Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fall Nostalgia...

The coming two months of September and October have always seemed to be the periods where my geekdom thrives. I can only assume this runs back to younger days (that I have mostly blocked out) and how those were always the months where I had an excuse to stay inside and indulge in all those geeky pursuits. While during the summer for as long as I can remember I always had a job or the parental pressure to get out and do something, anything, the back to school time is when I was given the go ahead to sit around and, school work permitting, start feeding the young geek that I was. And at least one of those hobbies did, and still does, indulge that was video games, which is why fall still kind of kicks this off for me.

Like I said, I don't remember really remember much about my youth - there's really not much worth mentioning - but I remember the fun I had and that fun usually came in video or panel grid form. I remember the first time I experienced the death of Aeris on FFVII, and the subsequent times I relived that moment as I aspired for Master Materia for my entire party. I remember trying to get the "Master of Unlocking" through a zombie (and giant fucking snake!) infested mansion. And I remember September of '99, my first year of college, when my main geek focus was hoarding as many Magic cards I could and that pursuit leading me to a new comic shop that opened locally in my hometown (which had a very sad and minute history with such places of business) and it reinvigorating a love of comics I had lost because, well, the 90's sucked for someone like me who was growing up enough to realize the mainstream stuff was becoming ridiculous but wasn't mature enough to enjoy the REALLY good stuff that was coming out then or had missed out on before.

So, as the leaves have fallen my fondness for certain media and dorky pursuits grew. I leveled up, I put together variants of Stompy decks, and I read my favorite comic of all time, THE SANDMAN, for the first time... and the second... and the third. Needless to say, these months tend to mean more to me and, honestly, just feel right to me. Anyone that knows me knows that I'm not exactly a lazy person, but by god do I love an excuse to laze about for the day. In the summer I feel kind of like a jackass in that regard because, c'mon, it's nice out and since I've always lived in the Easter Ohio/Western PA regions you do need to take advantage of the few (mostly) sunny months we get (even if they are getting longer and hotter and hey, we may be scum as far as our relationship with the planet goes).

But then it hits. Football, both in its physical and digital forms, kind of ushers in the layabout in me. Not that I indulge in Madden anymore now that I'm not a dorm dweller, but it is the harbinger of digital delights to come, and boy do they ever after Labor Day comes and goes. And as for that excuse to laze about? What better than the background noise of greedy, overpaid borderline illiterates who can't shut their mouth about "gettin paid" smacking the hell out of each other and bringing karma down on themselves (and their knees) to make for something to read a nice book or comic run to? And it gets better! The beer, oh, the beer. The best beer comes out in fall. Pumpkin Ales, Oktoberfests, and a cooling weather to enjoy a nice stout to. Yeah, that's not something I really did in those fall months when I was of the more impressionable age, but you grow a bit and you develop some new hobbies.

Needless to say I tend to focus more on those things that influenced me and made me who I am when this nostalgic time comes. I used to do yearly rereads of my favorite comics and that was always a great way to settle in on a Sunday afternoon of football and food, getting through a few volumes of PREACHER. I've read some of those titles a bit much now and have given them a breather on my shelf, but that nostalgic period is calling to me again and, quite frankly, I could use a reminder of comics in a time when I honestly, genuinely enjoyed them more than I do now. Not to get into that discussion and, of course, there's plenty of great comics out there now that I truly enjoy, but the industry/medium really does not feel the same as it did just ten years ago. Or at least the mainstream side of it and even I still really want to read and enjoy some of my favorite capes and tights books or some of the more creative jaunts the Big Two produce via their imprints. Let's be honest here, ten years ago the best things about comics were pretty much all coming from DC, and that being Vertigo, which was probably at its best ever, and the ABC line of Alan Moore's; two things that are at the VERY forefront of my reminiscing when I think about those growing days.

But even those truly mainstream books were bristling with some energy, and longevity in their runs, and that is what I miss and am jonesing for and am indulging myself in with this September sweep. And they are probably what I will be posting about for the next couple months. I'm already through my first reread of Warren Ellis's STORMWATCH and THE AUTHORITY and they are were the epitome of what nostalgia can do; i.e. make you remember something as better than it probably really was (STORMWATCH) and make you realize that even something you always thought of as brilliant was more brilliant than you knew (THE AUTHORITY). Sure, it's kind of cruel to that younger self of mine that thought he knew everything and was all edgy about it, but it's also a delight to figure out that, hey, maybe I wasn't as stupid and self-important as I thought I was and just knew some fucking great stuff when I saw it and was spot on.

And, god, I miss those days. When an Ed Brubaker could write CATWOMAN and just have his way with a title and then end it, or he and Greg Rucka could make a GOTHAM CENTRAL and, by fuck, it actually lasted three years. Imagine that. Or a relative newbie by the name of Geoff Johns could say "I have all these plans for the JSA" and get the blessing of editorial and James Robinson and run with that for half a decade and it could be *shock* its own book. Christopher Priest could write a BLACK PANTHER, HITMAN could exist, etc. Not that these are absolute rarities these days, but dodging cancellation after ten issues or not getting arbitrarily thrown into yet another yearly event (fuck me, there was a time for about six years when you only got an event or two back then!!) does not seem to happen much these days. My only regret is not reading more of these gems back then or having neglected to read them at all still (oh my how I need to read PAD's CAPTAIN MARVEL) or read them since.

So that's what I'm doing now. With some tasty beer and delicious bourbon. With a HD football in front of me (and making way for hockey in just 44 days), a smartphone and fantasy football updates to a side, and an alcoholic beverage to the other. And a stack of comics and/or TPBs in front of me that take me back to, not a better place (I do genuinely enjoy what my life offers me today, for the most part), but a less jaded one at the least. And a quality RPG that I can waste away weeks of my life on as the leaves get covered with snow. Shit, I may even go on a Joss Whedon binge of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly I'm so ready to indulge in that era of my life. That is my place and this is about to be my time. So glorious. Cheers...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Month Without...

Since I've failed to get something truly "new" up recently, figured I'd posted this as I work on other stuff I want to talk about, mainly old back issues and runs I've been reading through. But this went up on AICN about two weeks ago so I figured I'd put it up on more places on the internets. Cheers...

A Month Without…

Tragedy has happened in Humphrey Lee land my friends, and I am sad. My beloved 2001 Dodge Intrepid – my first car that I bought eight years ago to begin my senior college year – hit 200,000 miles (yay!) and then promptly died (boo!). On the “insult to injury” side, the ensuing shenanigans of car replacement (which, I just found, is actually pretty simply when your credit is pushing for 800) left me unable to get to my growing comic book stack at my usual store of choice given that it is 60 miles away (because I am insanely loyal and still go to the town I moved away from seven years ago). And while this doesn’t seem like a terribly big deal, I’d imagine, to most, it was kind of a “revelation” - to get all hyperbolic - about comics, or at least how I perceive them, that I thought might be fun, maybe even helpful to share as I’m about to do now as I sip a Troegs Brothers beer.

The first thing I learned was that two-thirds of it doesn’t fucking matter. Let’s be real here, and if anything that four-week drought taught me was being honest with myself, but most of the comics we buy don’t “matter.” What I mean by that is that they’re comfort purchases. Throughout our years of comic book reading we come to identify ourselves with certain creations and story types and gain loyalty to writers, artists, companies, etc. It’s only natural and we all do that and there is nothing wrong with that outside of, I’d argue, it sets an ugly precedent. But as I sat down with roughly fifty books this past Wednesday, I realized how many comics I get out of habit or just wanting to stay in the loop on some of my favorite characters. Obviously I enjoy them still; I am not the kind of person that just continues to buy and buy and buy a book I hate just because “I <3 Batman” that much. Quality matters, but I think we are willing to make concessions on quality just because we want a fix, and to that end a B- grade Batman book is better than nothing because, well, I <3 Batman.

The thing is, on a weekly basis, it’s easy to not really notice. It’s all a matter of perspective. Like I alluded to a second ago, I’m probably good for fifty books a month or so. So you figure twelve comics a week and break it down that eight of them are comfort books and four of them are the “really good stuff” – your SCALPED, LOCKE & KEY, and UNWRITTEN’s of the industry. I go down to my store, I drop $50 for my stack, and it all tiers so well doesn’t it? I organize my books based on perceived quality (the other thing I noticed once I got this behemoth pile in my hands, that being my god are we a retentive bunch of bastards aren’t we that we all have our “reading orders”) and spend about an hour playing catch-up with my favorite characters. And its fun and its comfortable because we know what we’re getting into and we’ve been getting into it for years. These are old friends and memories after all; comforts from days past and distractions from the things that are weighing on us now (like having to add a car payment to the onslaught of bills you are already facing).

But try reading 40 of those things in a row and see how lenient you are on the quality then. Again, it’s easy to just breeze through those books when you have a half dozen or so in front of you at a time; read a slew of them at once and I think you’ll come to the same realization as I did and that is, honestly and truly, we could probably do away with half our stacks if we were being real with ourselves. And they certainly not that important that people need to be doing silly things like, oh I don’t know, protesting at Comic Con a line of them re-launching itself. At the least, some patience on the matter could be called for in order to just play catch-up via the dollar bins at a convention every six months or so. I actually just did that not too long ago with about three years worth of X-titles I abandoned back when crossover fever was heating up again. Not only does it save you a significant amount of funds but it also makes for a fun day’s hunt at the convention and a week or two’s reading when you haul it all home.

Which brings me to another observation I made, which is that there’s just too many fucking books.  Again, that’s a pros and cons type of thing in that, hey, chances are if there’s a character you like, no matter their popularity level, they are probably in a book these days. Fucking Iron Fist is in three last I checked, so even if you absolutely love, I dunno, Starfox, you’ll probably find him. I say there are too many books though because I don’t believe we really have the talent to work with in the industry to keep these things afloat with quality. More directly though, what is really happening is that we really are overwhelming entire aspects of comics, at least in the mainstream sense of the word.

There can never be such a thing as “too many comics.” The more comics the better because that just means maybe we are turning things around and readers are starting to get interested again, hopefully in the market share not controlled by Marvel and DC. Simply because as the market grows, so will they too because they are really the gateway to the industry because of how well-established their properties are in pop culture, and they don’t need any damned help. I want there to still be Batman, but I also want more BUTCHER BAKER’S goddammit. In fact, its their antics that raise that perception of “there’s too much going on” as the constant events and gimmicks exacerbate, as I watched unfold as I was presented with a stack of fifty comics I actually want to buy and a wall of stuff I either wouldn’t mind trying, begrudgingly need to read to keep up-to-date, or long ago decided to avoid like plague. Sometimes the lines blur between those segments though.

I’ll wrap this up because I know it’s getting a little “state of the union” while stemming out of an anecdote, but I wanted to leave with this. While I was gone, Bucky died (again). I assumed it was a FEAR ITSELF issue, but considering his place in CAP proper the past few years assumed he got a send off there. Checked that and no. So I checked the newest FI (#4) and nope, no dead Bucky. So I figured it might be in one of the three AVENGERS books. Nope. Eventually I just asked my LCS owner and he pointed me at FI3 which came out the first week I was unable to do my Wednesday rounds. I pick it up, flip through it and put it back down with a “well that happened.” Because it really meant nothing. One – again - I knew it happened without even having been to a shop for a month. Hell, the company promoted it. And then it took a good ten minutes of hunting through a half dozen books to find it out and it was, of course, anti-climatic because it happened in an event that is, per usual, way bigger than it should be (though entertaining enough) to a character arbitrarily pumped up to “Big Bad” status because, eh, someone had to be. I also spent the summer on that X-title catch-up which put me up-to-date to AGE OF X and I look at those books right now and already don’t know what it going on again. And I’m a near-twenty-year vet of this shit. If I can’t keep up, how are we expecting newly interested parties to go to the store and just “hop in” to the mix? And then we bitch that one of the biggest perpetrators of this is going to try, for better or worse, to make their line “more accessible” with a slew of new number one’s? Please.

But alas, because I am a comic fan and an @$$hole, I will be there buying, trying, and bitching like everyone else, loading up my stack with more books I could probably do without. And I’ll also be there singing the praises of the 33.3% of my stack that really gets my juices going, that I hope become the standard to which we hold our comics to and that I hope is what REALLY brings in the new readers. Because I love my fucking comics and I don’t want them going anywhere but upward to better things spaced over fifty-two Wednesdays a year, as I would hope you do too. Cheers…