A few years ago, when I was counting down to my hundredth post on this site, I profiled the four comic books I’d found since my return to reading comics which had become indispensable to my reading life. These were the comics that, even if I stopped collecting comics again, I couldn’t imagine putting down. They showcased, for me, the best of what a comic could offer while doing things I never imagined a comic book could. They were (in the order I wrote about them in my countdown), Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, IDW’s Ghostbusters, and Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Thinking of those titles now, I can still feel the burgeoning excitement and awe that accompanied my return to comic reading. They also make me think of impermanence.
Buddhism teaches impermanence is one of the hallmarks of all existence. Nothing lasts forever. Everything is always changing. Look at me, for example. I wake up every day and by the time I go to bed I have flaked off some microscopic dead skin, my hair has grown imperceptibly (unless I’ve gotten it cut then it’s shorter (maybe a little, maybe a lot shorter)), cells have divided and others have died within my body, plaque has been brushed off my teeth and formed there again, etc. and so on. Literally speaking I am a physically different person when I go to bed each day than I was when I woke up. The same is true of my inner self too. I have lived a day of new experiences which bring new memories, new lessons learned, new/changing feelings, new/changing thoughts, new/changing emotions, etc. and so on. As with my physical self, I am not the same person mentally or emotionally when I go to bed as I was when I woke up either. This is true of all of existence. Nothing stays the same. It can’t. Life is change. As such, life is impermanent. To try and fight impermanence yields suffering but that’s taking us into the Four Noble Truths (which will in turn take us into the Noble Eightfold Path) and that’s a little beyond the intended scope of this piece.
So why does thinking of the four comics I can’t live without make me think of the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence? Well, despite once being unable to imagine life without them, I haven’t read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Ghostbusters in months and, tragically (and I’m sorry if you haven’t heard this yet and I’m the one who’s breaking this to you but we can mourn together…okay…be prepared because BAD NEWS IS FOLLOWING THIS), The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl will end with issue #50 this November. So…impermanence. I once couldn’t imagine not having these four titles in my life and yet here we are. Everything is impermanent. Everything is always changing.
Given all this, it felt apropos to reflect on change, transitions, and the unpredictable beauty of impermanence (at least, you know, as it relates to comic books I like to read).
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Marvel Comics
Okay, so…..the news of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl coming to an end HIT HARD. It came out of nowhere! This is, far and away, the funniest, most uncompromisingly intelligent, most entertaining, and most inspiring comic book I’ve ever read. As of now, no new creative team will be taking over the title. It will end with the departure of author Ryan North, artist Derek Charm, colorist Rico Renzi, and editor Wil Moss (all, save Charm, have been with the book since the beginning). I deeply appreciate that it’s their choice to end, deciding they’d told the stories they wanted to tell, as opposed to the book being cancelled. But it’s still a blow.
I was prepared to read Doreen Green’s adventures until, you know, forever. But nothing lasts forever. Wanting or expecting something, anything, to last forever unchanged is a guaranteed path to suffering. That’s part of the truth of impermanence. Yet when we look deeply at this, we realize it’s a source of joy. Without impermanence, nothing can change, nothing can grow, and when things last forever (or we believe they will) we have the potential to take them for granted. Every day I’ve lived, lesson I’ve learned, person I’ve met, memory I’ve made is a result of impermanence because if my life was truly static and unchanging, none of those new experiences could exist. While I’m certainly not ready to say goodbye to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, it’s brilliance, beauty, and power will remain long after the final issue comes and goes. And it’s a blessing to see it ending while it’s still as brilliant, beautiful, and powerful as it was at its inception. I can savor what was while looking towards a future unwritten.
Other authors will eventually write her character. Other comics will come to fill her once permanent spot on my pull list. But the laughs the comic delivered, the vitally important moral lessons it taught, the way it subverted so much about the comic book genre while becoming the best comic I’d ever read will remain. Even though the comic is ending, that doesn’t mean Doreen Green need leave my heart and mind either. In fact, the best tribute I can think of is to try and live my life a little more like Squirrel Girl would each day. In so doing, the world becomes a little bit brighter. And I couldn’t do this, couldn’t live the lessons learned with Squirrel Girl’s example without impermanence in my life.
Ryan North spoke of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl coming to an end on Twitter:
And I encourage you read Oliver Sava’s entire interview with North, Charm, Renzi, and Moss about their choosing to end The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl on AV Club, here too.
Ghostbusters – IDW Publishing
This title wasn’t cancelled…I just sort of burned out on it. For some odd reason, IDW won’t commit to letting Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening just make a monthly Ghostbusters title. Rather it is an ever-revolving series of miniseries, each requiring a new concept. This forces their creative staff to a) continually reinvent a concept that doesn’t need reinvention and b) jettison great ideas before they’ve run their course. For example, Ghostbusters International was brilliant! Given how masterfully Burnham researches and employs real world history, legend, and folklore in their stories, they hadn’t even scratched the surface of what the Ghostbusters could do abroad. But the plug was pulled after only eleven issues.
It was stopped to make way for Ghostbusters 101, where the guys teach a few college kids how to catch ghosts. This ran for six issues before ending to make way for the four issue Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters 2 series. That was followed by an eight issue miniseries Ghostbusters Crossing Over which featured all the multiversal ghostbusting teams. Do you see what I mean? International was brilliant. 101 was intriguing. But can’t they let any series go? Can’t the let these ideas develop? Can’t they do a big arc with a bunch of Ghostbusters from across the multiverse without having to stop their international travel? And why wasn’t the international idea just incorporated into the regular Ghostbusters title that ran before it?? It just became too much. The story shifts were too jarring. Too many interesting ideas were left by the wayside for me. I wanted it to feel more connected.
No matter how incredible it once was (and I loved it so much) it just stopped doing it for me. Again, this is impermanence. Yes, I was sad to drop it. Or rather, I mourned the comic it once was. But it opened up the space in my monthly file for something else that felt consistently exciting and innovative. With so many great comics out there, I can’t keep giving $3.99 a month to a title that regularly feels underwhelming, you know?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – IDW Publishing
While Ghostbusters seemed to be leaving too many great ideas by the wayside, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had another problem all together. This title just became boring to me. They would have a brilliant, pulse-pounding, excitement filled arc…only to be followed by two aimless ones. What role does Agent Bishop play in this series again? Who are the Pantheon really? We keep coming back to these characters but I got no sense whatsoever that Tom Watz and Kevin Eastman had any idea what to do with them in the long run. And they kept reintroducing them to us after a slow build only to have them fade back into the background for years.
As I’ve written extensively about before, the Turtles were a HUGE part of my childhood. I’ve loved their cartoons, their toys, their comics, their movies, their music, their magazine, their everything. In fact, I can’t be 100% certain they aren’t part of the reason I can eat pizza every day for a week without tiring of it. So it took me a long time to admit to myself how little I was enjoying their comic. After that, it took me a long time to cut it from my file. These were the Turtles we’re talking about. Finding this comic, finding this new way to love the Turtles in new adventures at this point in my life was such a gift! How could I drop this title? But how could I keep spending $3.99 a month for a title that wasn’t fun anymore? And what could I be reading if I opened up that space in my comic budget?
Nothing will change how amazing those years I spent reading IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were and nothing will undercut the power of those stories. But when I stopped fighting impermanence, I found a lot of new exciting titles waiting for me, some I’d never thought I’d read (I’ve become a DC fan people! I can’t get enough of G. Willow Wilson’s Wonder Woman!) to fill that space on my monthly pull list.
Ms. Marvel – Marvel Comics
Of all the titles I profiled all those years ago, Ms. Marvel is the only one that hasn’t been cut from my file or isn’t facing it’s untimely end. However, G. Willow Wilson has left, leaving Ms. Marvel in the hands of Saladin Ahmed. As the character most responsible for getting me back into comics (with Jane Foster’s Thor being a close second), it was a little unsettling at first to think of G. Willow Wilson stepping away from Kamala Khan, the character she created who became a vital centerpiece of the Marvel Universe. Yet, in comic books, this happens. So many of Stan Lee’s creations have went on to live – for decades and decades – and continue to live in the hands of other authors. It’s a cyclical genre and the best characters never really retire. They simply change hands.
I love that Kamala Khan has become one of Marvel’s flagship characters. She has her solo title. She’s the leader and core character in Champions. She’s one of the main characters in both the cartoon series Marvel Rising and the miniseries that have accompanied it. She’s the new star of Marvel Team-Up, the comic headlined by Peter Parker, Spider-Man for many, many years. While I have yet to fully acclimate myself to Saladin Ahmed’s vision of Kamala and her world, I can say I’m thoroughly enjoying his first arc. And if his work on Miles Morales: Spider-Man is any indication, Kamala is in very capable hands (because Miles Morales: Spider-Man is sooooo GREAT).
This too speaks to impermanence. Ms. Marvel isn’t ending it’s run like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl nor am I cutting it from my pull list like I did Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But it is certainly changing. While impermanence led to this authorial change (always something unsettling, with a character you love), it’s also the force that allowed Kamala Khan to become one of Marvel’s most prominent characters.
So The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is coming to an end. Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have lost their allure for me. Ms. Marvel has a new steward but her adventures continue. Each of these changes can be unsettling and cause for frustration. Or they can be doors that open onto new adventures. In reality, they are both because that’s the truth of impermanence. Impermanence often leads us into sadness. But it’s only because of impermanence that our sadness can be transformed into joy once again.
As I embrace the impermanence of my comic loves, I can’t help but wonder which titles will rise to become the next four comics I can’t live without. Eve L. Ewing’s Ironheart, G. Willow Wilson’s Wonder Woman, and Saladin Ahmed’s Spider-Man are certainly making strong cases for those spots. (And, if Ahmed’s Spider-Man is there, it makes sense his Ms. Marvel will hang around too and Kamala will hold on to her spot.) But I can never know for sure. Nothing can ever be certain because everything is always changing. All life is impermanent. The impermanence on my pull list has led me to try reading not just Wonder Woman but Aquaman and Justice League Dark too. A whole new comic universe is opening up to me! Impermanence has allowed me to admit The Amazing Spider-Man often feels like a retread of stories I read ages ago but Miles Morales: Spider-Man feels more fresh, relevant, and exciting with each month. It’s because of change that Mark Waid’s Captain America could bore me a bit while Ta-Nehisi Coates’ couldn’t be more brilliant.
What I guess I’m trying to say is, impermanence has significantly changed the “four comics I can’t live without” over the course of the last few years. But, while sad and unexpected at times, it isn’t a bad thing. Because I’ll always have my experiences with those titles and I’ll always have new ones ready to enter my world. As with comics, so with life. All things are impermanent. This can be scary. But it can also open the door to all manner of new wonders.