Monday, June 29, 2009

More Than Meets The Senses

I never played with the toys, and I haven't seen either movie, but Marvel's Transformers comic was something I read from time to time. I didn't pick it up monthly like I did with Star Wars, and I didn't enjoy it as much as G.I. Joe, but the book had some sort of appeal to me. I suspect, however, if I cracked open one of my back issues after reading this I would be less than impressed.

I never understood the fanatics when it comes to this franchise. I know a lot of people who love the movies without having been exposed to anything else. I also know plenty of people who can quote episodes of the cartoon. The Transformers comic book, though, seemed different. When talking about the Marvel series, giant robot fans don't seem to get excited about it, though they all agree they were fond of it when they were reading. (I also suspect those people, if honest, would have a different view of it if they read those back issues now). If memory serves me correctly, it was supposed to be a limited series that grew into a series because of a large fan base.

A few years ago comics reintroduced the transforming money makers and comic fans responded kindly. This led to many discussions of the old Marvel series, though I don't recall anyone referencing any storyline, and I realized I couldn't remember one, either.

So what is it about these robots that invokes such passion?

Giant robots that destroy things are cool. Giant anythings that destroy things are cool. But these robots are treated like Godzilla in some circles. They are sacrosanct. (I remember one fan being upset that I wouldn't read his Transformers fan fiction. Jesus, why would I do that?) I suppose the Transformers are our Gundam, which also has a feverish fan following in Japan. To me, however, the whole franchise seems kind of lackluster and -- get out the boards and nails -- silly.

I don't begrudge anyone their love of this juggernaut. I like a lot of things that society would deem less than worthy. I'm just saying I don't see the hype. Maybe I'll go dig up some of my old issues and see if I change my mind.

I have my doubts, though.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Whatever Happened to Comic Castle?

Every once in a while I run into a person I haven't seen in years, someone I remember from my days managing Comic Castle (Eureka, CA), and they want to know what happened to their favorite comic book store. The truth of the matter is that it was sold to the competitor, who has a less-than-stellar reputation. It's also a real basic story. Business wasn't doing well (I had a new job before the store was actually sold), and the owner had to get rid of it fairly fast. The only person he knew who had the money to buy it so quickly was the competition, which now runs it out of his role-playing game store. By all accounts it's just not the same.

I ran into one of those people this weekend. I don't remember his name, but he remembered me, and he asked about the store. He knew it was running out of a new location, but since he refuses to enter that store, he didn't know what had happened. When I explained it to him the best I could (and I do my best to not let my feelings into it), he said he was sad it had to happen, but wished it could've been anyone else who bought it. After it closed, he said, he stopped buying comics.

I mentioned to him that I go through SciFi Genre for my comic needs, as well as eBay, and that there were some pretty cool things happening these days. I mentioned Secret Invasion, the end of 100 Bullets, the Final Crisis, new Conan series and so on. He seemed interested and expressed that his only connection with comic books these days were his back issues and whatever Hollywood was dishing out. Still, he would not go to Comic Castle's new location because it was a matter of trust.

I totally understand that. It's the same reason I and several others won't go there. Some longstanding customers have decided to give the new owner their business, and that's fine, too (though I hear several complaints from them and have to wonder why they continue to give him their hard-earned dough). When it comes to comic books, there is loyalty and there is addiction. Sometimes it's hard to find a balance.

I don't think I'll ever step foot in the new location. My greatest fear is that I'll need supplies and won't be able to get them through my usual channels or whatever reason. So far, however, that has not been an issue.

Before the old customer and I parted ways he asked, "Do you think we'll ever get another store?"

There had been talk of that. I don't think anything ever came of it. "I don't know," I said, "but if you ever decide to do it, look me up. I'll be happy to lend my knowledge to it."

Then we were done. I hope another store comes into the area some day. Competition is a good thing, and I actually miss going into a store and seeing what new items are out. If I had the money, I'd do it. In the meantime there's still SciFi Genre.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thoughts On The Punisher

9/11. New York. Punisher's stomping ground. Under the Marvel Knights imprint, The Punisher issue six was to see light around two months after 9/11, a fact noted by the comic's writer, Garth Ennis. Ennis and artist Steve Dillon (who also teamed up on the incredible Preacher series, one of the best stories of all time) made this issue an examination of the Big Apple's spirit, and since it was written well before 9/11, it does not focus on that event.

In this issue the Punisher is hunting a man he knows, a man he served with in Vietnam, a man who has killed his own family. Punisher wants him before the cops get him, and we all know why. Throughout this, though, the character of the city, its nature, its mores are ruminated on. It seems like the City That Never Sleeps is also the City That Doesn't Care, a fact brought home in the issue's final panel. Frank Castle, the Punisher, as we expect, gets his guy. That was never in doubt. What was in doubt was his reaction to it and his reasoning beyond the norm. Yeah, Punisher kills the guilty, but here he shows heart (though some may say I'm being morbid about that).

Marvel Knights stories were supposed to be grittier than the standard Marvel fare, and they were for the most part. This issue is no different. What is different that the people involved in it decided that since 9/11 was still in everyone's minds (and would not be gone for some time), they would have to comment on it on the text page. They realize they do a comic filled with over-the-top violence, and now America has experienced that up close. What do you do? Apologize for it? Brush the comic off as mere entertainment? Ignore it? No. You do what they did here. You write about it. You don't apologize for a violent comic book (the comic book did not cause 9/11 or even the mentality behind it). As artists, which is what comic creators are, their job is to create, comment, and examine. Ennis and Dillon do that here. What they didn't know when they created the story is that their take on New York would somehow become even more meaningful (or damning, depending on your worldview) in light of the terrorist attacks.

The Punisher has never been known as a subtle character, this tale being an exception. Those who haven't ever read his adventures, however, probably will never understand his appeal. His fans know that he is justice without apology, swift and sure. It is something a lot of people wish would happen more in this world. They also understand why it can't. This tale, which opens with a tragic homeless man begging for money as people do their best to pretend he doesn't exist, shows why Punisher fans are right in claiming him as their own. Those who don't get it, won't have their minds changed by it, though. There is nothing in it that will turn on that bulb in their heads. The end, however meaningful it is, will be seen as nothing but violence.

That, too, mirrors the outcome of 9/11, in a way that could have never been predicted. Violence meets violence. One act not really understood at anything other than a base level. The other done for what is looked at as humane reasons. Terrorist attack. War. Unlike the end of this tale, however, the war that ensued has not reached any kind of emotional conclusion. There hasn't been a moment that brings the story full circle. The war hasn't end, but the tale has. My guess is that by the time this war does end, the conclusion of this Punisher story will be far more heartfelt and honest than anything that could possibly transpire overseas.