Pirate Comics! Not the EC Ones Either

I don’t like pirating comics. I hate it, in fact. i think comics are a weirdly precarious industry where buying one too few issues of a comic will get it cancelled or dropped or etc. So when it comes to monthlies, I buy each and every one that I love. And if, as it happened recently, I miss a few and can’t find them I wait for the trades. I’m a nice, law abiding citizen, right? You can tell that, natch.

Except… except when it comes to older comics. Continue reading

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Black Suit Me: How Comics Book Make You Feel

There’s a stereotype of kids, geeky kids, the downtrodden, the picked on, turning to comics. Sniveling losers in their mother’s basements, with rooms filled with comics.

Now I know that Barack Obama is a famous comic book “fan” and I know that comic books are the number one hit of the box office. But why?

Why are Superheroes in theatres now. Why is it such a stereotype that the losers read comic books? Continue reading

Introducing… Me!

Hi. I’m going to be your host here. I moved up to New York City about three months ago, I’m in my twenties, and I read a shit-load of comics. This is where I’m going to be writing about basically whatever the hell I want. I’ve got a few “essays” on the back burner that aren’t about comics*… but a lot the stuff here is going to be about comics because that’s what I’m obsessed with right now. Soon I might be obsessed with Clive Barker (again) or maybe find a new show that captures me but for right now, comics is where I’m at.

Particularly Spider-Man. Right now I’m at issue 219** of the Amazing Spider-Man (which I haven’t read yet; which has an amazing, beautiful cover of Peter Parker, scowling, behind bars, while a silhouette of Spider-Man rages in the background, trapped here, unable to help anything) . I’m always fascinated by the duplicity of Peter Parker versus Spider-Man. Unlike, say, Clark Kent and Superman — where I can imagine them being friends, even as separate entities, — I can’t imagine Parker and Spidey getting along, if they were to take tea together.

For one thing Parker is moody, scowling, morose, whining, weepy and altogether… kind of a bummer. Whereas Spider-Man is hip, happy, jumpy, cocky, sure of himself, and smiley. However, unlike some other comics — say Moon Knight, where Marc Spector has legitimate different personalities, or Matt Murdock and Daredevil, where he seems to identify himself differently in the roles (for a weirder and less extreme example also see Batman v. Bruce Wayne… but I’ll get to them in a later essay) — Spidey and Peter aren’t “separate” people.

Peter clearly identifies with Spider-Man as just what he’s like when he gets onstage. A different persona but not a different personality.

So what explains the difference between the two? Well, for one thing, Spider-Man seems to be more than happy to leave people to fend for themselves — in his first issue (Amazing Fantasy 15) he just lets a robber go away (and despite what the movies may have lead you to believe, he does this for absolutely no reason — no ironic echoes, no chocolate milk — just, “I’m an asshole”). He does this on and off through the series, ignoring people and cries for help for absolutely no good reason.

Peter Parker however is always trying to help. And more than that, the important distinction to me between the two, is that Parker seems to think of himself as a loser. Whereas he calls Spider-Man (who is him) the Amazing Spider-Man. He literally calls himself that. He seems to think of dressing up as Spider-Man makes him a different person. Of course he never goes as far as Batman, where he uses weird and different voices, or Superman (who has given up his “alter-ego” in more than a few issues). He recognizes that Spider-Man is himself but… also different.

The truth is that Spider-Man is the true Peter Parker. If we hop over to the Elseworld Bullet Points (by the always excellent Tommy Lee Edwards and J. M. Straczynski) we can see a vision of Peter Parker beholden to nothing, including guilt. He’s a teenage anarchist, a rebel, a dirtbag, a douchebag (and later — spoiler alert — the Hulk). And why? All because his Uncle Ben died before he was born. And so when his aunt took him in, he rode all over her.

Peter Parker is the guise that he steps out of. It’s like when you wake up in the morning, fresh minded and smiling, before you remember everything you have to do, all the stresses you have put on yourself. It’s you free of social parameters. That’s Spider-Man.

Is it any wonder that new-Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield, said that when he was in the suit he channeled anonymous nerds on the internet? That he thinks of Spidey as a troll?

And it’s true. Spider-Man is a troll. He’s a douchebag. Both in the first appearance in Amazing Fantasy and the new adaptation, Amazing Spider-Man (where the aforementioned Garfield plays the role of Parker stunningly), his vigilante-esque revenge driven fantasies are pushed to the forefront. He doesn’t do good because he’s a good person. He does good because he feels guilty. If all of that shit were shrugged off his shoulders, he would turn into the true anti-hero he is, as seen in JMS’ Bullet Points.

He’s the asshole who’ll marry a girl because he knocked her up, knowing it’ll make both of their lives miserable, ruin them. He’s the one who pays a cab driver a lot of extra money not to help but just because he feels guilty. He’s the douchebag who does charity, so he can turn up smiling and say he does charity.

And on the surface none of that is bad — because like Rachel Dawes says in Batman Begins, it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you. And I’m not arguing that Parker isn’t courageous, isn’t a hero — I’m not. I’m just arguing that his good deeds are motivated purely by petty, selfish, guilt-ridden reasons and if he were a “fully-actualized” person then he wouldn’t be fighting crime anymore***.  Because he’s not exactly a hero, but an anti-hero in all senses of the word. He’s a proto-typical jerk hero who wants to look out only for himself but his conscious won’t let him.

That’s why he acts so differently as Spider-Man versus Peter Parker. Because as Spider-Man he is the id set free (filtered through Peter’s guilt-ridden ego but still). His ego has set him on a path and he’ll stay on it but in there he’ll do whatever the hell he wants. His web swinging powers are a metaphor for his ethics: sure, gravity does exist, and he needs these buildings to hold him up — so he can’t “fly” exactly but he can basically fly, as long as he stays within these parameters.

That’s what makes him different than Superman (who is both Clark Kent and Superman) or even different than Batman (who uses Bruce Wayne as a mask) — because he is both in the same way we’re all id and ego, trying to find a balance between what we’re told to do and what we want to do, what we’re supposed to do and what’s right. But as Spider-Man, behind a mask, he doesn’t have to worry about any of those things. He doesn’t have to worry about what society will think of Peter Parker, because he’s not Peter Parker — he’s Spider-Man. He’s anonymous.  Spider-Man is Peter Parker, hiding behind and using a mask, never letting anyone know who he really is and showing everyone who he is.

As Spider-Man, Peter Parker is free.

– NJK

* And one that I’ve been attempting to write for like five days that like a bad metaphor just keeps growing and growing and growing.

** This bit was written two days ago. As of now I’m on… (checks CBR) Issue 236 – Deathknell. Pretty fucking cool.

*** BTW, if you don’t believe the Bullet Points era Parker is accurate, check out what Petey’s life is like in House of M where all he does is manipulate the mutant-biased media and make money, while lying to everyone he knows and loves. (Hell, his characterization seems to be heading that way if you take Slott’s Parker-as-a-scientist to heart or even Tom DeWolfe’s Spider-Man-grew-up-and-had-a-kid MC2 version.)

**** I consider getting into weird magickal ritual stuff and invoking different gods wherein all you’re doing is giving yourself a means to express what is already inside of yourself but I decided not to because, like, I don’t want to look weird or nothing.

A Response to Comic Book GRRL: On the Troublesome Nature of Being a Fan of Orson Scott Card

I began writing a comment here that started turning into an essay, so rather than clunk up her comment board, I decide to just throw it over here. (By the way, if you’ve not read anything by her, I’d advised you to go do so. This can wait.) (Oh and I just spoil all of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, all the time up in this essay.) Continue reading

NJK recommends…

PUNISHER Max (issues 1 – 60)
by Garth Ennis and a rotating team of artists, my favorite of which was Lewis Larosa, the first artist on the series, remains the pinnacle of adult superhero comic books. Dedicated to Frank Castle taking on the underworld, mother Russia, the US government, slave traders and pedophiles, Punisher MAX is the epitome of adult comic book series. Harsh language, sex and extreme violence — all presented, not in the 90’s-era Image vein of teenage titillation  but in the Scorcese tell-a-great story way, this sixty or so issue series (I’m counting the Ennis run only because I believe books should be read by author* read by author) is one of the premiere dark fictions of our time.

I recommend it whole heartily.

– NJK

[Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX run is also a perfect example of a read-by-author event as, taken by itself, it can fit smoothly into the mainstream Marvel canon (albeit being a bit darker, more grown-up**). However after Ennis left, the series “introduced” characters such as Elektra and Kingpin, making the universe an alt-verse and making it just a little less awesome.]

[EDIT: Apparently some folks over at Comic Book Resources agree with me.]

* But more on that later.

** It’s like your parents fucking: it happens over in a different room and doesn’t actually affect anything in your life (but it still happens and is still cool for the fans of it).

Mary-Jane Watson Ruined Me (And the Best Page Ever)

(For context, I’m reading through all of the Amazing Spider-Man. At this moment I’m at issue 226, which is open to the immediate left.)

Mary Jane and Spider-Man are possibly the most famous fictional couple of all time*. Beginning in issue I’m-so-not-looking it up** with her most famous of lines, “Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!” they had an off-again, on-again relationship in the same way that I do with my toaster. I turn to it when I’m bored. 

Before Gwen Stacy, there came Mary Jane but then of course did come Gwen Stacy and henceforth was known as Peter Parker’s one and first true love, despite the fact that Betty Brant came first, despite the fact that he met MJ first and she is much cuter, nicer and better suited for him (and despite the fact that Gwen was, and seemed to have been up to her death, a bitch; much like we don’t focus on the cancer-ridden husband for beating his children, Gwen’s small peccadilloes — namely being an annoying, awful person — are forgiven for her snapped neck***). So Gwen snaps her neck, Peter freaks out (as he so often does) and finally he and MJ become a thing, and then this happens:

J. Jonah Jameson (who is harder than you might remember, movie fans, being the creator of such wonderful creatures as the Spider Slayer, the Spider Slayer 2: Return of the Spider Slayer, the Spider Slayer 3-D, Spider Slayer 4: Oh God Why So Goddamn Many, and the Scorpion — Mac Gargan edition****) has been kidnapped by militant whatever it doesn’t matter. Robbie Robertson and Peter Parker are getting on a goddamn plane to fly to Canada.

And Mary Jane Watson comes along to wish Peter goodbye. And she explains why she calls him Tiger. “Because you’re not a tiger, Peter. You’re not.” (Paraphrased) And they hold each other and for the first time they kiss*****. And then Peter Parker has to leave, which leads to my all-time favorite panel in the history of Amazing Spider-Man.

Image

And it is just absolutely the best, most horrendously real page and panels in the entirety of Marvel comics (that I’ve read). It is the single best depiction of that feeling you have when you realize you’re in love with someone, really in love with someone, and you leave them anyway — not forever, not for long even, but as you go, you glance back and think, “That person. I am in love with them,” but you can’t even think that, you’re just overwhelmed, like a dumbass surfer caught surprised by a wave. He knew he was out in the ocean, he probably heard it was coming — but now he’s in the ocean, covered, listening to the dim roar and floating, floating there. That’s how Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man feels. That’s how MJ feels — “Far freaking out.” I know those feels! Everyone knows them.

This is why MJ is Peter’s first, real, true adult love. With Gwen he was just a kid and she was just a kid and they fell in love and it was fine and all but they never would have lasted. Brant was a crush. Liz Allen doesn’t deserve mentioning. (Glory Grant and Peter have not, as of yet, gotten together… but I ship it.) This is the true dream. And it’s also one of the reasons why MJ ruined me for everyone else.

Chuck Klosterman talks about this a bit in his amazing Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs (which you should read). About how falling in love with a romanticized persona, a character, has ruined women for him and how John Cusack’s character in Say Anything (which despite being the inspiration for my favorite, still together band’s name I have yet to see) has ruined men for women and therefore they’ll never find true love.

Which, as you might recognize, bares a small resemblance to my Disney Kills Kids essay, wherein I argue that preparing kids with fairy tales is a bad way to lead your life and should be counted as child abuse. Except with Mary Jane and Peter Parker I don’t feel its the same******.

Because Mary Jane and Peter Parker are horrible to each other and abandon each other, again and again, and fuck up and fail and get back together, and lose each other and basically are a great big melodramatic representation of what being in a relationship is like. Venom isn’t going to come terrorize your girlfriend but you being a horrible fucking person might. She’s probably not going to turn into a giant monster . But I imagine you would fucking do anything for each other, if you’re actually in love with each other. And you’ll scream at each other and put up with your bullshit with each other and then have a kid together and not sacrifice your marriage to ancient deity just so your aunt can choke out some dust for a few more months*******.

And because I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much genuine emotion in a Disney movie, as I have in that panel above.

Famed Sandman-creator******** Neil Gaiman was once talking to famed best-at-everything-person Clive Barker about why the latter didn’t consider comic books art. “Because,” Barker said, “they’ve never made me cry.”

I wonder if he ever read this issue.

– NJK

[Note: as you can tell if you click the picture up there, I swiped the scan from scans_daily. There’s also an essay over there. You should read it, I assume. Since I wanted to talk about that page, I skipped reading it. YAY for no plagiarism.]

* I wonder: nowadays would they’ve been portmenteaud into Mary-Man? Spider-Jane? Marypider-Jan? 

** Amazing Spider-Man # 42

*** Which Peter did cause, by the way. In issue 125 (four issues after the event), from the letter’s column: “It saddens us to have to say that the whiplash effect she underwent when Spidey’s webbing stopped her so suddenly was, in fact, what killed her.” For more, let’s turn to James Kakalios, real-life author of The Physics of Superheroes who says that the whiplash effect killed her. Don’t believe him? Here’s Tony Stark: “If [Peter Parker] had been properly trained, maybe he could have broken [Gwen’s] fall without breaking her neck.” So for everyone else out there who disagrees, listen close: SHUT THE FUCK UP. 

**** He also created the Fly, in Amazing Spider-Man annual 10, but more on him later. 

***** To me this seems unlikely since they’ve been dating, casually at least, for about thirteen issues at this point and as will later be established Gwen Stacy had sex with and gave birth to children in less time than that.

****** Real quick though — let me get into how MJ has ruined women for me. She’s a buxom red-haired girl. She’s fucked-up, hiding behind a facade of being (more or less) a manic pixie dream girl. And she’s also an actress who is unafraid of her sexuality. I have just described my most perfect girl in the entire world. There is not a single woman I will ever have a crush on that does not resemble at least seventy percent of those traits. (And all of the ones I do end up dating I try and convince to dye their hair red and start acting. [That is not a joke.])

******* Fuck you, Quesada.

******** Gaiman is also known in comic book lands for Disappearing: How to Write One of the Most Successful Comics Books Ever and then Fuck All Else, Marvel 1602 and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?