Sunday, March 23, 2014

A message to my teenage self in the 1990s about comic books

Dear My Teenage Self,

Thanks to not only a childhood of picking up comics whenever you could despite living in the middle of nowhere, but also to Lynda Carter, the Superfriends, and the Burton Batman films, you recently have decided to become a comic book junkie. You have decided to read JLA and Wonder Woman. You have decided to collect everything with Helena Bertinelli in it, because, after a letter DC wrote TO YOU in the lettercol of an issue of Detective Comics explaining the difference between Helena Bertinelli and Helena Wayne, you decided that, despite Helena Wayne being an icon of your childhood, Helena Bertinelli was waaay cooler. You have everything with Catwoman in it, and will for a long time. You have decided, even though you loved Spider-Man (and his Amazing Friends) as a kid, and read all of your family friend Eric's Fantastic Four issues he would allow you to get your hands on, you really are a DC girl. You believe you will be a DC girl forever. Though articulating why is difficult, there is something that pops out to you on the page in DC's books that doesn't in Marvel's. To you, DC's darker and grittier books are more relatable and compelling, and their paragon supers are just more your role model types, especially always and forever Wonder Woman. And that for whatever reason, you just have trouble penetrating and understanding what the hell is going on in many Marvel books (and frankly, I am sorry to say, that is still true at least for the X-Men comics, no matter how cool the idea of the X-Men is). Part of the big reason why you're not all that into Marvel, as that you have trouble finding female characters, rolemodels, heroines, that you desire to look up to. You kind of like Rogue, but again, the X-Men titles are impenetrable, and you liked She-Hulk as a kid when she took the Thing's place in F4, but you're not sure what she's up to now. While Marvel has other superheroines, no one else for whatever reason stands out for you. You can't find your personal equivalent for Wonder Woman or Huntress or Oracle (enjoy her while she lasts) there, for example.  

I know you are going to be mad at me, because as of May, I will not be buying any DC Comics. My DC collection has slowly dwindled for a long time. I won't say "never buying them any more," because I've learned not to say things like that. Just "not right now, and probably for a long time."

You may even be shocked to hear that I consider many of our childhood heroes, the ones that made you utterly declare yourself a DC-head forever and always, effectively dead. Some of them are not technically dead (no one ever technically dies in comics, as you are quickly learning, and don't worry, Superman and Wonder Woman will be out of those stupid costumes soon). Other DC heroes won't stay dead that you probably couldn't give a crap about (I think you and I agree there is no point whatsoever to Hal Jordan). But our heroes are dead in spirit.

See, a couple years ago DC did a reboot beyond reboots of all reboots (we did accept the Crisis on Infinite Earths as a probably necessary thing, but also foolishly thought something like that would seldom happen again). And this reboot just makes my once familiar fictional friends and heroes feel cold and distant to me. Other heroes, like our beloved Ms. Bertinelli, and other heroes you have yet to meet, are now nonexistent. (A consolation: Helena B IS on TV on a show about Green Arrow, which sounds cooler than you think.) This reboot is really confusing, too, where some old continuity is real but other parts of it aren't, and IT has become the impenetrable thing I suddenly don't understand. I have tried to keep an eye on it, I have tried to flip through on occasion to see what's new or changed. But there's just frankly few people in that universe anymore I can find it in me to give a damn about. And all of those role-model-heroines... gone or changed, in a way that I cannot see in them what I related to or loved anymore.

The last title I am reading from DC was in fact all new heroes: the heroes of The Movement. You'd love it, it was all about young superheroes fighting deeply corrupt system in a decaying city (much like the city I live in, frankly; yes I live in a city, you'll have to forgive me on that too, country girl). The Movement is by a writer you haven't heard of yet but once you do, you will never put her--yes, her!--work down (she also writes Helena Bertinelli amazingly, look forward to that when the time comes). The Movement is being cancelled after a year because it wasn't selling enough. In my opinion, it wasn't marketed enough. It's new characters. It needs time for people to have heard of it and to latch on to the new people--you can't make a new Justice League or Team Bat overnight. But I can understand--they need to make money, they can't spend money on something that doesn't put them back into the black. Maybe it wasn't the right format for it, or the right time. But The Movement was the last chance for me to have current heroes in the DCU I loved for now. So I'm leaving it.

And here's the worst part: please try to hold down the sense of betrayal you may feel. But... I am increasingly buying a large number of Marvel titles. Future Foundation is done now, but it was AWESOME, and it was a lot of what you liked about Fantastic Four but better, because it didn't have Reed Richards in it. AND now that it's done, She-Hulk who was in it has her own monthly again! And it is so far, utterly phenomenal. She is as fun as you remember her, and better--smart, funny, strong. Carol Danvers has her own book too... I know you only know her as "that chick Rogue stole her powers from and is in a coma," but she's amazing, and she's called Captain Marvel now. Now yes, I think that name is stupid too because when you hear the words "Captain Marvel," you, too, hear your dad shouting that name in childlike glee in reference to his childhood hero Billy Batson from DC Comics, but she's--I call her Captain Carol--a great character. Her backstory is very interesting, and she is warm, and nice, and kick ass, which is all the things you want in a heroine. There's a new Ms. Marvel too who is amazing--can you believe, a young Muslim superheroine? Hawkeye who you never heard of at the time is also a great title, really right down your alley in terms of a lot of slice of life as well as some grey-area superheroing, and has a guy and a girl archer in it whom you would both love. So many great female superheroines (at the age of 37, I still plan to grow up to be them some day), and so many great heroes in general regardless of gender. A lot of these are having easy to access entry points--the new #1s I care less about per se than just being able to jump on and know what's happening (DC's new #1s some how had the opposite effect on me). Somehow, without really trying, I have began to make mine Marvel. I'm not seeking their books out, really; the books on the shelf are just calling to me and they are being amazing.

And, well, there're indie books doing that too. You're going to be reading some great pulp fantasy and other fun stuff. Image is a good publisher now that they've stopped trying too hard to be edgy. There's other good publishers too. You'll have a lot to choose from.

And I want to be oh-so-very clear: there doesn't have to be a binary. I know you've been raised on Pepsi vs Coke taste test commercials and think you have to have product loyalty to one and not the other. That's really not how it works. In fact, oh honey, oh how I wish I could help you understand in many deeper things than comics, that it really is okay and normal to love both. But you'll get there.

Anyway, this ISN'T about having to love ONLY DC or ONLY Marvel or ONLY any one thing and eschewing all others. This is not Highlander, there does not have to be only one. It's just that... I have left DC because it is no longer a home for those I consider my heroes.  In Marvel (and Boom! and Dynamite): that's where my heroes are now, and I hope you will accept that and forgive me.

Do not fear, however: we will always, always, always love Wonder Woman. We may not see the Wonder Woman we recognize in the comics at the moment, but she will be there, smiling down from the awesome action figure collection I have now (oh, yes, you are jealous) and the posters and the back issues and the video recordings of the 1970s show. And her kindness and warmth and courage and integrity and the way she just exemplifies showing us we can be whatever our potential can carry us to--the things we both know are what make her Wonder Woman and still make her our ultimate hero--are things we will always carry in our hearts to try to live up to in our own nerdy, frumpy ways.

And that's the real thing I wish for you to understand: our heroes are ultimately in our hearts. In the comics and other media we seek out, we do that only to remind us what we hold hold most dear in the depth of ourselves. Well, And so we have an excuse to buy awesome action figures. We can do these things anywhere we need to go, and we do not have to stay where we are no longer fed. At this point, the journey is simply marvelous.

Love (and really, honey, love), You, in about twenty years