Which of your heroes define “comics”?

 

Which heroes mean "comics" to you?  Let me explain. Whenever someone asks me about comics, or, as in many cases, when someone finds out I am reading comics, the conversation quickly turns to specific characters–superheroes, really–that define, deep down, what comic books are all about.

It makes sense, right? Most of us discover comics when we are young, and when we are young we are very, very deliberate about which books– or book–we end up getting. I remember one afternoon when my dad took me to the comic book shop (I think it was after going to the dentist, or, possibly the barber, which were almost equally unfun for me) and he got all impatient as I struggled to choose a single comic book.  I guess he didn't understand the fact that whatever book I was going to choose, I was going to read it until the damn thing fell apart, that by the time I was done that comic book was forever burned in my memory, that if I ever encountered that book again I would be able to tell you exactly not only what happened in the actual story, but an ad-by-ad breakdown of the issue, complete with whatever toys and magic tricks and sea monkeys I desired. But I digress.

I guess this is how sports fans are.  Actually, I know they are, when I lived in New York, we used to watch sports on TV while we DJ'd records all afternoon (those were the days, let me tell you–now that I am in LA all in a relationship, I don't get many of those afternoons) and, man, my friends could talk about sports and sports figures just as deeply, with as much passion–almost as much passion–as my comic book crew.  Basically, when we are young, we collect heroes like we collect bruises and scabs–we need these heroes, they give us someone to imagine being, a job that we would like to have, powers we fantasize about (I was all about stopping time–which, jeez, I am still all about, when I think on it) and the adventures we might have.

Funny, none of my fantasies involved me going into a corporate office building and typing on a computer all day.  Weird.  (long pause.) Let's move forward, shall we?

This weekend, I was hanging out with Ron a bit and, shockingly, we did end up talking about comics a bit (but really–it was just a bit, he had just taped the show) and the same thing happened, I hadn't read my books so I was full of questions about which books were good. Of course, I had a natural bent towards certain books, because those books had "my" characters in them.  First up?

The Flash.  I have mentioned this before, but man oh man, The Flash–Barry Allen–was my guy. I think it was because he was so easy to define. The dude ran fast.  End of story.  Sure, sure, different writers let him do all kinds of crazy things, but for me, the fact that Barry could clean his entire freakin' house in the blink of an eye…that was it.  Like, that was totally it for me. As I got older, sadly, I realized that he still had to actually clean the house, like he had to do all the dishes and make the bed, which sure, makes sense–there was still effort–but as a kid, I was like, "That's what I want. I want to be done cleaning the house before my mom can finish telling me to do it. I want do it so fast that my image would still be floating there and when I was done, I would just go back to exactly where I was standing and it would seem that I had done nothing but when she finished '…your room!' I would just look at her and say, 'Already done, ma.'" If I was not into comics but somehow heard that Barry Allen was back as The Flash? I would have driven to a comic book store and dived headlong back into comics.


Batman.  I know, easy choice. But, I think there's something about the story of Bruce losing both of his parents when he was so young, that struggle, that spoke volumes to me when I was a kid. I think it speaks volumes to any child, but especially if you are a young boy, to be forced to grow up so quickly, to know that there you are going to be missing years of being a fun loving kid, an awkward teenager, a know-it-all high school senior.  All that dreaming of growing up–which, when you are 7, basically means 20–dashed, instantly. I would think about this a lot and wonder, "could I handle all this?" And I would just nod to myself and decide, "Yes, I would be able to survive, just like Bruce did." The story of Bruce Wayne is the story of growing up instantly, something kids both want and fear at the same time. And, of course, Batman is a bad-ass thanks to his intellect and strength…and wads of cash, of course, that he uses to help people.  He's a good hero–later we see writers really exploring just how screwed up he is, of course–but as a kid, he's a good hero, I think.

Oddly enough, I never really identified with Spider-Man. I know I was supposed to, that I was supposed to really enjoy the story because he was a kid like me, but when I was a kid, I didn't really want to read about kids like me. I wanted to read about men who were heroes. Yes, I thought it would be cool to have powers and all that, but I could imagine this on my own, I didn't need to read about some kid having powers, I went to bed imagining that. Yes, I read the books, and yes, I watched the cartoons, and all that, and I love the character, but, even now, Spidey doesn't define the comic book hero in my heart–he does in my mind and intellect–but my spirit, the 7 year old kid in me, would never really go and pick that book up.

I was, however, a huge fan of the Incredible Hulk. Now, I am a pretty mellow guy, for the most part–I mean, I have a lot of energy when I need it but I do my best to not be so quick to anger, so I wonder a little bit what my therapist would say (if I had one, I would really hate to be that person, I would be asking him/her all the questions about all the people s/he sees, I bet) if I let it out that I was a huge fan of the Hulk as a kid–a kid, by the way, who would be horrified about what is going on with the Hulk right now. The whole point is that Bruce Banner needs to remain super chill, otherwise, he gets angry and the Hulk comes out.  That was the whole freakin' point, that struggle. It had to be the one person who became an animal; I mean, when I watched the TV show?  I straight up ignored the opening credits when they displayed Lou Ferigno's name as the guy playing the Hulk. For me, it was completely necessary that Bill Bixby actually turned into the Hulk.  (I was really young and self-delusion was part of the program–after each episode my brother and I would play "Hulk" and basically jump from one bed to the other yelling and screaming, tiring ourselves out–it was awesome.)


Finally, there was Iron Man.  I didn't know a whole lot about about alcoholism; I remember, clearly, asking my mom how people could say they "didn't drink"–"what do the do when they get really thirsty?" I asked, but I knew that Tony Stark had it bad.  I actually started reading the book in earnest when Tony wasn't even wearing the Iron Man suit–the main page opened with him passed out next to a dumpster.  But, obviously, this guy had a problem and he was going to do his best to get over this problem.  Not unlike Bruce Wayne, I was drawn to this struggle, this decision to acknowledge that he had a problem but he needed to be hero and that need to be a hero was going to help him get over that problem. I liked the fact that Iron Man hung out with all these other superheroes too–my favorite stories, regardless of title, were team-ups; I found it oddly reassuring that heroes could hang out with each other. When I think about it now, years later, I realize just how similar the characters of Bruce and Tony are, but how deep the differences are as well.  What great characters, right?  Jeez.

There are other heroes, other books, that strike that "comic book" chord, Daredevil comes to mind, The X-Men, but I was older when I started digging those books and my appreciation of them has more to do with the technical aspects of the stories, the plots, rather than the heroes (though I really love Daredevil).  And while I love Superman, in a way, he was always beyond comics, somehow.  Like, I had record books of Superman, I had lunch boxes of Superman, I had Superman sheets–he was kind of an all-around presence in my life, but when I was six, I never spent my own 35¢ on Superman books.


What about you all?  Like, when you think about comic books, which characters come to mind first?  Which characters mean "comics" to you? Why is that, you think?  Thanks for reading and have a great week!


Mike Romo is an actor in LA. Every so often he passes by the Marvel offices and he doesn't go in. He's gonna figure out a way to get in. Try the email, thrill to the Twitter.

Comments

  1. When I was younger and started reading comics I think I was truely enamoured with Superman.  He was dying and everybody was talking about him.  I loved Batman, but in the movie and cartoon, which like Superman for Mike, made him seem beyond comics.  Same goes with X-Men, I didn’t read the book but I loved the cartoon.  I did read the original weapon x mini when it came out, but I think that was because it was so adult themed and I knew I shouldn’t have been reading it.  To a certain extent I loved Cap and the Avengers.  Now that I am older I think that I enjoy reading Spider-Man because (aside from it being well written) because it isn’t the life I’m leading.  I don’t think I want to read about some other guy with the same problems that I was having. 

     Nice article Mike, keep up the good work.

  2. Daredevil. Relatively tough upbringing + lots of Catholic guilt.

    Doesn’t hurt that Daredevil has had some of the best creative teams over the years I have been reading. 

  3. Well, I understand where you are coming from, generally when someone mentions comics, one thinks of super hero comics.  I started out there as well, and I might think of Superman first, he’s such an iconic figure, but over the long haul or history of my interaction with the comic medium, my taste and interest changed over the years.  I don’t always naturally think of super heroes.  If someone ask me to recommend them something to read, I’d certainly mention a super hero book or more.  But I’d also throw something like Maus, Palookaville, Why I Hate Saturn, Sin City, some Chester Brown, something maybe like Mage or Swamp Thing, maybe Sandman or V for Vendetta, and so forth.

    As far as super heroes though I still think Superman and Batman still define hero comics, but I’ve also come to enjoy Captain America and Conan as well. 

  4. "Basically when we were young, we collected heroes like we collected bruises and scabs." Sir, you’ve outdone yourself. Bravo! I’m slowly but surely becoming a huge fan of your column on this site. (Also, you make me miss the little bits of DJing I used to do.)

  5. I liked Barry being able to eat tons of pizza and not worry about getting fat.

  6. Vic Sage. Dude with no face and a trenchcoat and fedora. Blew my tenage mind.

  7. That is a very, very hard question to answer.  Superman feels like the quintessential superhero to me, so I would probably have to go with him, but I do so reluctantly. 

  8. It might be a weird answer, but I have to go with Ultimate Peter Parker. I read comics here and there when I was little, but I didn’t fall in love with the medium until my friend gave me the first USM trade in my sophomore year of high school. He knew I dug superheroes and gave it to me to read in study hall. I tore through the entire series in one semester. (The clone saga had just finished when I started reading.) I’d always loved Spider-Man but had never found a character that I identified with as much as Ultimate Peter Parker. He was more relatable because he was a realistic nerd.

    The thing that got me was how many negative emotions he had. Reading the first arc right after there was a school shooting in my state really resonated with me. He had a lot of rage, a lot of hate and I feel that there were hints had he not found an outlet (superheroing) he may have taken drastic actions along those lines. Someone will probably flame me for saying something like that, but I found it compelling. He dealt with real issues in real ways and his actions had real emotional consequences. Even the stuff he went through with MJ and kitty mirrored my relationships at the time. Since it’s highschool everything feels so high drama anyway, ya know?

     That book defines super-hero comics for me. Always will. It was everything I love about the genre amped up to 11. High drama, high action, big moments with real repercussions. It wasn’t about Spider-Man. It was (and is) about Peter Parker growing up. It’s all about the man he will become and the hero he already is. Anytime I read it, it always takes me back to that turbulent time in my life where the best thing in it were the friends I had on and off the page. It’s odd to find dopplegangers of your friends in a  piece of fiction, but they were always there. Thank you Bendis, and thank you  Peter Parker.

  9. Easy: Hal Jordan.

  10. Oh… and Dick Grayson, no matter what costume he’s wearing. Except maybe that godawful disco number when he first became Nightwing. 

  11. When I think of the word comic book there is a singular issue that pops into my mind. The first i can actually remember getting off the spinner rack and purchasing with money in my pocket. It was an issue of Spider-Man Classics that reprinted the first appearance of the Sandman in ASM #4. To me a comic book hero is that early Ditko Spidey. Someone who tries their hardest and usually scraps by on the skin of their teeth, but when pushed, they go more than the extra mile and become an icon.

  12. First characters that come to mind when I think of comics are Superman, Batman, Spider-man.

    those are the ones that i read when i was a kid.

     

  13. Spider-man, he has always been my favorite comic book character/superhero, the first comic book I ever got was Amazing Spider-man #375, and I just have always related more to him than most other superheroes.  Batman would be a close second.

  14. I’d flip your premise a bit.  I work so hard at making sure that people know comics aren’t just superheroes that I hear the word "comics" and I immediately thing of pages and panels, and as far as I’m concerned, the first hero that comes to mind is Darwyn Cooke, because he shows everything that can be done with comics, from superheroes to crime to whatever, and he does it with a touch of Eisner, a splash or Kirby and a whole lot of Darwyn.

    But that’s just me.

  15. @cubman987  oh man i remember that issue. that fight was badass. I started buying ASM everymonth right when Bagley started penciling and that issue was the one where i was like "this guy is my spider-man artist"

  16. @Josh – I feel the same way. The first thing (not super-hero) that comes to mind when I think of comics has got to be sitting in my basement with my buddy, Joey, and dumping our weeks take on the table and going back and forth about what we were reading, be it mainstream or indy. Those are my favorite comics memories. That sensation of enjoying something with others is just awesome.

  17. For me it was always Iceman (and i guess the rest of the X-men in general) and Spider-man. After I started reading more comics it became those two and Dick Grayson. Although these days I would have to say I feel like Peter Parker more and more, what with the trying to get through college while still being that lovable mix of maturity and immaturity 

  18. My first comic book memory has to be finding that my library had a copy of all three of the Grant Morrison New X-men hardcovers, and then checking the first one out and quickly shoving it into my backpack so no one would know I was reading X-men. (I was way in the closet about my geekiness then)

  19. It is all about Superman for me.  My dad gave me a bunch of old Superman comics and then I discovered my own run starting with the John Byrne – Man of Steel mini.  Absolutely love all of Geoff Johns’ and Gary Franks Superman stuff.  I’m worried that Supes has nowhere to go but down from here.

  20. My comic book hero was and is "The Batman"! My uncle read me The Uncanny X-MEN and Batman Comics when I was just a baby and that was during The Byrne Clairmont Era and Aparo drawing Batman but for my money every freaking month it’s Batman,Batman&Robin, and Red Robin I grew up on The Animated Series, and Justice League and Justice League Unlimited! So when I talk to friends about comics I always mention Batman because he’s the ultimate childhood fantasy and tragedy all rolled up into one great character! I imagined myself as The Batman taking down villians the likes of The Joker,The Penquin, and flirting with Catwoman! Grant Morrison has done a great job on Batman&Robin Tony Daniel sigh it’s not as good as Judd Winnick writing Dick Grayson in The Batsuit! Red Robin is good but the Flashbacks are driving me bats!  

  21. Batman, the hero of my 1st comic book (which I sadly forgot somewhere and lost forever!). Then, when I started following comics for real, Spiderman, Captain America, the X-Men. Claremont’s X-Men (first drawn by Silvestri, later by Jim Lee) will be my gold standard for comics to the rest of my life. And now I’m a Green Lantern fan. 

  22. Robin in my opinion defines comics for me. More so then batman

  23. This may be cheating. . but thinking back to my first comic book , I’d say my first comic book hero (and maybe it’s just becaus he seems relevant in terms of pop-culture again) would be Snake Eyes, from Marvel GI Joe issue 4 ("Tanks for the Memories")

    The guy was the strong, silent type, and he was the kind of action hero a 6 year old would want to be.  He may as well as been a superhero.  You didn’t know what he looked likeunder his mask, he basically had a utility belt, he was a trained fighter and he seemed to have a code of honor. 

    Granted there may be something about having the action figure, and running home to watch a TV show that gives him an unfair advantage at the thime, but like it’s been said on the podcasts many times GI Joe was a gateway comic and there is no character more iconic in the franchise (at least as we know it today) as Snake Eyes.

  24. Superman & Batman were the ones that are rooted the furthest in my memory.  I used to have Superman & Batman pajamas with the capes you could velcro on.  I didn’t get into Spiderman until later on in life, like after my Nintendo phase.

  25. The heroes that define comics for me are mostly obvious, such as, Supes, Spidey, Batman.  However, there are others that I was enamored with as a kid.  Mainly Thor, Wolverine, and the Fantastic Four come to mind.  Some of the first books I got where The Mighty Thor and The Fantastic Four.  I read those books until they fell apart.  Wolverine was the first book I started collected when I was serious about comics as a kid.

    Speaking of collecting as a kid, I was going through my collection I realized I no longer have many of the books that I grew up with.  I’m in the process of going back and collecting several old books I’d like to read again.  I just picked up a copy of Wolverine #41 guest starring Cable and Sabretooth, which i believe was the first Wolverine comic I ever bought.  I was wondering if any of you guys are "missing" several of the old comics you thought you had?  After talking to an old friend I realized we "recycled" several books and many disappeared in exchanges between people.

  26. When I think comics the first thing that immediately pops into my head are 2 covers, Flash 123 and Fantastic Four 1. So they define comic books to me, followed by Supes, Cap, Spidey and Bats. 

    Then my mind wanders into the Losers and Y and such stuff that I love more then the capes and cowls 

  27. I don’t read superhero books so my thoughts are more like Josh’s. I would probably have to go with Terry Moore, particularly Strangers In Paradise. The way he draws expressions and captures emotions is artistic genius.

  28. I would have to say X-Men. Specifically the Onslaught saga and Joe Madureira art.

     I didn’t identify with anyone in the book, I just loved the art. The rich colours and ridiculously enhanced physiques, of both the men and women, hypnotised me.

    Shorty after that I bought a gold foil covered trade of Weapon X during the Age of Apocalypse and I discovered that comics could be wicked stories too. I read that book to death and thankfully I have never looked back since then. I have also never gone out of my way to buy a Joe Mad book again. I do still have a soft spot for his work though!

  29. Definitely Batman, as he’s the first I read and the first that I wanted to be when I grew up.  I think most superheroes with any kind of long history are capable of defining comics.  I think it’s because of all that history, all the different interpretaions, characters, storylines etc.  They represent what makes comics so different from all other storytelling media.  There are no characters/franchises/whatever in any other media with that same wealth or weight of continuity and history.

  30.  I go back to when I started collecting…

    Jim Starlin era Batman (The Cult, Dark Knight, Death in the Family)

    Eastman & Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

     

  31. If we’re talki superherheroes, I’d have to go with Dick Grayson. I have always wanted to swing on a trapeeze under a big top and when I become an eccentric billionare, I just might do that. Plus, I always operated under the impression that Dick would elvolve into a better Batman than Bruce. There’s something powerful watching the heir heair apparent usurp the thrown.

     

    Supes has long been a favorite of mine. The ultimate "Ambitious outsider" who will never be an insider, but will never stop trying.

     Mad Man: Mike Allred’s existential zombie assain turnedwith a heart of gold changed my understanding of comics, superheroes and Pop art.

     

  32. talking superheroes

    captain america, steve rogers cap, ever since i was a little kid. i have captain america eveything. then i got into batman, superman (whom i could identify with cuz i was adopted too), spidy, and etc..

    an artist that particularly stands out when i think comics is Steve McNiven. i love the realistic look and how awesome it looks

    darwyn cooke and leinl yu are my other two

  33. Cap and Superman truly define comics to me.  Although they may not be my favorites, they seem to be quintessential to comics, imo.

  34. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Superman, Spider-Man, and Tintin for me. 

  35. One girl I knew would immediately start talking about She-Hulk the second I mentioned comics.

    For my girlfriend it used to be Sailor Moon, but I’ve helped her switch to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (win!)

    For me, it’s definitely the early 90’s X-Men cartoon team.

  36. The Lee/Kirby ‘Fantastic Four,’ man.

  37. @paul did they have a tintin comic book? that’s awesome

  38. @actualbutt minus jubilee

  39. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @vadamowens – Of course. He’s best known as a comics character. 

  40. Spidey-He never takes anything too serious, is from Queens NY, and he deals with real world everyday problems. Getting his rent paid, helping his Aunt, doing good in job/school, having a fox for a girlfriend and dealing with psychotic people that want him dead…..wait…

  41. Spidey was what got me into comics the first and the second time, so I would definitely include him in the list.  Another for me is definitely the X-Men.  While I don’t read any of the books now, I used to love them back in the late 80’s, early 90’s.  And the Silver Surfer.  I don’t know why, but there it is.

  42. @paul lol, I’m thinking of rin tin tin.  I’m retarded.

  43. Defiantly Batman for me. Just hearing the word "comics" makes me think of so many great Batman stories.

  44. Superman, spider-man, captain america, and batman. These guys lead the pack everytime i think of comics. My first superhero comic was the amazing spiderman. For the most part i was introduced to these heroes during those awesome nineties cartoons. It wasn’t until my current teens when i started reading the stories and found out they were more awesome than i could possibly imagine. Maybe because in comics you get more freedom (y’know basically all the stuff you can’t show in a cartoon but is okay in a comic.) Besides the freedom in comics, these characters have shown me morals that i take dear to heart and i’ll pass on to my kids. No fairy tales for them, they’ll go to sleep on the adventures of some of the many characters of my youth.