KC Column: Why I (usually) Like Comics

Your pal and mine, KC

Your pal and mine, KC

I’m in one of those moods again. One of those moods that I get into from time to time, one that makes Roger quiver in fear.

I just don’t feel like reading any comic books. Which is a problem for Roger because he’s supposed to get me to write regular columns about comics. Instead, what he gets is either me constantly whining “But I don’t wanna!” or me sending him 8,000 words about why the industry is doomed and how we’re all going down with it. (You should be very thankful that he seldom publishes any of these. I sure am.)

I’m not sure why it happens. Maybe because I get involved with other things, like listening to a new CD or watching the season finale of a favorite TV show. (I feel very lucky to have hobbies and interests beyond comics. I think this is actually a quite healthy thing to do.) Sometimes it happens because I read a few bad or boring comics all at once, and I feel like I need to be doing something else. Other times it’s just because something else is going on in my brain that particular week. Occasionally, comics take a back seat until I come around to them again.

It’s not like I stop reading comics altogether. Usually it’s some dumb superhero story or comic that sets me off — but then I look at it as an opportunity to get caught up on some other comics that I like, the latest Peanuts collection or some old John Stanley comic books that have just been reprinted. Reading older material like this reminds me how much I love comics as comics — as an important storytelling medium and as a endlessly fascinating history of a very important artistic subculture.

It also reminds me that as much as I usually love superhero comic books, they do not define what comics are. They are obviously a big part — but superheroes are not the only thing that comics have to offer. As they used to say, “It’s a big, wide, wonderful world you live in.”

All About the Character

I think the biggest reason that I keep reading comic books (as I have for close to 50 years now) is that I love the characters. I really enjoy the fact that I can look at characters as diverse as Spider-Man, Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Howard the Duck, Hobbes, Ben Grimm, Linus Van Pelt, Little Archie, Batgirl, Gates, Grog, Josie, Choopie, The Crusader, Iris West, Jughead Jones, the Young Avengers, the Inferior Five, Opus, Pogo Possum, Little Lulu, and many others and not only call them my favorites, but also say that all of them are just as interesting (if not more so) to me than many real people.

I find it amusing that I think a lot of the current Teen Titans are tedious, but their Tiny Titan incarnations are wonderful. (That’s the only current super-club that I would love to be a member of. Unfortunately, I’m too old. And I don’t have a pet.)

I find today’s general portrayal of the ultra-grim Batman as equally wrong as Adam West’s over-the-top portrayal from a bygone era. My favorite Batman is the one where he pretends to be P.O.ed and gruff, but when Robin (any one will do) gives him crap about it, we see him secretly smiling when Robin isn’t looking. Or the Denny O’Neil Batman who terrifies criminals but is beloved by small children who have nothing to fear from him. That Batman had character. Today’s is just psychotic — no better than the criminals he battles. And he scares everybody.

When today’s creators say that Superman shouldn’t be bothered to save a cat from a tree, they’re missing the point. Of course Superman has better things to do than rescue scared kitties — the point is that he would always find the time to do it. It only takes one panel every couple of issues to show it (preferably while also dealing with something else) — but of course, with today’s decompressed storytelling, it would take many current creators six or seven pages to show every second of this, from every conceivable angle. Sigh.

Somewhere along the line, a lot of superhero writers have forgotten why these characters chose to become heroes in the first place: To help people. Reading many of today’s comics, you barely have heroes even connecting with everyday people. They’re too busy fighting super-villains, cosmic threats, raging uncontrollable beasts, or even other superheroes (always a morale builder). Supporting characters, when they even appear, are more and more other super-characters rather than ordinary people. Even when the classic regular people (Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Commissioner Gordon) do appear, they are usually involved in their own adventures.

This is one of the main reasons why I’m so against cutting page counts for stories — the first things to go are subplots, supporting characters, and contact with “normal” characters. Who’s going to want to cut down on money-making fight scenes between super-powered steroid freaks?

Thor Omnibus

Thor Omnibus

I’m also not so sure how I feel about all this current talk about how superheroes are today’s new god-like figures (or whatever Grant Morrison is going to talk about in his new book (Supergods)). I’m curious to read it, but I don’t think it’s going to make me a believer. You see, back when I had to study the the Greek and Roman gods in school, I found them largely overblown, arrogant, annoying, and boring. And above it all. Not what I think superheroes should be.

Needless to say, Thor was never my favorite character, but Walter Simonson’s run on Thor (currently a hot reprint in the incredibly beautifully remastered Walt Simonson’s Thor Omnibus volume) was — and always will be — one of my favorite runs of a superhero comic that I really didn’t care anything about going in. Walt largely did this by making a commoner (Beta Ray Bill) a never-say-die god-like figure, made the god Thor less than a commoner (Thor-frog), and made the gods real by showing their humanity (Balder) and sacrifice (Skurge). Amazing stuff. One of comics’ true must-reads. Great job, Walter!

So, I think it will be another week or so before I’m back to reading current comics. I’ve got a big box coming in from Westfield (just like many of you) with about five weeks’ worth of comics and a bunch of eagerly awaited hardcovers (including Jill Thompson’s Delirium’s Party storybook!). Until then, I’ll keep myself occupied with the Season Finales of Castle, Chuck, and The Big Bang Theory, the recent Kinks CD reissues, and the new Steve Martin, Smithereens, and The Cars CDs. And some Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles on DVD. (Now, those guys were superheroes!)

KC CARLSON always has at least three giant boxes of Westfield packing peanuts in his garage at all times. He never knows when he’s going to have to re-insulate his car. (It also conveniently makes the car float.)