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Goodreads Shelf: Marvel
Back in my twenties, the prime of my life. Although I said I swore off Marvel, it didn’t take long for me to get back into the so-called ‘House of Ideas.’
It was Joe Quesada in the 2000s who headed the new era of mature storytelling for a certain biggest American comic company. He did away with the archaic comics code authority stamp, that self-censorship system imposed during in the 1950s ‘juvenile delinquency’ scare, Quesada was right to disregard, and mainline Amero comics became more like PG-13 films or prime-time television dramas. DC followed suit eventually as well, took them long enough.
I particularly had to take notice when Grant Morrison was invited to write New X-Men. That changed everything. By the by, Morrison’s first for the company (at this time, never mind the 90s Skrull Kill Krew), was Marvel Boy. Totally awesome, with high concept ideas such as a humanless corporation villain and interstellar immigration policies. And a Fantastic Four miniseries illustrated by Jae Lee.
So, while I was already there I decided give some other X-Men a go. Chris Claremont went to X-Treme X-Men, after his return didn’t work out. I gave it a chance. Chuck Austin in Uncanny was, unfortunately, considered among the worst runs ever.
Geoff Johns on Avengers, as said.
Then, Mark Waid got to write Fantastic Four! A lot of fun, and joined by the late Mike Weiringo of Flash fame. The first family of the Marvel Universe were seen as ‘imaginauts,’ as they explored time and space and other universes. Doctor Doom got a bit of an occultic retcon, and it was well done indeed. I love when Fantastic Four is done right.
Earth X came out in 1999, but I read the graphic novel a year or so later. Created by Alex Ross initially (written by Jim Kreuger) following DC’s Kingdom Come, the dystopian premise was a future in which everyone has super powers except for Captain America.
Jim Kreuger followed it up with Universe X and Paradise X, and I read all with great anticipation. Kreuger told a sort of final chapter to the Marvel Comics saga, revealing every secret character by character, giving a bittersweet farewell to everyone from Spider-Man to Galactus…
(Do prepare to see a lot of pics with Captain America standing there inspiringly, in this blog)
Meanwhile, the next big thing was to be the Ultimate Universe. Starting with Ultimate Spider-Man — written by Bendis whom I rarely cared for — it was a separate reality that was supposed to reboot everything for the sake of newer readers. Unburdened by decades of continuity, the Ultimate universe started anew with fresh modern takes on the various franchises.
Marvel Millar wrote Ultimate X-Men, and it was not good at all. Millar is an interesting writer; he’s pretty much a hack and yet a very entertaining hack. These days he’s only concerned with making comics to serve as movie pitches, such as Kick-Ass and Secret Service.
There was one masterpiece that stood out. Ultimates, by Millar and brilliant artist Bryan Hitch. That is, specifically the 13-issue Ultimates and sequal 13-issue Ultimates 2.
There wouldn’t even be the Avengers film phenomenon if not for Ultimates.
Millar was very successful at turning the Avengers into an incredibly awesome action movie franchise. Of the ‘widescreen’ style, written snarkily like the wittiest rated R cult classic, there was Captain America as WWII badass, homicidal Hulk, and biggest impact of all was Tony Stark/Iron Man as self-obsessed genius asshole. Thor as a new age guru was an interesting take. The super team and S.H.E.I.L.D. were all presented bit fascistic if you analyze too much, yet what a ride.
Very quotable. Cap: “SURRENDER??!! You think this letter on my head stands for France?” And when the villains overtake Manhattan: “The Great Satan has been liberated.”
With the climax of the first volume fighting aliens, familiar? I must admit I am definitely invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I fully give the Ultimates their do!
Other Mark Millar impacts included the crossover Civil War. Which will be getting a movie.
I didn’t read most crossovers of that decade. Secret Invasion by Bendis, no way. Fear Itself, yawn. Civil War was on of those cynical ‘realistic superhero’ tales in which Captain America goes to war with Iron Man over government registration of superhumans. The trade reprint seemed worth a read at the bookstore but not buying.
Spider-Man famously gave up his secret identity at the time, siding with Iron Man and revealing himself on camera as Peter Parker. Obviously, there was a retcon soon after and that never happened; back to the ol’ status quo for Spidey.
Afterwards, Cap was assassinated and resurrected Bucky/Winter Soldier replaced him for a while. I read some of Ed Brubaker’s run, it was critically acclaimed and so on, but kind of boring with all the predictable resurrections.
I was so young then…
In 2005 or 2006 I met comic book writer Grant Morrison at a music festival in Los Angeles. It was an odd event in Echo Park, with many experimental bands playing at various stages, and at the same they had a workshop on the occult. Sadly, most people weren’t concerned about the workshop part.
I was ecstatic to hear that Grant Morrison would be there. He gave a fascinating interview. Seriously, you must youtube some videos of him immediately. Low-key event that it was, we got to chat personally for a few and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. I met his wife too.
I met him at Comic Con the following year as well, at events far more crowded, and he was still very nice. I won’t inundate with more pictures, however, I’m not that much of a fanboy.
For more here’s an particularly awesome video from 2000’s DisinfoCon introducing the tenants of chaos magic and how to do a masturbation sigil:
Note he’s Scottish.
And now my blog begins. Presenting the master of the Postmodern Superhero. The punk rock star of comics. My personal all-time favorite.
First things first, comparisons with Alan Moore are inevitable. They are both absolutely brilliant. They are both magicians. They both deconstruct the nature of the superhero like no other.
Yet, one is a mess of hair and the other is bald. One seems to be a misanthropic old man, and the other apparently has lot of fun as a writer. One hates all things mainstream, and the other is just fine with utilizing corporate characters as tools to tell the important stories.
Unfortunately, if you’re a Grant Morrison fan then you must be an Alan Moore fan as well but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot of overlap in themes, yet if you want to be an anti-mainstream purist you can skip Morrison. I think you would be missing out if you did that.
Anyhows, I am a great fan of both so what’s wrong with that?
As for me, I personally first came across Grant Morrison in my teens (though the story gets more interesting in my twenties), because of the huge phenomena that was JLA in the 90s. I was marginally interested, being that I followed everything important that was DC at the time, and the first volume was okay. Superman with a mullet notwithstanding. When I got to the Rock of Ages graphic novel, I was astounded. Then the following arc about the 5th dimensional beings left me well and truly mindfucked.
To me, the peak was the One Million crossover about time travel to 853rd Century. Great high-concept science fiction.
Grant Morrison has since further written Superman in such titles as All-Star Superman, Action Comics, which you can see my opinion thereof by following that link .
One of the random things I was into seeking back in the day was Flex Mentallo, a strange Vertigo piece about a corny superhero. I found issue 3 at discount, and spent years hunting down the full story.
It had everything: deconstructionism, metafiction, with groundbreaking art by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely.
I contend that Flex Mentallo is superior to Watchmen. It takes a dissection of the superhero genre even further. And it’s funnier, wittier, with treatises on childhood trauma and cosmic abduction, and contains the classic line “Fredric Wertham was fucking right!”
It was so hard to get all four issues. The problem was that Flex Mentallo was a satire of the ‘hero of the beach’ and with republication risked getting sued by those old strongman ads. DC wouldn’t reprint a graphic novel for years. Back then, I bit the bullet and paid high prices on ebay and it was well worth it. Now, of course, there’s a trade.
Let’s go a bit more backwards, with Animal Man. The saga of Buddy Baker was one of Grant Morrison’s first forays into DC during the 80s British Invasion. This obscure hero was given a modern reboot, that quickly went from an essay on animal rights to some weird routes onto the nature of fiction. Combining Wile E. Coyote with Native American mythology, by the end it went full on metafiction. Most haunting of all was when Animal Man broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the audience, shouting “I can see you!”
Concurrently, Doom Patrol was a very interesting take on outcast heroics. The patrol were always a bit odd, a tad off, and Grant Morrison knew how to play to the strengths of that. Robotman as eunich, transgendered street characters, and most of all were the villains based off art history. Brotherhood of Dada anyone?
Not to mention Flex Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol.
These were all well and very, very good. However, Grant Morrison’s true opus came in the 90s with the Invisibles. By the time I got caught on, well after it was completed, I was generally getting into more esoteric subject matter. I was reading P.K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I was collecting Disinfo books. I was coming across these strange interviews with one Grant Morrison comic writer, on the subjects of chaos magic and higher consciousness. It was time to read more.
I ordered the entire set, and read on. Then I read them again, and a few more times at differing stages of my life. I’m about ready for a reread again.
The Invisibles is an epic take on Gnosticism and conspiracy theories, through the lens of an action comic, published by Vertigo. About a team of anarchists fighting the good fight against the forces of control in this world. It incorporated all kinds of references to psychedelic mythologies. All came to a head in that Singularity futuristic year of 2012.
It felt somewhat cathartic that my burgeoning spiritual path was overlapping with my love of comics and superheroes. I was doing it right all along. Much can truly be learned about human growth via the metaphor of the Superman. Thanks, Grant Morrison.
And, I may share that reading interviews on how Grant Morrison took LSD and other various chemicals for the sake spiritual experiences, that had an impact. Helped to encourage me with my own experiments utilizing psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, legal or otherwise, rewiring some synapses within my nervous system in some arguably positive ways.
As always, reading books (and comics) can be such a bad influence!
“Da na na na NA NA!”
That’s supposed to be the X-Men Animated Series theme song. Remember that? If you’re a member of my generation, should be a fond memory…
Little did my early childhood self know, but there was a lot more to X-Men than that 90s Zeitgeist.
As detailed in my last post: My History of Comics, once upon a time in my adolescence I was given the awesome gift of about a hundred 1980s X-Men comics (as well as New Mutants and X-Factor spinoffs, more on that in a moment). Written by Chris Claremont, this was the crème de la crème of the superhero genre. It changed my reading habits — and hence, my life — forever.
Although these comics posts are mean to be about my experience, I will delve into the greater history of comics for a bit. In Marvel Comic’s “Silver Age” era in the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that is, probably just Jack Kirby, created the X-Men. Cyclops, Angel, Best, Iceman, and Marvel Girl/Jean Grey. It was actually more of a failure compared to Fantastic Four and the Avengers at that time. Yet, in the late 1970s came the All New All Different X-Men and American superhero comics suddenly matured.
With an international cast, featuring the Canadian Wolverine and the African Storm as well as many others, it brought much-needed diversity to the superhero genre. In particular were the many strong, female characters. (Funny though it is that the X-Men were so feminist.)
It still pisses me off that the movies don’t get that. I’ll be complaining about the movies a lot in this post.
By the 1980s, the Uncanny X-Men were the best of the best. While Marvel was publishing a lot of cherished works, scribe Chris Claremont was building an amazing mythology unequaled with anything else out there. He took the metaphor of mutants-as-oppressed-minority and went with it unseen depths. He wrote with equal ease in outer space settings, as the alien Shi’ar Empire fought the Phoenix and the Brood. He wrote about magical concepts, with Colossus’s sister Illyana the ruler of the mystical demonic realm of Limbo. He was on fire, and he stuck with the characters on fire for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. Although, yes, if you wanna critique we was and is a very wordy writer.
My bundle of X-Mens covered about 180 – 240. But with many other heres-and-theres, I got the Dark Phoenix saga graphic novel collection and Classic X-Men reprints. The fun of collecting comics back then was to fill in the gaps and slowly piece together the greater story over the course of years. Then I got X-Factor 1 – 50, the spinoff featuring the original X-Men such as Cyclops, which covered many crossovers. As well as bunches and bunches of New Mutants.
By the time I hit the ground running, Magneto had joined the X-Men in issue 200 and then there was the Mutant Massacre and then for a darker period the X-Men had “died” in the Fall of the Mutants storyline in 225 and lived in Australia while being drawn by Marc Silvestri, and then the demonic Inferno crossover around issue 240 brought together X-Factor and others. Wow fun times!
Back: My hobby of comics
And now the history thereof:
Back in the 1980s, I was a weird little kid. I had an unstable upbringing, and although I was encouraged to read I didn’t really discover my passions until a bit older. I didn’t get into comics until that decade was over with, although as a small child I did typically love Ninja Turtles and Transformers without even knowing the original comic book origins.
By the time the 90s arrived, I was a hyperactive nerd with bad social skills and hailing from an increasingly-broken home. My destiny as an escapist comic geek was inevitable, it must have been. I did enjoy watching the brilliant X-Men and Batman cartoons, though I hadn’t read much of the source material yet.
Finally, my parents divorced. I remember it as a great relief.
I was about ten or eleven years old and my dad lived in Indianapolis, Indiana while my mom moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. The great question was which insane parent me and my sister were to stay with (spoiler: wasn’t going to be my mom). The answer to that question was postponed, as we were sent to stay with our loving older, richer, Jewisher relatives to live with for a year as my parents got it together and proceeded to fight each other in court.
It was an interesting year, living in a big house in actual American suburbs. Like you see on TV and everything. A taste of the good life!
But what really made it a good life was that my old relatives had an adult soon who had moved away. Their son was a comics fan, and closets upon closets upon basements in the house were filled with classic 80s and 90s Marvel comics. Lots of Star Wars toys as well, by the way.
Some of my best memories are of exploring that ol’ house. All the things I discovered…
Putting comics in chronological order. Making sense of the crossovers, filling in the gaps of storylines bit by bit. The Avengers. Fantastic Four. The story of Tony Stark losing his armor to James Rhodes, Captain America quitting, Spider-Man’s black costume, and marriage. Tie-ins to Secret Wars, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, and more.
I lived in the Marvel Universe, I truly did.
Here’s the thing about superhero comics as hobby. To truly understand the profound continuity, you need to read a lot. Not just casually pick up an issue or even a graphic novel every so often, you need to obsessively understand everything that has ever happened to these characters over the course of decades. Hundreds of characters with their own biographies and histories and villains and to follow it all you have to basically become an expert.
Then, in the midst of figuring all this out, I started buying the latest 90s Marvel comics. Spider-Man and X-Men, of course. Crossovers like Maximum Carnage and the Phalanx Covenant. The early 90s did not measure up to the heyday of the mid-80s by any means, although as a dumb kid I was very impressed by those Image-era artists. And there was nothing better than Wednesdays at that fondly-remembered little comic shop in downtown Broadripple. It was my first. It’s gone now.
The time came and my dad moved to Cincinnati and me and my sister moved with him. Life was more or less stable from middle school to high school. But by that point, the damage was done. I could not move anywhere without finding the local comic shop and I was wired so that it was one of the most important things in my life. Soon I would meet my lifelong best friend in the cafeteria of our middle school, because we both read comics and didn’t sit with the cool kids.
But before I moved, I was given the greatest gift one could ever be given, a hundred-odd issues of 1980s-era Chris Claremont genius.
Remember what I said about continuity, about being an obsessive expert to truly understand the story? That goes quadruple for the epicness that is classic X-MEN.
Next: My early affair with the X-Men (and not that current movie shit, the original awesome groundbreaking All-New All-Different series…)
I like to think that my life is just a collection of in-between stuff that doesn’t count, while the times that I travel are when I am truly alive.
Or is that my real life is simply peppered with the travel episodes, which are more like fill-ins that don’t count towards the greater narrative arc?
In any case, after some unimpressive hookups, I was ready. So ready. Travel.
America (plus Canada)
My biannual trip back home. Every other year, that’s plenty for me. And, my best friend was getting married!
I was the best man. It was a big deal.
I seem to always travel for weddings these days. That’s cool; it’ beats funerals.
So, I flew to Seattle. My first time in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few weeks, I would travel to Portland and Vancouver as well (being my first time in Canada). As well as stopping by my hometown Cincinnati, of course. It was right at the cusp of 2012 and 2013, and it was damn cold. I saw winter snow again after years on end in the tropics, and I’m not quite used to it. For the most part, like the last time I went back to the real world West, it wasn’t that big a deal reacclimating.
Seattle seemed surprisingly average. I expected it to be more liberal and crazy. I don’t mean grungey stoners everywhere, but a few more rock show flyers and headshops would have been nice. Mostly it was average white people and average suburban settings, the kind the world imagines from American television.
My best friend picked me up and I proceeded to stay at his place in Tacoma. We went out to bars there, bars in Seattle, as I met his lovely fiancé and social group as we traveled around Pike Place Market, home of the world’s first Starbucks, and further lame tourism.
We celebrated New Year’s watching fireworks explode atop the Space Needle among the office workers. 2012 had come and went and the world did not explode as much as I’d hope. Sure the world is always evolving, however slowly, yet cosmic paradigm-shifting Singularities may be asking for too much.
Going to my hometown to see my family was uneventful. I took a week out to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my mom and dad and sister and brother and several old friends. Ate food. Saw live music. Went to more bars. Some of which in Northern Kentucky which is still greater Cincinnati. The old friends who stayed in Cincinnati tended be the kind of people who just never leave home…
Remember Gwen? It was nice to see her again. She drove me around and invited me to her house and we caught up. Hung out with her growing son… And then met her new boyfriend. I sure didn’t have the confident swagger I had back in 2010. But good for her. Since then she isn’t the most active Facebook user to keep in touch with, but I have heard that she moved to the West Coast and I support her for that.
When traveling back home, it’s all about the people you meet. Still, when traveling back home, for me, a lot of it involves bookstores. To be more specific, a lot of it involves reading comics at booksstores. One of my favorite things to do in America is to simply go to Barnes & Nobles and sit down and catch up on graphic novels.
Naruto, One Piece, 20th Century Boys, and more manga. Transformers, the classic sort. I started to get into Judge Dredd. Fables, for Vertigo fix. Justice League & Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Wolverine & the X-Men as authored by Jason Aaron. The indie masterpiece Habibi by Craig Thompson was a favored read.
Then I flew back. The wedding was underway. My friend immediately took me to Canon Beach, Oregon. Famed for that scene in the Goonies. A beautifully scenic beach town, though too bad it wasn’t the summer. We took residence in the hotel and rehearsed and set everything up, met some familiar faces and many more new ones. It was weird to see his family in Oregon, his mom and sister who were mere background when I was a teenager and we played video games in his house. It’s weird to meet your friend’s parents when you are an adult. I never know whether to call them by their first name or not.
It was good as weddings go. I can totally rock a suit, it’s a shame I wear a tie so seldom. There was the big party. Dancing. Photos along the shore. High-pressure afterparty. Staring at the stars at night. I made a brief speech, as my duties pertained. Now, according to movies, weddings were supposed to be a good place to meet girls. Let us just say it didn’t work out that way at all for me. I was not at all at the time of my so-called game. I’m not complaining, simply taking note.
And that was about it for Canon Beach. There was another old friend in town for the wedding, a great ol’ companion who followed me to Southern California and the place ended up suiting him more than it did me. He’s still there, living the good life.
While in Oregon, me and old friend decided more travel is always a good idea and went out to explore Portland. There was the proper super-liberal town I was waiting to see. Vegan donuts and graffiti and homeless people. I really loved Powell’s Books! Funny thing about Portland, it has the highest per capita of strip clubs of any city in America. Strip clubs where couples go and girls enjoy having a drink and it’s like a normalized bar-restaurant. With naked lady dancers. Contrast that with the gay bars there; while everywhere else I’ve lived has gay bars full of hip straight people, in Portland the gay bars are for real gays only. That’s the core of what I made of the city: strip clubs full of women patrons and gay bars with men only, and I found that odd.
Moreover, don’t you love the show Portlandia?
An interesting anecdote crossed my path. At a certain strip club, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face that I swore I recognized from the news. It was MCAFFEY, the antivirus entrepreneur who was accused of drug-crazed murder in Belize and had recently escaped back to the United States. I was so starstruck, and I freaked out. It’s one thing to see a random B-list celebrity on the street in Los Angeles, it’s another thing to see someone fromthe news in real life. My friend made fun of me for shrieking and making such a big deal about it. I didn’t go up and ask for a selfie together, and that may have been a bad idea considering he had probably recently killed a man. Or he would’ve hacked my phone or something.
McAfee really was in Portland in January of 2013. Look it up.