Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Modern Gods

You can kind of guess that anyone who would devote a blog to comic books has some kind of love of the medium. I'm not a late comer to the art form. In fact, I've been reading comic books since I was old enough to remember. I used to store them in a huge box that I would pull out from under my bed and spend rainy summer days laying out on the floor and reading. Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Justice League of America, Batman, Uncanny X-Men, Star Wars, Amazing Spider-Man, Beyond the Grave, Scary Tales, and many more. Some of the ones still in my collection still have the spine rolls to prove it.

As a kid, my favorite titles were in the superhero and horror genres. I still enjoy those. To me, superheroes are our modern mythology. The Greeks had their gods. We have Superman, Wolverine and Nova. But even more than being mythology, they teach us lessons.

Morals, values and mores are learned through various sources. You've got family, church, school and popular culture (which probably makes quite a few people uncomfortable). Comic books -- especially superhero comics -- teach those things. Superman teaches us about truth. Batman teaches determination. Wolverine teaches rugged individualism (an American quality). Spider-Man teaches responsibility. Or at least they used to. Some of the core lessons are now absent from these books, and that's okay. As their readership changed (and it has), the stories had to keep up with it (and they have). Frank Miller's take on Batman couldn't have happened in the Sixties. The Watchmen may have been based on older characters, but the story was quite modern for the time. The medium has evolved with the times and readership, and I wouldn't have it any other way ... despite its potential isolation of younger readers.

Books like the late great 100 Bullets or Preacher had their own value systems. Readers could easily see the sometimes time end road of revenge or revisit with the importance of truth and the value of friendship, or they could just read some really cool stories and never touch upon their deeper meanings. That's the beauty of how this medium, which is a bridge between books and movies, has evolved. No longer just the realm of children and teens, this art now appeals to adults and the stories prove it.

There are, however, readers who wish the medium would return to the past with simpler stories that were much more black and white. I think there is a place for both nostalgic type tales and more modern ones, but the former's audience is bound to be smaller. It's also highly doubtful that those stories would bring in any new readers, and that is a problem.

For years, people have been questioning the viability of the comic book medium. Some say it is here to stay. Others say trade paperbacks will be all you can get. Still others say both will be gone. I tend to think the future will be much like it is now, with both the traditional comic book and trade paperbacks co-existing. It's obvious that the comic book format is a feeder to trade paperbacks (and that is also somewhat annoying), but I don't think that's worth worrying about.

I'd like to think that twenty years from now some kid will be pulling a big box out from under his bed and start paging through a 22 page “booklet” featuring his favorite hero teaming up with the Hulk. The rain will be falling outside, some old sitcom playing on the television in the background. He won't hear it, though, because he'll be absorbed in the adventure he's reading. That's how I was, and that memory, along with a love of comic books, has stayed with me to this day.

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