HERO vs. HERO, MISFIT vs. MAINSTREAM

I don’t spend time in comic book shops anymore. I used to. It wasn’t that I enjoyed the company or conversation there. In fact, I’m such an incredible social misfit, that I was always a misfit in the comic shop, a place where the poorly dressed and socially inept are generally welcomed. That’s half a joke. There is a sizable amount of truth to it, but comic book shops aren’t really the places that you see in movies and sitcoms. All the same, it does say something about my lack of social skills that I found little acceptance in that setting.

I spent time in comic books shops because I love comic books. I always have. Over the years though, I have read an awful lot of really lousy comic books. Lots. So why would I bother reading them at all? Well, I’ve also seen a lot of lousy movies, but I won’t stop watching movies. I’ve read a whole helluva lot of bad books. I’m not going to stop reading either. I know that most comic books are exactly the kind of immature, unintelligent tripe that people expect. But I also know from experience that there are some stories in there that are worth believing in. And I do believe. Those uncommon stories are legends that are worth the effort required to find them. At the tender age of thirty nine I still believe in Captain America and Captain Marvel. They don’t write comic books like that anymore though, or if they do, I no longer find it worth the effort.

Ever since comic books became mainstream, they’ve gone downhill. I didn’t expect that. I’ve never been someone who believes that big success can only be achieved by selling out. DC and Marvel have sold out though. Big time. Unfortunately, a lot of comic book enthusiasts don’t seem to realize that. It’s more important to enjoy the CGI characters on the screen than it is to remember the stories that brought us here in the first place.

Let me give you an example. One of my last sojourns to the comic shop took place when people were anxiously awaiting the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I was already losing faith in the future of the big comic book companies, so don’t think that this turned me from them. It did have an impact though. When one of my fellow comic book aficionados mentioned the movie, he admitted that he knew nothing about the Guardians of the Galaxy, but he still wanted to see it because Rocket Raccoon was voiced by Bradley Cooper. I had to admit, I didn’t know who Bradly Cooper was. “The A-Team,” Someone said disgustedly. I hadn’t seen the A-Team movie. Or any of the other two or three films I should have known the man from. That was frowned upon. Then, one of the shop’s employees held up issue number one of the Guardians of the Galaxy from 1990, an issue I have a copy of. It doesn’t depict the characters you see in the movie though, so that sparked a few questions. I could point to the cover and name every character and tell them some of group’s history. That was also frowned upon.

How strange. I didn’t know enough about mainstream movies or movie stars, but I did know a lot about the original Guardians of the Galaxy. That made me a loser, apparently. Now anywhere else, that would have been exactly the reaction I’d expect. In a comic book shop though, knowing comic books and standing outside the mainstream shouldn’t be met with disdain. These guys were more interested in the movies than the comic books. In fact, they didn’t want to know anything about the comic books that would interfere with their movie watching. The comic book shop had become the rest of the world.

I can’t say definitively that the trend of big budget, low standard super hero movies caused the decline of the comic book legends. In fact, I believe that that decline was caused by horrible comic books, and those horrible comic books spawned the shallow movies. Those movies, in turn though, do damage to the comic books. Vicious circle. I would like to ignore that, but I can’t. Because of the huge advertising campaigns, I’m confronted by it just by living my life. Yesterday was the Superbowl. During the game are the famous commercials, so you don’t turn away, even when they’re trying to sell you something. That meant I was subjected to some combination, airline/movie ads for the truly tasteless Batman vs. Superman movie.

There we go, that was unfair. How can I call the movie tasteless? I haven’t seen it. That’s an assumption. On the other hand, the concept of this movie can annoy a little boy to the point that he’ll bad mouth it sight unseen. Enter, Alec, my little brother. Nine years old. Loves super heroes like I do, and like our eighteen year old brother Bryce does. My influence and Bryce’s influence will be pretty obvious, but all the same, neither of us mentioned our issue with this particular movie to Alec. He came to his conclusion on his own. When his mother asked him how much he wanted to see Batman versus Superman, he said that he didn’t. “Batman and Superman are good guys. Why would they verse each other?” Vocabulary hiccup aside, I was very proud of him when I heard that. He knows that these characters stand for something. They’re important. You can’t just set them into contrived battles against each other because it sounds cool. This isn’t professional wrestling. You can’t use that kind of formulaic storyline for comic book legends.

Is that fair though? How do I know it’s formula writing? After all, it’s not as though Marvel’s Avengers movie series is going to pit Captain America against Iron Man. Oh wait. That’s exactly what they’re doing. Heroes versus heroes because it looks cool.

Haven’t comic books done that again and again though? True enough. When super heroes meet in the comic books, it often starts with a face off or a brawl. The smallest misunderstanding will do. Ask me how happy I am about that though. I’ll refer you to the beginning of my little rant here. Most comic books are not that good. That a movie borrows a comic book tradition doesn’t make it legitimate if it’s a puerile tradition.

Admittedly there are some hero versus hero story that are very well done. I have no reason to suspect that these movies will be that kind of story. In fact, given the horrible miscasting, special effect overdoses, brainless story plots and shriveled contrivances I’ve seen in the pig trough of super power movies, I feel that a healthy dose of skepticism toward upcoming movies to be reasonable. Because it does get worse. The Marvel movie that I’ve complained about is called Civil War because it is named after a comic book miniseries by that title from ten years ago. Now Marvel comics is planning to release a new miniseries called Civil War II, obviously intended to coincide with the movie. After all, when movie audiences wander into comic shops, we want them to see the thing they’re looking for, and comic book collectors tend to buy into any big event that Marvel or DC sell them. This one, though, is a major comic book miniseries that only exists because of a major motion picture that only exists because Hollywood has to squeeze out as many sequels as possible. Marvel Comics should know that no piece of important story history should ever be written as part of a Hollywood marketing cycle. Apparently they’re not above that though, and from my point view, that’s typical of them anymore.

I don’t even buy Marvel or DC comic books anymore. If I ever do find my way back to the comic shop, I’ll buy only independent titles. Surely there are some good things left there.

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