You ever wish you could just take it back?
I’m sure every one of you remembers exactly when it happened, catching you completely off guard, hitting you without any warning. Might not recall whatever strange series of events led you up to that point, but the end result lies in your memory, permanently etched. Unfortunately, the sensation is something that occurs only once, leaving behind the hope that soon you’ll experience it again, and again after that, creating a thankfully vicious cycle. You do know what I’m talkin’ about, right?
I’m speaking on that first time you found yourself in the grasp of something undeniably new, encountering something you never thought to even ask for. The word nostalgia is occasionally thrown about in a negative context, but I really see it as a way of acknowledging where you came from, as it’s our individualized responses that ultimately make us different from the next person with a pop culture fetish. You take one book, one movie, show it to five different people, and dependent on personal context, will likely receive five unique perspectives on it. The question driving this week’s piece is pretty simple…given the opportunity, what is something you’d love to experience again for the very first time?
Forgive my recent saccharine nature, but I’ve been thinking about major influences, favorite things, and turning points lately, and it’s hardly sporting to pose such a question without answering it first. So, here we are, a couple situations where I’d turn the clock back without question, and though my first entry is a bit obvious, it’s still gotta be said.
Since fandom at large is experiencing the undeniable hotness of the new Star Wars trailer, it only makes sense to begin around there. Granted I hadn’t been exposed to many good movies at that point, but there’s no question that seeing Star Wars all those years ago, sparked me like nothing else, and gave me that central question, where everything begins. My late grandmother gave me her copy of the movie, back in the day when nothing was cooler than knowing how to work the VCR, and that was the last she saw of it. For weeks in the summer, I’d get up and watch Star Wars before I did anything else, and though I can’t quite manage it anymore, I went a long time with most of the thing memorized, until my parents risked my little head exploding by telling me there was actually another Star Wars movie for me to obsess over.
I remember watching Empire, lying flat on my stomach, with my face perched only a few feet from the screen, lights dimmed to get that “movie” feel. At the flick’s climax, when Vader swings his lightsaber and Luke’s hand flies in the other direction, I jumped back another foot, and then froze with the sentence, “No…I am your father.” The ending to that movie, with the bad guys on top, and the good guys on the run, trapped in blocks of space ice, and missing appendages hit me a little harder than most. Thankfully, Return of the Jedi came along to clean all this stuff up, and restore my juvenile sense of the natural “way of things.” We could easily be here all day, but there are very precise moments in all three movies that helped put me on the course I am today, and ultimately prompted me to start asking, “What if?”
No idea what I was doing at the time, just trying to fill in the blanks best I could, and like most kids, I had a strong obsession with cartoons for this to all manifest through. I used to brainstorm these little simple adventures of what the Thundercats and the Transformers were up to between the episodes that aired, and as I got older, the focus naturally changed, but I always knew there was clearly more going on than they showed us. And if there wasn’t, there should be. But I’d never even considered anything so silly, before witnessing that opening crawl dozens of times, so you know, that makes it a little difficult to subscribe to some of the harsher criticisms that the franchise has come under. It’s really all about a galaxy far, far away from here…
On that same fateful introduction to the concept of the “comic book store,” where the first issue of Spawn ended up in my hands, I also came away with an issue of the second Robin mini-series, written by the guy who would quickly become my first comic book idol, Chuck Dixon. DC was in the process of launching this new Tim Drake kid as Batman’s latest partner, and I don’t know what it was, but I went absolutely nuts about it. In the same way my immersion into comics can be traced along the coming of Image Comics, Tim Drake became that fresh character whose history I could easily mine, and know from the ground level. Rushing every back issue bin I could find, I picked up every piece of strangely obscure reference, the first official appearance of Tim Drake, the first time he donned a Robin costume, the issue where he and Batman hit the streets of Gotham for their first nightly patrol. Hell, I probably liked the character even more than his mentor, but I’m sure that’s just the adolescence talking.
Whatever the case, this fascination with the character of Tim Drake soon extended to the very presence of any Robin, in any Batman story. Drake is my guy, but I can acknowledge some of the reasoning behind dressing Dick Grayson up in Tim’s costume, from time to time. The “kid from the circus” angle has its uses, and is a much more tragic back story than a kid who figured out the identities of Batman and Robin, sought them out, and literally forced them to give him a costume. Until recently, he had a living father, and Dixon added an additional dimension to his character, by having him voice that he had no desire to grow up and ultimately become Batman. But the combination of Dixon’s constant influence, that cool costume, and a reflexive need to attach myself to a new character has turned me into a lifelong Robin junkie, and I can easily cop to the fact that I’d flip out, if given the chance to actually write the guy.
I couldn’t wait for the character to make his initial appearance in the animated series, had a fairly significant fanboy reaction to seeing him in Batman Forever, despite Chris O’Donnell, and will be the first dude to snatch up the All-Star Batman and Robin series.
Now, with my inner fanboy clearly exposed, let’s move along to the book that became my thematic template for the first several scripts I attempted writing…
The Authority irrevocably altered the landscape of superhero comics, but I’m sure you already knew that didn’t you? Its language and scope are so imbedded in the creative subconscious that it’s hard to tell exactly when it’s being channeled, but the original “widescreen comic” as delivered by Ellis & Hitch, is something people will return to and say, “This is where the game changed.” Not that every single aspect of The Authority was an absolute revelation, but what distinguished it from everything else was the specific blend it brought to the table. The incredible odds, the powerful visuals, the pacing and storytelling, the one-liners, it was all just there on the surface and made things look so incredibly obvious. This is how a team of modern superheroes was supposed to behave, saving the world in every story, talking shit to the bad guys, and looking damn cool while doing it.
Every issue was just a blast to the chest of every boring, overstuffed, paint by numbers superhero tale that had dudes fighting the next costumed idiot of the month, with his ray guns and color-coded henchmen. Meanwhile, these people are facing a terrorist that aims to carve his personal symbol into the globe, aliens from a parallel dimension that want Earth as a rape camp, and the true, very pissed architect of the planet. It was just the kick in the ass that superhero comics needed to reach their current point, and I don’t know if that’s specifically why Ellis did it, but the results really speak for themselves. The book only works when it’s taking the risks that other comics won’t take, and when it isn’t allowed to (see Millar’s final arc) it becomes commonplace, and if there’s one thing The Authority shouldn’t be, it’s common.
The book’s vibe was just undeniable, and this combined with much of Grant Morrison’s JLA stuff was informing a great majority of the little scripts I was putting together back then. Comics that were loud for no reason, missing the entire point, and drowning out the heart of the work, the sense of wonder that undercurrents the explosions. Still, it was a very important part of my development, and I’ll be damned if The Authority didn’t make the need to write comics more urgent than ever.
But one thing gave me the idea in the first place…
I’d never even considered it, though I’d been a serious comic junkie for years, and started to write short stories of teenage spies and superheroes. It only made sense to pen adventure novels, the type of bestselling genre stuff that I was devouring on top of my four-color fetish. But I walked into Chuck Dixon’s Ten Commandments of Comic Book Writing at the Chicago convention one summer during high school, and got completely turned around in the space of an hour.
Dixon was easily my favorite writer, and this extended past the Robin threshold into his other works, and as he scrolled through his blueprint for writing consistently entertaining comics, it became obvious that some people were able to do this for a living. A couple years of research sprang from this, and though I’d get a little distracted along the way, with thoughts of writing screenplays for a while, or scratching that old prose itch that hits me from time to time, it was all about writing comics. My interests and sensibilities were there anyway, with a lot of my earlier material being comic books written in novel form, and as with any idea, there was this fresh burst of energy pushing it forward, and every little piece of advice, correspondence, and rejection letters ended up in this ugly green folder, that’s still around, buried in a closet somewhere.
Guess a case could be made that given enough time, something else would’ve given me this brightest of notions, but attending that seminar, helmed by a writer I was holding such immense respect for, obviously affected me. And you know, nearly ten years later, the saga continues, with my very first trade paperback dropping in early June. Which is clearly insane.
Should probably wind this down, before it becomes any more long winded, and to allow me to return the original question back to your hands… given the opportunity, what is something you’d love to experience again for the very first time? Sometimes the only way to look forward is to look back, and like I mentioned before, every person’s answer is going to be different, and I hope you enjoyed a few of mine.
Thanks for the continued love, and even though this column got in a little late, I’ll be getting back to a weekly schedule very soon, even if it’s only for a month or so.