – had their powers thrust upon them, in the DC universe that only happened to the villians – especially in Batman’s Rogues Gallery.  It was the reason they went mad.  I was also exposed to more Marvel cartoons at the time than DC.  I can’t remember if I was exposed to Batman: The Animated Series at this time or if I saw it later in life (either in reruns or first-runs), but my main experience of Batman was the old Bam-Pow Adam West Batman that used to play on cable TV.  If I’d known what Batman had become in the 1980s and early 1990s, I think I may have really been into Batman.  I know I’m attracted to Batman as an adult because his fiction is the most “real”.  He’s just a detective with a knowledge of martial arts and an unlimited bank account.  While most super heroes are fantasy – many, many dissertations have been written on super heroes as our modern mythology (replacement for Zeuss, et al) – Batman is closer to science fiction or a slightly more technological present.  I think my dislike of DC Comics was also partially because they appeared to be written for a slightly older audience and so it didn’t appeal to me as much?  The example I always liked to use was this Superman comic I had where he gets home and this mermaid is in his bathtub, naked.  She is covering her breasts with her arms in the universal symbol for “if this was rated R, you’d see my breasts” rather than having a clamshell bra or something.  As far as I can remember, Marvel never had those types of fan service shots during the time period I was reading (mid-1990s). They were clearly pushing the envelope on what they could get away with a little harder than Marvel.  So maybe more of the plotting went over my head and so I was bored.


I was really into the Sonic the Hedgehog books after the way too short-lived Sonic series on ABC.  Unlike the dumb one on UPN and the current one, it was pretty serious and dark for a Saturday morning cartoon.  That’s what I appreciated in Anime at the time – a refusal to say that cartoons had to be kooky – they could be serious and not just for little kids.  I even had a subscription to the magazine for a while so I didn’t have to depend upon finding it at Incredible Universe.  So I thought I’d have more Sonic books than anything else, but actually Marvel beats it by twice as much.  However, I did have more Sonic books than any other specific Marvel franchise.

Speaking of franchises, I rediscovered one thing that annoyed me about the comic book industry back then – I’m not sure if it’s improved since then – spreading out characters over a bunch of books.  I had to use the keyword field of Tellico to accurately count how many Spider-Man comics I had because there was Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man, and Spectacular Spider-Man, among other books.  The positive way of looking at that would be that it allowed the publisher to continue a story without waiting for a whole month to pass.  The cynical way of looking at it is that it forced you to collect three different books (or more) a month just to keep up with what was going on with one character.  And that’s assuming you only followed one character!  For an industry ostensibly aimed at kids, that’s an expensive proposition.

I always considered myself to be a Fantastic Four and Spider-Man guy.  I loved Spider-Man’s witty quips (which I really missed in the latest movie trilogy) and his personal tragedy.  With Fantastic Four, Thing was also quite witty and I loved the love-hate relationship between Thing and The Human Torch.  I always considered Dan to be the X-Men fan.  And he bought most of the X-Men books and we’d reach each others’ books every month.  But, to my surprise, I actually have just as many X-Men books as I do Fantastic Four books.  And not many more Spider-Man books, actually.

I know my collection is too small to make any informed inferences, but inputting the data made me think of the creators for the first time ever and it was really neat to see the same names repeated over and over.  And it was also interesting to see when they changed.  Some people tended to write for just one book for a while – which makes sense.  If you want narrative consistency, you don’t want tons of different writers.  (Especially since that can lead to confusing retcons and so on) However, some people like Richard Starking seemed to do the lettering for all of Marvel’s books.  And, later on, he either left Marvel or started doing EVERYONE’S lettering.  Actually, a quick trip to Wikipedia shows that via his company COMICRAFT (which apeared next to his name nearly every time) expanded to provide lettering and fonts to nearly all the comic companies.

It was also interesting to see how the books rose in price along with inflation.  The cheapest book I have is marked as 65 cents on the front.  Then I have a few at $1.00.  When I was in peak comic book buying mode, the agreed upon value for the books was $1.50 with special issues nabbing $2.00.  DC Comics appears to have been ahead of the trend with their books costing $1.95 before Marvel came to that same price point.  I wonder how much new books cost nowadays.

Going through my comics definitely piqued my interest in the medium.  I’d like to explore some more of Alan Moore’s books.  And I’m always vacillating on whether or not to get Neil Gamain’s Sandman.  I’m also curious about how the Super Hero genre has evolved.  I know in 1997 Marvel relaunched their franchises with more modern origins due to the fact that most people my age and younger don’t relate to the atomic age, the Cold War, and all the tropes that go along with that.  But I’m curious more about how they’ve evolved the genre as a whole.  I know that Watchmen came out in the 1980s, but those types of disruptive, deconstructionist works of art tend to take time before they ripple through the industry.  They clearly had an impact on some of series by the time I got to them (Batman, for example), but have they continued to evolve or are costumed super heroes just as ridiculous as ever?  Also, would I be able to enjoy the books by the older companies as an adult?  I know a lot of the indie stuff is adult or adult enough that I can enjoy it – but what about the Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and so on?  Would I find the plots to unrealistic to be able to suspend my disbelief as an adult or would I find them as fascinating as any modern sci-fi or fantasy book?

Sometimes Grafitti is Art