There were two powerful and seductive forces that pulled me back into the world of comic book collecting. Those forces are named Jeff and Kalie. As I discussed in my first post, I stopped collecting comic books around the time I turned sixteen, as comic money turned into gas money. For seventeen years I was only peripherally aware of what was happening in the lives of my favorite comic characters. But those seventeen years would fall away (with surprisingly little resistance) last fall. And again, all the credit (and/or blame) for my return to this wonderfully addicting and captivating world can be laid at the feet of Jeff and Kalie.
You see, Star Wars was returning. Right?!? When Disney purchased Star Wars one of their first moves was to wipe out the old Expanded Universe (all the novels, comics, video games, etc. and so on that continued to tell the story of the Star Wars characters in and around the films) so they could tell their own stories dealing with that time. And thus the Disney Canon was born. While I have a deep and abiding passion for Star Wars, Jeff lives and breathes it. (He actually runs the fantastic Star Wars blog The Imperial Talker which you should check out.) He wouldn’t relent in his recommendations that I needed to be reading the new Star Wars comics Marvel was publishing. With great reluctance I returned to Books Galore, the comic store I visited once a week (at least) for about ten years as a child. I was reluctant not because I doubted Jeff’s recommendation. I was reluctant because I knew how much I loved comic books…and how easily and quickly I could begin to pick up more titles. But I was going to limit myself to just Star Wars titles. And I TOTALLY stayed true to that…for a month or two.
Then came Christmas and Kalie, my fandom-fueling girlfriend (who runs her own incredible blogs on the horror genre and life and literature), surprised me with a few gifts that knocked the door to full-on comic collecting wide open again. Now, she had no idea the force she was unleashing with her Christmas surprises. But I knew what was coming once I opened them…and I didn’t look back. She got me Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona and Deadpool (Volume 1) by Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, Tony Moore, Scott Koblish, and Mike Hawthorne. There was no debating it now, I wasn’t just peeking into the world of Star Wars comics. I was diving back into the Marvel Universe proper. And it felt like coming home!
I couldn’t wait to read Ms. Marvel and I did so Christmas night, after the excitement of familial visiting had ended. I sat in the family room of my parents’ house, with the lights of the Christmas tree glowing, and devoured the first volume. I had read a lot of articles about this comic and, as someone who both studies theology and teaches a course on World Religions, I couldn’t have been more intrigued by their portrait of Islam and a new superhero who is both Muslim and from a family of Pakistani immigrants. The faith was portrayed brilliantly; I’m even considering buying several copies of this volume for my class as fodder for future assignments. So, as a student and teacher of Religious Studies, the book was fascinating. But as a lover of comic books and superheroes the book was captivating. I couldn’t put it down! It’d been years since I had enjoyed this sort of excitement. As illogical a thought as it was at 11:00pm on Christmas night, I wished Books Galore or Barnes & Noble was open so I could immediately buy and begin the second volume!
Next I tackled the year’s worth of Deadpool comics Kalie’d provided me with in Deadpool (Volume 1). When I read them all in a day (and spent much of the time wildly laughing out loud like…well, like me; I often laugh loudly) I knew my trips to Books Galore would soon be yielding far more fruits. So I began contemplating what exactly would make the cut for my file. What comics did I want, nay what comics did I need, to be waiting for me in my file each month? What characters’ adventures would I follow regularly?
I spent a lot of time debating my options with Kalie. And when I felt I should give Kalie a break, I spent even more time emailing my friend Kelly about it. We wrote back and forth often, considered my “comic math,” how much I should spend each month, what titles were worth my time/money, and how far into this rabbit hole I wanted to let myself slide. (Don’t worry, Kelly and I email often. Our regular banter didn’t dissolve into nothing but comics; our correspondence just grew a comic dimension!) Kelly tried to be my voice of reason (a role she often plays to varied results) and almost always responded to my debating a new title with some variation of, “No! No more! You have enough already.” This, obviously, was never going to be one of those times I would listen to her. Neither Kelly nor Kalie had any idea how strong the pull of the comic store’s siren song was. I knew. But after seventeen years of resisting, I let Jeff and Kalie take me right back. Deep inside I knew, as Jeff urged me to begin reading the Star Wars titles, he was helping me back here. And honestly? I was excited!
Sadly, it wasn’t long until all the Star Wars titles I was reading were cut from my file. (For the record I read Darth Vader, Kanan the Last Padawan and whatever miniseries they were running that month.) I love Star Wars…but I soon found the titles boring. It hurt my heart, as a Star Wars lover, to admit that. But it was the truth. The Disney Canon began to feel like spinning wheels, perpetually stuck between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, with stories that didn’t add anything necessary to Star Wars nor live up to the old EU for me. And, with limited time and money, bored was something I wouldn’t be – not when there were so many exciting titles to read! And here are the ones that now fill my monthly pull list:
1) Deadpool – this one was obvious. Yes, it’s become bi-monthly so it’s costing me double, but I’ve come to really, really like Deadpool! It was nice to meet the character in the comics before Ryan Reynolds embodied him to such perfection. Also, he’s become sort of symbolic for me of my adult return to comics. As a kid in the nineties, Deadpool was just arriving and was (mostly) a bad guy. I never really read too much with him before. So I came to Deadpool as new reader and as an adult who could fully appreciate his irreverent and inappropriate nature. And I love him for it!
2) Ms. Marvel – another obvious choice. It was love at first read with Ms. Marvel and the book has consistently impressed me. It has a strong social conscience, exploring all manner of social justice issues. This is an important feature for me. The book is endless fun, but it also makes you think. G. Willow Wilson deserves every award she receives and more as far as I’m concerned.
3) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – I love Ryan North. I love his Dinosaur Comics. And when I learned he was writing for Marvel, I knew I’d love that too. Spoiler Alert – I do! This is, hands down, the most consistently funny comic I read. I laugh out loud more than Deadpool and I love it’s subtle and subversive critique of the myth of redemptive violence. Squirrel Girl often sees the good in her enemies and ends conflicts with new friends instead of fists. Also, it’s full of squirrels! She’s a superhero who’s catch phrase is “Kick butts and eat nuts!” What’s not to love?
4) The Mighty Thor – Thor was ALWAYS one of my favorite comics as a kid. He was right below Spidey on my list of all time favorite heroes/solo titles. Hearing a woman was wielding Mjolnir was the first tempting call back to the comic store. I resisted (until Jeff and Kalie). But once I was back I it wasn’t long until I was reading about Jane Foster’s exploits as the Goddess of Thunder. I LOVE IT. These stories stand, easily, with the best Thor stories I’ve ever read.
5) Black Panther – I never read a lot of Black Panther as a kid. But when I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing this new series and he’d be exploring issues such as, in his words from the Atlantic, “Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch?…[pulling] from the very real history of society—from the pre-colonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of isis,” I knew I couldn’t resist it.
6) Spider-Man – Full disclosure, I LOVE SPIDER-MAN. He has always been my favorite superhero. At this moment, as a thirty-three year old man, I have no less than four posters of Spider-Man hanging prominently in my home. But the thing that allowed me to leave comics the first time was a happy ending for Peter and Mary Jane. Yes, the stories rebooted the month after I left…but I left. And that ending was perfect for me. I was (and remain) hesitant to disturb that happy memory. (Yes, I know there was a divorce and Dr. Octopus and a Civil War and all that but…nah, not for me. Peter and Mary Jane lived happily ever after.) And Spidey has like seven titles a month. But how could I read comics and not read something with Spider-Man?? It was anathema! Enter the perfect solution with Miles Morales. I was so excited to finally meet this Spider-Man I’ve heard so much about and I’ve loved each issue! He’s worthy of the webs and my adoration.
7) All New, All Different Avengers – Okay, so I already wrote about how much I like this book and how important I think it is to the genre and our culture here. I can’t say anything better here than what I said there.
8) Ghostbusters International – Okay, so not all my titles are from Marvel. The last two come from IDW which is apparently the place the franchises I loved as a child (that weren’t Marvel to begin with) live now. I’ve always loved the Ghostbusters. I know the original film line by line. I lived on the cartoons and my brother David and I had a bunch of the toys (yes, including the proton packs!) as kids. This series captures everything I loved about the Ghostbusters.
9) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – This series captures what I loved about the Turtles…but it adds a layer of emotional depth and character complexity that I wasn’t expecting. I spent a fun little portion of my tax return this year buying the trade paperbacks so I could read the whole story, start to finish. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a brilliant way to give new life to a story and characters I cherished. (If you’re curious, David and I watched all the cartoons here too, loved the toys, and even had AMAZING Turtle costumes our Grandma sewed for us.)
So there you have it. The ten (remember, Deadpool is bi-monthly so, ten) titles that I take home every month. There were a few exceptional comics that were on the pull list (Captain Marvel, Spider-Woman, and Vision) that aren’t any more. I enjoyed them, but in the end they just weren’t as fun as the ones that made the cut. But the troubles of a comic collector are never over! Just when I think I have the perfect pull list I find Spider-Man/Deadpool and The Invincible Iron Man trying to slide into my file too. And they’re doing a convincing job!
Whether or not the TEN monthly titles become ELEVEN or TWELVE remains to be seen. And it’s a problem I’ll happily entertain. Jeff and Kalie gave me a wonderful gift (far more wonderful than they ever could have known) when they led me back to this world and this hobby I loved so much as a kid. As I said before, it feels like coming home. And as is often the case with coming home in real life, I didn’t realize how much I missed it while I was away nor how important it’s always been to me.