Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hey Kids! Comics!

On Wednesday's my pace is a little quicker at lunchtime. Since noontime is the normal lunch hour for many Bostonians I leave my office at 11:40. I don't want to arrive too late. I don't like to shop when too many people are crowded around a small area. And too many 30 and 40-somethings crowded into the back section of Newbury Comics makes for a small area.
Today is comic book day. And I am on my weekly mission.
I have already researched the weeks "New Releases" online. My list is folded in thirds and sits in my back pocket. Once opened a yellow highlighter will tell me what books that I will definitely buy and what ones that I will consider to buy. It used to be that I bought 10-15 books per week. Now, skyrocketing prices everywhere combined with an ennui I can't quite shake have reduced my weekly take-home to 3-5 issues, maximum. While this has dropped my monthly intake of books it has increased my eagerness to read the books I do get. This is good.
When I arrive at Newbury I pass by the front registers. Tattooed clerks in their twenties work next to aging hippies and all bid me welcome. I say hello to all in turn and wind my way through the button racks and the calendar displays. I pass by the used DVD section, dodge a patron or two and finally stop at a low black filing cabinet. The familiar sound of scraping metal on metal opens my subscription drawer. I remove this week's subscription stash. Books in hand, I make my way to the New Arrivals rack.
Usually Anthony appears at this point. Anthony is the comics manager at this store. He is also quirky, funny and smart. A slacker look with a savvy heart. His knowledge of comic lore is vast, and I can see myself sharing a beer with him someday. We exchange pleasantries and discuss what did or did not get shipped from the warehouse while I look over the newly-filled racks.
The long black magazine shelves hold dozens and dozens of new books. Color floods my corneas. The comic rack never looks the same two weeks in a row. Different titles mean different artists and colorists whose work hopefully explodes out from the multitudes of other books. Each publisher hoping that there is something - anything - there to attract your attention away from "the other guy". Now my search begins in earnest.
Hmmm, what's this?
Have I been reading that...?
What's Green Arrow doing in "Batman and the Outsiders?" Do I care if he is? A quick flip through the book tells me I don't and it goes back on the rack.
Hey, that looks cool. Who drew that?
And so it goes.
Usually at this point there are four or five people at the racks. All seem to be 35-45 years old. A few seem like businessmen. One looks like a bike messenger. One guy looks lost. Although I see them weekly; I don't know them personally. I probably never will. We are joined together only because of our love for modern mythologies.
By now Anthony is making suggestions. "Hey, you should check this out" and "Are you reading this?" are his usual conversation starters. However, once in a blue moon he'll be positively giddy as he declares "You NEED to check out this shit right here!" and he'll pull a book from the shelf for me. His suggestions are usually right on the money for me.
Sometimes Anthony and I talk about the lack of change from the major publishers. This depresses us. Other times, we discuss what's going on with a particular series, where we see the story going and why we like it. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we can discuss a "Wow!" moment in something we just read last week.
I live for these fleeting "Wow!" moments on Wednesdays.
Past "Wow!" moments for me include the pages of Fantastic Four #241 and found a splash page of The Thing punching Terrax the Untamed through two apartment buildings before he crashes into the East River.

Or when I read Uncanny X-Men #137 for the first time (in 1980).
The X-Men had fought the Hellfire Club, the Shi'ar Empire and Dark Phoenix herself for over 10 issues before finding themselves in battle against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard in the Blue Area of the moon (don't ask). During this battle Jean Grey ("Phoenix") reverted to "Dark Phoenix" once again, attacking the X-Men, who were led by her lover, Scott Summers ("Cyclops"). Phoenix realized that she could no longer control the dark impulses of her diabolic alter-ego and killed herself before she could cause any more deaths. This was my first superhero death. It is still the most meaningful.
This was a "Wow!" moment of amazing complexity. I am still in awe of this story. It is the writing pinnacle that no other comic has ever reached for me.
When they happen, these modern day "Wow!" moments are the times of excitement when I am no longer a 42 year-old man who is on his lunch hour in a major city fighting the crowds to stand in front of a comic display, list in hand, trying to figure out what comic books won't disappoint me if I buy them. Nope. In these moments of comic joy I am once again a twelve year old boy.
I am the kid who, allowance in hand, just rode one mile on his Columbia bike to Curtis Farms convenience store in Hanson to buy comics. If it was raining, Mom or Dad drove me there. I enter and walk over to the metal turnstile rack with the "Hey Kids! Comics!" sign at the top. The rack is over near the pay phone and the pet food aisle. It's full of books and it squeaks as I turn it. I don't have a list in my back pocket because comic shops did not yet exist. Neither did the Internet. The only way I knew what books to look for each week was because publishers put a monthly reminder in each issue; usually listed under "Out Next Week!" Books in hand, I would ride home and disappear for awhile just to lose myself in other worlds. There were no disappointments in a comic book story for me back in those days. Everything was new to me.
Not like today. Most stories today have a "been there, done that" quality to them.
This is the source of my ennui.
Maybe the day will arrive and it will be the last time I buy comic books? It's easy to justify. The price of two comic books today is the same as the cost of a paperback book. The paperback takes longer to read and is probably more fulfilling to my adult tastes and expectations. But a paperback doesn't remind me of a time when I believed that heroes really could exist. Of a time when I believed that it was possible for heroes to fly in the skies overhead. The paperback doesn't allow me to remember a time that anything was possible.
However, I am not so jaded.
Between you and I, a part of me still believes that anything is possible. Or wants to. And my weekly search for "Wow!" helps me to do so.
Maybe this is why we usually steer away from the joys of our childhood; because we outgrow them long before they can disappoint us under the harsh glare of adult realities?
Maybe I will steer away from comics.
Maybe someday soon.
But not today.
Today I am hoping for "Wow!"


Blogger Cynthia said...

We all need a faith or hope of some kind. I think it's why I love science fiction.

The meaningful comic book death that I remember was when Maj. Steve Trevor had been made into a mutant giant of a man, almost like The Thing, and Wonder Woman had to confront him. He died in her arms. However, I do recall a 'but...' to the story. Unfortunately, I never got to read the rest of the tale.

Great post. Makes me wish I was heading to Newbury Comics on this beautiful day.

9:29 AM, April 30, 2008  
Blogger Bridget said...

Do let us know if you have a "Wow!" moment today. By the way, who's a definite buy on your list this week...just curious?

9:34 AM, April 30, 2008  
Blogger Andy said...

Cindy, Steve Trevor has died more times than Lois Lane. In 1978 he was killed off in Wonder Woman #248, which I actually owned at one point. I hear he was brought back to life right before "Crisis on Infinite Earths" which wiped him from DC history.

Bridget, my only definite buys this week are Action Comics #684, Giant Size Avengers/Invaders #1, DC Universe #0, Green Lantern #30 and Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters #8.

10:33 AM, April 30, 2008  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

My WOW moment occured just now, when I realized that your inner geek eats my inner geek for breakfast.

I came to this realization when I first saw the word "WOW" on your blog, and thought you were going to make a reference to "whip'em out Wednesday".

12:01 PM, April 30, 2008  
Blogger Letera said...

I guess us 40 something are still kids at heart. I never got into comic books but thats okay it was fun reading your love of them. Thanks.

8:29 PM, April 30, 2008  

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