(Admittedly Odd) Things That Keep Me Coming Back

By the time you read this article, gentle reader, I will be on my way to Baja, California for a much-needed, if a bit late, summer vacation, where I plan to do a lot of reading and not much else.  I am really looking forward to the reading, because, as you know, I’ve been a bit down on comics these days, for a variety of reasons. I’ve thought a lot about this and all week I have been thinking about the elements of comics that I’ve always loved, things that serve as core tenets, that keep me coming back. We all have them, these truths, the eternal elements, that make our relationships with comics so particularly personal.

This all came about, perhaps not unsurprisingly, after reading the latest issue of Batman, where Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo bring The Joker back into out lives. Not sure if you’ve read it or not, but suffice to say, Snyder understands The Joker and what he means to readers and characters alike, and it just struck me what a place The Joker has in my life. Snyder understands the absolute terror that The Joker represents, and not just because he is particularly gruesome in how he ruins the lives of innocents. It is The Joker’s madness, the chaos that he embodies, that make him one of the most terrifying characters in all of literature.

That’s the thing about comics, right? That we get to see writers come back to these characters and try their hands at bringing them to life through that writer’s unique lens. Whenever there is a significant Joker story, I’m there, and I’ve been “there” as long as I can remember. Part of it, I admit, is to see just how twisted (or, perhaps, not) this version of The Joker will be, but I am just as interested as how the writer chooses to make the other characters react to the news of The Joker being in town. This time around, Snyder does a great job of showing the characters really unnerved, and this dread, this growing panic, saturates each page of the book. Snyder has been writing the crap out of Batman thus far, and I suspect that this story will be the best one yet.

There are a lot of reasons I find The Joker compelling, but the one that seems to resonate the most with me as I write this really has more to do with how I consider The Joker’s return, how I react to the terror he engenders. Our worries and fears change as we get older, and, as such, my consideration of the pain and anguish is very much different than when I read The Killing Joke back in my early years. As we live more, as we form relationships and overcome adversity, as we experience unexpected loss and have all-to-brief whiffs of success, the kind of senseless pain and destruction that The Joker causes is more harrowing, more haunting.  The older we get, the more scared we are of what The Joker represents, which makes him so necessary, at least for me.

 

There are two places in comics that I will always hold in high regard. For our heroes and ourselves alike, these places represent a kind of home, one that changes over time, but maintains an emotional consistency that make them truly special. I am, of course, referring to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and Batman’s Batcave. I know other heroes have their secret hideouts and lairs and whatever, but none come close to being as cool as these sanctuaries.

Of course, the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave are two very different places. The Fortress is, after all, a fortress…of solitude.  I mean, the world’s most powerful being is only completely safe and at peace when he’s in a fort — by himself. The thing I loved the most about the Fortress was that Superman had to use this giant key to get inside it in the first place — a key only he could lift and manipulate. I just always loved that notion, that sure, he could have used a much more subtle entry mechanism, but in this case, a building-sized key pretty much fit the bill.

Now, most of the time, we see the Fortress being represented in crystalline ways that echo the one that appeared in Superman: The Movie, but every so often we’ll get different takes. What I enjoy is seeing how creators have Superman live in the Fortress — live and work, I guess.  From tilling virtual fields in Kingdom Come to doing hyper-science in All Star Superman, it’s cool to see how Superman interacts with the Universe on his own terms, using tools and technologies that are designed for someone with his abilities.

Same thing with the Batcave, which serves primarily as a lab and, well, a really nice parking garage (I’ll always remember that Batcave gatefold from All Star Batman & Robin), replete with tokens and monument to accomplishments and eras long past. You could do entire books on the significance of these (super)man-caves, so I will spare you, but, again, these two places are just the kinds of comic book concepts that you can really only do in comic books, and remind me why I love these stories so much.

 

Now, I admit, running to do a Burger King commercial in the middle of a busy work day does not have the same stakes as having to save a bus full of orphans from Doctor Octopus before an important meeting, but I will say that, in the heat of weaving through traffic, it can certainly feel like it. When I was a kid, I never thought I’d find myself truly relating with comics, but, as I get older, the whole notion of trying to balance out responsibilities rings a lot closer to home. Even if one is not trying to go to auditions while working full time, we can relate to constantly feeling like you are getting pulled in different directions — not, perhaps, like the Elongated Man, but more like Peter Parker, Matt Murdock or Barry Allen, who try, with varying degrees of success, to foster successful careers while skipping lunch to fight crime. This may be the primary reasons why I will always consider myself a fan of Spider-Man, Daredevil and The Flash. But instead of being captivated by their heroic exploits, I just enjoy watching them learn how to manage their time.  I know, thrilling, right?

But I can’t help it. I’ll always be curious, especially when a new creative team tackles these characters, to see how they handle the dual-lives question. What’s funny is how often a creator will talk about how he or she is really going to tackle Peter’s “normal” life or really examine the character of Bruce Wayne as opposed to Batman. And, often, the books will start off like that, but slowly return a much more lopsided “tights to business casual” ratio. Makes sense, of course. The book is called Daredevil, not Busy Blind Lawyer.

 

There are lots of great reasons to be a comic book fan, and I find myself celebrating different reasons at different times. Sometimes I’ll be on a creator kick, especially new books start out with different teams, giving me the chance to explore new creators or return to the comfort of an old favorite. Other times it will be my taking a chance on a new character or returning to an old one after hearing that the book is “getting good again”. That’s the benefit (and, perhaps, curse) of being into comics–there are always good reasons to stay with them. For me it was interesting, after a half a year of being frustrated by comics, to really take a gander on some of the elements that resonate with me personally, and even as I write about them, I am slowly deciding to pick up The Amazing Spider-Man this month, if only to see how things are going.

 


Mike Romo is an actor living in Los Angeles.

Comments

  1. supamike says:

    “There are lots of great reasons to be a comic book fan, and I find myself celebrating different reasons at different times.” I totally agree. It bothers me when i go to some comic sites and about 90% of the comments on articles are ppl predicting doom and gloom for the industry or how such and such creator is destroying their childhood.Thats one of the reasons i started coming to this site,it doesn’t seem to have as much of that stuff,and i welcome that.
    Great article.

  2. Kipper2099 Kipper2099 says:

    I find Green Lantern as a very relatable character just as much as Spidey to me. If we live our lives without fear (if we did live in the DC universe) maybe one day we would be able to join the green lantern corps. Spidey is relatable to a lot of teenagers trying to juggle such a busy life with work and school and a girlfriend. Good article

  3. flapjaxx flapjaxx says:

    I don’t see how any of this is “Admittedly Odd”. Sorry, this article just reads as if you’re saying “What keeps me coming back is… ‘more of the same’.” And I’m not anti-nostalgia, anti-Big Two, or anti-Scott Snyder, but I don’t really see any specific reasons in any of this.

    The rationalization of the Joker in Batman #13 as being somehow new, different, and better rings totally hollow to me. I liked the issue just fine, but it’s just the Joker being the Joker: he’s scary and weird and (since 2008) hyper-gruesome and bloody and violent. This is standard fare. It couldn’t be more standard. I don’t see how it speaks to any genius or insight on Scott Snyder’s part just because he and Capullo portray the supporting cast as inexplicably more scared of the Joker for no real reason. Gordon cringing in the corner saying “He… he told a bunch of jokes–OH GOD!” doesn’t really make much sense on any level. It just seems like an emotional cue to manipulate the reader. Which is fine, but it doesn’t really further the character or the medium. And it doesn’t have to. But lets not indulge in over-hype.

    I think sometimes decent/good comics are in and of themselves reasons enough to come back. We don’t need to act like the comics we have a good time with are super-meaningful or super-personal works of art upon which our self-esteem or belief in the medium rests. Sometimes good enough is good enough, no more no less. If Peter Parker comics weren’t coming out every couple weeks, you should still be able to find meaning in life, and in comics, quite easily.

    Sorry, but, wow, sometimes these op-eds on iFanboy make it seem as if you guys are yourselves cringing under your desks and desperately seeking something to over-emphasize, as if there always has to be recently published comics upon which your faith in the medium must rest — and if you can’t grasp something to exploit the meaning of and bring it into your personal understanding of yourself really quickly… then you just might give up altogether or something. It seems a wrongheaded move in the first place to speak of “relationships” with standard superhero comics as being “particularly personal”. You can like and even love comics without clinging to these things beyond logic and reason. Sorry if that’s harsh.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      It’s not harsh, it’s just the latest example, in many years of examples, that you have a very hard time understanding people who have different opinions than you do. People like things that you don’t like. People feel personal connections to things that you don’t. People seem to like things more intensely than you do. There’s no grand conspiracy behind it all or any deep personal rationalizations. It’s just a difference in opinion and a different way with relating to this entertainment medium.

    • JSAkid JSAkid says:

      Its not saying The Joker coming back is new but how seeing him brought back “through the lens” or hands of another creator is intriguing and one of the things that probably keep many of us coming back, different visions from creators we love on characters we love as well. The Joker did induce more unnerving and red alert reactions amongst the bat family than usual and think that is a great point to make in validating this article. We all come back for different reasons from our general love of comix to seeing how things have changed to simply being intrigued by new and unusual stories. Great article, the hell with acting, you should go further into journalism ;)

    • kmob181 kmob181 says:

      I think I feel this way about my Marvel books. I love seeing my favorite creators tackle the same handful of titles: the school-centric X-books, Thor, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Cosmic Marvel, etc. The stories cover similar beats but everyone’s perspective is a bit different and it’s great. For example my four favorite Fantastic Four creators – Kirby, Byrne, Waid, and Hickman – each did a Galactus story (or more than one in the case of Kirby and Lee). Each managed to preserve the character of Galactus as conceived by Kirby and Lee but also tap into different aspects of his story potential because they each had a slightly different vision of the character which reflected their unique vision and the uniqueness of the era in which they were writing. This is what keeps me coming back to Marvel: the perpetual reinvention of familiar characters and dynamics. I am not sure where this came from although my first Marvel books were the Infinity Gauntlet and Uncanny X-Men and I can remember, as a kid, wanting more.

      However for DC and independents – with a couple of exceptions – I really want something I have never seen before. I think this has a lot to do with my cutting my teeth on Vertigo – which is still my favorite imprint – and Dark Horse’s Legend series. The New 52 is a case in point. I think Batman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Wonder Woman are all great books but of the four Wonder Woman is the only one I am still reading. Whereas the others hit some familiar beats Wonder Woman seemed to bring a totally unique re-imagining that admittedly is a bit Vertigo-ish but more importantly is something I have never seen before. If the title were to revert to a more familiar take on the character, I probably wouldn’t continue to read it. Similarly I loved the initial Hellboy arcs but when Mignola shifted focus from horror to fantasy or when others took a stab at the character via Hellboy Tales, as good as the book still was, it lost me for some reason.

      I recognize that how I divided my vision is arbitrary and perhaps even a bit unfair but I am so grateful I have found different ways to embrace the same medium.

  4. DeadpoolFan1 DeadpoolFan1 says:

    I’d read Busy Blind Lawyer…. depending on the writer.

  5. JesseCuster says:

    2 completely separate things:

    1. ** COMMENT MODERATED **

    2. When things get ‘bad’, then WALK AWAY. This has been my relationship with comics. I started young… now in my late 30s. But that’s not 30 some odd years of non-stop collecting. I have major breaks… I’m talking YEARS before I went back and picked something up… and each time, its a pleasant experience. The last time I took a break and came back to comics, Identity Crisis just came out in hardback and everyone told me to check out this book Walking Dead.

    But now… ugh. I did NOT want to hate the new 52. The exact opposite… I held onto optimism and wanted to like it. At this point, its such a mess, I think its time to walk away. Of all the new 52 books out there, I am now down to buying only 4 titles a month. I keep trying to go back to Marvel and something about them today I can’t get into (except Daredevil)… I still read some indies… but I think its time to drop out for a little while and come back later. Not because I hate comics, but because I love them.

  6. I don’t agree why there is anything (admittedly odd) in the things that draw one to comics. Who hasn’t wanted to walk away from work, family and/or friends and find comfort in solitude. Its a quite natural reaction i would say. The very act of reading, or watching a movie, or a game is the desire to get away.

    The Joker is great fun. Creatures like him is the call to our want /need to be thrilled or scared. He’s right up there with Hannibal Lecter. While I understand that Romo is at certain place at this time in his life, I would not compare or hold higher this Joker story (which is in its first issue at this time) to THE KILLING JOKE, but I’m in for the ride.

    The little details and quirks of comic book storytelling is what keeps us coming back, though people who don’t read comics are not aware, this speaks to most if not all of us.

  7. I kinda look at comics the same way i look at TV. I’m attracted to genres, but the individual show/season still has to grab me. I might like one of the Law and Orders but not the others. I might like one Sitcom, but not the rest of that night’s lineup. Sure i’ll try a lot of shows because of the genre, but i don’t stick with most of them. Same for comics.

    I guess i’m attracted to comics much like TV, in that i want to find something amazing and new, and i keep looking for it, even when the current offerings aren’t doing it for me. When i find it, its so much fun, but i think that hunt is part of what keeps me around.

  8. WheelHands WheelHands says:

    There’s an awful lot of bile dripping from these comments. What’s the big deal? The guy’s just writing a love letter to the things he enjoys most about comics. If you’ve read any of Mike’s op-eds this year, you’ll notice that he’s been on a kind of spiritual journey with his comics hobby, and this edition is just a reminder to himself and us that there are still essential elements that he will always cherish about the medium. He’s just thinking out loud.

    Some regular fans of the site might spare themselves the anuerism and just approach the different weekly editorials as they would comic books themselves; read what you like. If you’re constantly getting annoyed with a certain writer’s style or content, just skip it next time. There are people that work for iFanboy whose work I simply don’t care for, but instead of reading the article just to gather ammo to spew at them, I mosey on by. Or, if the tagline interests me, I’ll give it a shot and I’m very often pleasantly surprised.

    Disagreeing with someone is all well and good. But attacking someone for the way they write or the subject they chose to write about makes it personal, and no one wants that. You’re not doing anyone any good by behaving like a critic when you aren’t one. Like Mike and the Fortress of Solitude, most of us cherish the integrity of this site, it’s regular posters, and it’s staff. Don’t drag us all down to a level we’ve all tried hard to avoid.

    • Selfstyler Selfstyler says:

      There is an increasing undercurrent of bitterness in many of the forums on iFanboy lately, I find myself scrolling down less and less because it’s in danger of becoming an ugly place. I’m not trolling, baiting or naming names, it’s just an observation that’s driving me away from the feedback sections.

      On the positive side – another great article from Mike!

    • JSAkid JSAkid says:

      Exactly why this is my only comix site, thank you WheelHands!

  9. kzap kzap says:

    I agree with most of these things actually. I never really thought about it before but one of things that really interested me about superheros as a kid was the juggling of the secret identity and the ‘normal’ side of their life.
    The concentration on Peter Parker as a person is something I really liked about The Amazing Spider-Man that we didn’t see so much of in Raimi’s trilogy (however great the first two films were) those films tended to rush over big events in his life, like graduating high school, starting college, getting a job to get to the action.
    All the stuff about ‘secret bases’ is interesting too, I think as a child that idea is just cool but as we get older it appeals to something of the desire to have a private place, where we can be alone, which is something I think is in all of us.

    • tripleneck tripleneck (@tripleneck) says:

      I love the Peter Parker side of the story of Spider-Man and I really look forward to his supporting cast getting their moments. Mary Jane just can’t be in the comic enough for me (but I also don’t mind that they keep me wanting more by rationing her appearances). I like the Horizon Lab folks, too. Their relationships with Peter help define who he is now as opposed to the Peter of the past. If the only thing we ever saw was Spidey in the mask bashing villains, I couldn’t love the character the way I do. It’s all the little details of his life that that endear him to me.