Break out the comics!
Let’s see, I’ll read an issue or two of Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s Promethea and Walter Simonson’s Orion before breakfast, pack a book-bag of comics for work to peruse during my breaks, set aside a few to read during my lunch hour, compile a stack to enjoy when I get home from work, and select a couple to stick under my pillow so that the stories and art seep into my brain while I sleep.
Well?maybe I won’t go so far as to stick them under my pillow. But, boy, what if that really worked!
While I have an official comics reading plan for the summer, there really is no rhyme or reason to it. For the most part, I’m just pulling issues from deep in any comics stack I come across, or if something comes immediately to mind — like, hey, I haven’t read Ditko’s Beware the Creeper in a while — I set out to track it down. And if while tracking it down I stumble across something else, like a really cool issue of Preacher set in Monument Valley or at the Alamo, out that one comes! This isn’t about critical analysis or profound debate or historical significance or nostalgic perspective, it’s about the sheer joy of reading comic books, right down to those dang Hostess baked goods ads.
This past Sunday night I read the delightful “One Night of Crime” from Detective Comics #93 (November, 1944), reprinted in Batman Archives, Volume 4, a fine showcase for barely a fraction of the talents of writer Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang; reread all of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers comics released so far; enjoyed Mnemovore #s 2 and 3; and then went on to a couple of Stan Lee’s Just Imagine re-workings of DC icons. I also had time for The Mighty Thor #162 (just when I thought I’d read everything by Kirby, I discover a series by him [and the renowned Mr. Lee] that I can be totally in awe of for the first time) and Kirby’s Our Fighting Forces #152 (because this Losers’ story is awesome no matter how many times I read it).
I’ll be doing this kind of random reading all summer long with relentless enthusiasm. As long as I’ve been collecting comics, it’s always been this way. I remember when I was young and school ended in mid-June and I happily faced all that free time to read comics. I would take three to four walks or bike rides a week to the various stores around town that carried comics, finding, among many titles over the course of several ’70s summers, First Issue Special #6 (starring the outrageous Dingbats of Danger Street) at the 7-Eleven, Action Comics #451 at The Pantry market, Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth #49 at Don’s Paperbacks, Justice League of America #100 at Thrifty’s Drug Store, and Superman #294 at the Bungalow News. With a small stack of bagged comics in hand on each return trip, I’d peddle or stride home just a little faster. I’d then put on Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirty Cowboy or Queen’s A Night at the Opera and get high on the four-color entertainment (not to mention the glorious smell of that newsprint and newspaper, complemented by the night-blooming jasmine growing outside my brother’s bedroom).
I still get that feeling when summer begins. Times have changed, of course. I make one trip to the comics shop on Wednesday and I’m set for the week with new material. There are now graphic novels and comics-related books that are more for the mind, not the escape: Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar, Donna Barr’s The Desert Peach, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #13, Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran’s Orbiter, to name a few; the list goes on and on, my shelves packed with thoughtful books just waiting to be explored.
Every day my History Book Club book-bag will be carrying a different batch of comics. Today it’s The Green Lantern: Evil’s Might #1 by Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, Marshall Rogers and John Cebollero; Just Imagine Stan Lee’s The Flash by Stan Lee and Kevin Maguire; Wonder Woman #178, wherein the Amazing Amazon discards the costume and the powers and becomes even more wondrous; Beware the Creeper #6; Blue Devil #31 by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and various artists, because I insist a comic from the 1980s be included; Green Lantern #71 by Broome, Kane, Giella, and Schwartz; Beowulf, Dragon Slayer #4, not just because it’s a great fantasy/adventure comic, but also because it has a Hostess ad; Action Comics #448; Freedom Fighters #2 (dated but lively ’70s superhero fun from Gerry Conway’s Corner); Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter #11 by David Anthony Kraft, Ric Estrada and Jack Abel, and a lot better than you might think; Brave Old World #1 by William Messner-Loebs, Guy Davis and Phil Hester, which I’ve inexcusably overlooked over the past few years, so the time has come to rectify matters; and Madame Xanadu #1 by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers.
On some days, like today, there will be more than one book-bag of comics coming to work with me. In bag number two are Charlton Spotlight #4, the outstanding tribute to artist Pam “PAM” Morisi that I highly recommend, so please contact me if you want further info on ordering a copy; The Hunger Dogs by Jack Kirby, a somewhat disappointing conclusion to the Fourth World saga as envisioned by the King, but still enjoyable; The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin (arguably the definitive ‘death of a superhero’ comic); Amazing World of DC Comics #12, a science fiction-themed issue of DC’s in-house ’70s ‘fanzine’; Cartoon Network #18 and Space Ghost #1, because I need a Hanna-Barbera fix; Street Angel #1 by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, because it’s new, it’s different, it’s received rave reviews, so I’m gonna try it; Shade the Changing Man #1 by Peter Milligan, Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington, because it’s been on my mind lately, haunting me, and by gum it’s time to read it; The Alamo: The Comic Book, since a little history never hurts; Silver Star by Jack Kirby #1, because even Kirby’s 1980s work has its power and charm; Wrath of the Spectre #4, which published for the first time three Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo tales that were not printed during The Spectre’s 1970s run in Adventure Comics; and Sandman Mystery Theatre Annual #1 by Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle, because it just plain looks good and has a great variety of artists illustrating it.
I may not read all these comics today. I may not even get a chance to thumb through most of them. Of one thing I’m certain: they will be replaced by another batch tomorrow (I noticed in all the books I’ve listed above that there isn’t a single Neal Adams-illustrated comic, so tomorrow it’s all going to be about Neal Adams). Still, the books will be close at hand, set aside in their respective stacks for when the time comes for me to kick back and enjoy them at home or work.
My enjoyment isn’t going to wane; in fact, I can only see it picking up speed, just as I would as a young boy drawing closer to home with a new batch of comics. Anticipation would then give way to the thrilling experience of reading new funny books. Summer is here once again, and for some ninety days and ninety nights, in the midst of whatever harshness and joys the real world brings, it’s all about the comics.