I’ve been a comic book fan, or more precisely, a super hero fan, most of my life. As part of my pop culture oeuvre, I am a reigning expert in most things spandex-y and superheroic, and my vast knowledge of these amazing creatures in capes and tights dates back to one icy cold December day in the late 1970s, in the beautiful seaside town of Baddeck.
At that time, I, along with my parents and younger sister, were visiting my great aunt Jessie, who lived in the neighboring community of South Haven. It was almost Christmas, and we were delivering presents to this woman who was like a grandmother to me, and at the same time running about this small town doing errands and stocking up on winter supplies for her modest, turn of the century farmhouse. Because I was so helpful carrying bags and boxes and holding doors for others, I was rewarded with a whole dollar – a king’s ransom at the time I assure you- to splurge on anything that caught my fancy at Stone’s Drugstore, our final stop for the day, and the closest thing to a shopping experience in this sleepy little town. Wandering the aisles, my eyes darting up and down and all around, as I considered candy treats and coloring books, yellow parachute men and silver slinkys, until finally I came, face to face and dead in my tracks, to a large “spinner rack”, full to overflowing with brightly colored and ever so inviting comic books. As I scanned the various titles starring Spider-man and Fantastic Four, Superman and Batman, I found myself drawn to one called the Justice League of America, and within a story titled “2000 Light Years to Christmas” (I’m not even kidding!) Being the holiday season, I took the whole story theme as a sign, and snatched the book up and ran off to the counter to pay the massive cover price of 60 cents, not caring to spend my left over change on candy or chocolate bars, but instead jumping up and down pleading COULD WE PLEASE GO so I could snuggle up in the back of the car and begin to consume my new treasure. But instead of consuming it, it seemed the book, and the very comic book world itself, was about to consume me.
I had seen comic books before of course, and was familiar with most of their costumed adventurers, but never had I seen them gathered together before so gallantly, fighting for truth, justice and the American way (whatever that meant!) Superman! Wonder Woman! Batman! The Flash! Green Lantern! Green Arrow! Black Canary! Firestorm! It was a pantheon of heroes, eager to transport me away on their noble adventures. And truly god like and heroic they seemed….not the Marvel everyman that Spidey represented, or the cutting edge sci fi technology of the Fantastic Four or Iron Man, the utter Id run wild of the Incredible Hulk or the rah rah Americana of Captain America himself. No, these mythical creatures seemed to watch over and protect all mankind, to walk among us but not be one of us, and I was truly captivated by that very divide and distinction in their nature.
But then I grew up. Sort of.
And I became interested in other things. Like girls (at least first!). Then boys. And later I got my geektastic freak on with movies like the Star Wars trilogy and the Star Trek franchise, or books like the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice and Stephen King’s IT and the Stand. This was my escapist entertainment, and so I didn’t need my beloved comic book world anymore. And it sort of became like an old friend I’d run into from time to time, and gleefully catch up with, but then awkwardly go our separate ways, wondering why we never seemed able to recapture that magic we once shared together, or perhaps what the hell we were doing together in the first place.
But then, flash forward 15 plus years or so to present day, to these very past few weeks, where DC Comics has begun to undertake an historic reinvention of itself. A rebooting of its entire universe, with the cancellation of its entire line and a restarting of 52 new titles, most featuring those familiar beloved characters of old, but with tweaked origins, making them younger, more accessible, their characters and their stories much more diverse and compelling, and all told, at least in theory, more relevant and meaningful to the modern-day reader. A controversial move, since titles such as Action Comics (starring Superman) and Detective Comics (starring Batman) were first launched in the 1930s and 40s, and had recently surpassed their 900th and 800th issue respectively, and were now restarted and renumbered with a fresh #1 issue (and in Supes case, a new origin).
A hotly debated move, since this sweeping reboot meant many beloved stories, titles, teams and characters were no longer completely in continuity and in some cases even wiped clean from existence as a result. And some might shrug and say that these were simply fictional beings, all playthings for the writers and artists whose under their command they lie, while others would solemnly swear on the sanctity and the legacies these characters represented, for generations past and generations still to come. But despite the many differing opinions on this bold publisher’s move, one thing most could agree on was that something had to happen, as the stark reality facing the comic book industry is that it was now in the midst of a rather slow and oft times painful demise. Comic book sales have been steadily on the decline for over a decade. Comic book specialty shops have dropped from roughly 9.000 throughout North America in the mid 1990s to something close to 2000 today. And outside these “specialty” shops, comics are scarce to be found. Or, in other words, meaning a bright eyed youngster like myself back in the day is unlikely nowadays to stroll into the local pharmacy for a smack down with a brightly colored spinner rack. (Come to think of it, even that family drug store from my childhood no longer exists). And in today’s digital age, piracy had had it’s impact on the comic books sales, much as it’s affected the movie and music industry in that illegal downloads are fairly easy to come by and “free” to a public with less and less disposable income at their…disposal. Still, like many other lapsed fans, this DcNU had captured my attention, made me curious to see what this reimagined reinvention might bring, and what sort of diversity I could expect in my newfound superhero tights. And, when I saw that first promo image of a younger and more studly Superman, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle arch of his back, the rolled up jeans with the strategically placed patches, the too tight t-shirt rippling over the well defined six packs abs. Wait, could it be, were they really….? And no, I wasn’t dense enough to think that DC was bringing Supes back as some bi curious late teenager, and yet something about that image struck me…that clearly THIS was not your daddy’s Superman. So, were DC finally about to do the unthinkable in all it’s new found diversity and inclusion….were they about to give me a big flamin’ ‘mo of a superhero?
Um, well not quite.
Next Issue: In Part 2 – The Dangerous Lives of Queerish Superheroes!