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HEY DORK! LET'S TALK COMICS!
part 1

by: Max Burbank

When I proposed the idea of writing a section on Comic Books for I-Mockery, my first question was, where the hell to start!? I began reading comics soon after I learned to read at all, which means it was around 1969. To my great shame I have been reading them ever since.

They cost 15 cents an issue. There were relatively few books on the market and since I was only interested in Superheroes the number of books that concerned me was quite small. It was possible to follow every character and every event going on in the two main publisher's "universes". In addition, my brain was younger, more supple and manageable than it now is. I recall a point about three years into my reading when I had a toy chest bursting with comics, several hundred, and with a mere glance at the cover I could summarize the story. To my great shame, I did, to anyone willing to listen. I can only hope that I was not as loathsome and pitiable as children I have seen do this trick since, but it seems doubtful.

Despite the calcification of my brain, or perhaps because of it, I can no more forget the vast storehouse of useless information that uses the Neurons where I might otherwise store important phone numbers, the birthdates of my immediate family and images of athletic, naked women with eye patches...

arrrrrrrrrrrr

...than I can stop buying the damn things which now go for between $2.25 and $5.99 depending on what the exact tipping point of your stupidity is.

All of this returns me to the question: Where to start!?

Should this be a History of the medium? No. Many fine writers have already done this. I have nothing particular to add to the body of this scholarly work. In addition I mean to crib from it, and also I can't be bothered to do real research or even check the accuracy of my writing.

Should this be a memoir? Good question. A sort of tour of my life as recalled through the comic books I read. No. For a few reasons. First, that sounds like a good idea and I'm saving all my good ideas for the day someone wants to pony up some serious scratch. I don't know how many good ideas I'm capable of generating, and I've already used up a lot of them on images of athletic, naked women with eye patches...

oh Ed!

Second, I think we can all agree most memoirs are pretty damn gay.

Does an interest in Superhero comics spanning more than thirty years and costing several thousand dollars mean you're gay? Surprisingly, no. I myself am almost entirely not gay. It is more possible to be drawn to stories of men in very tight clothes grappling with each other...

RAAAAAAAAR!

...and be heterosexual than it is to enjoy Broadway Musicals or the work of ABBA. Recognizing this, many of today's comic books feature improbably large breasted women in what can only be called Fetish Pornography for the Very Lonely Semi Pubescent Boy set. In my day, almost all the superheroes were men with huge pecs, good legs and a habit of solving all their problems via grappling. I don't know why there is not a huge gay comic fan subculture, like the Judy Garland subculture or the Jeb Bush subculture...

hooooooooo hooooooooooo!

I can only say that if comic books had the power to make you gay, I'd be unbelievably gay by now. I mean the kind of gay that's so off the gay meter it can be seen from space like the Great Wall of China, except gay.

How About Batman? Gay? The Batman suffers from a driven, compulsive personality that leaves him very little time for sex. During that time, however, he'll screw anything that moves...

SIEGFRIED? ROY?

Ask anyone. I mean, come on. 'Boy Wonder'? 'Dick' Grayson? 'Aunt' Harriet? But don't believe a word Ace the Bat Hound says. That dog is a pathological liar.

So what will this column be about? Something different very time. See, stupid as comics may be today, they were unbelievably stupider back when I started. And like 'Star Trek V' and Intestinal Flu, sometimes the worse it is, the better it is. Except for intestinal flu. The worse that is, the more likely you are to die of dehydration.

I'll give you a 'for instance', and it's the big 'for instance'. In 1985, Writer Marv Wolfman and Artist George Perez began releasing multi issue miniseries called "Crisis on Infinite Earths".

WELCOME TO REALITY!

Its intention was to take the very confusing continuity of the Universe of DC comics (Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman) and simplify it to the point that new readers could jump on board without an Encyclopedia Dorkanica. It also aimed to explain how Superman and Batman, who at the time had been around as adult crimefighters for more than forty years were able to fight crime without Bat-walkers and Super colostomies.

It took a lot longer to shake things out than planned (about a decade) but for the most part, they achieved those goals.

That was twenty years ago. That means many (oh, screw it, probably all) of you comic fans reading this grew up in this current 'post crisis' (oh, Christ, I'm totally going to hell for knowing terminology like that, let alone using it) continuity.

In this new continuity there are some things that make nice, tidy sense. Buckle up your dweeb belts for a second. The 'Golden Age Flash', Jay Garrick (looks sort of like the FTD florist guy, but less naked) was the first Flash, in the 1940's. He's still around. Apparently running around at near light speed is really good for your health. During a brief period of retirement, a new guy, Police scientist Barry Allen (blond, Crewcut, real square, daddy-o) got super speed, updated to an all red jump suit with a mask, and he was the Flash. He got a kid sidekick (Wally West) which in the sixties you had to have, just like how NAMBLA cardholders need one now. When this second Flash kicked the bucket, Kid Flash became The Flash. It's generational. We understand it. We follow in our father's footsteps. Better still, it can keep working. When I'm getting fed pabulum by an angry Haitian whom I think is my daughter at the Poorly Funded Old Age Home of the Not Too Distant Future, DC comics won't need to explain how the Flash is 80 something and still beating on punks. They'll have a new one. Hell, they'll probably keep all of them around because they don't know a good plot device when they've got one. Also, no one stays dead in comic books. I'll do a whole feature on that some other time.

There are also some things about the new continuity that don't make much sense. Superman? Not so super anymore. Follow me, and incidentally, if you find yourself caring about this anywhere near as much as I do, shoot yourself in the head. Historically, Superman is the first costumed Superhero. You want to argue about The Phantom, The Shadow, The Scarlet Friggin' Pimpernel, be my guest, but that would mean you've already tumbled off the tightrope I walk over the Geek abyss and I don't like to talk to the squealey voiced, overweight, lonely arse, Flying Walendas your local comic shop is brimming with. Listen, if you don't feel at least a bitter needle in the spine of shame just reading this column, I don't want a damn thing to do with you. It's not a guilty pleasure without the damn guilt, okay?

So we agree Superman invented the superhero. It's the only way that makes sense. He's the allfather, he's Odin, that's the only thing that keeps him from being a miserable all-powerful bore. But in the current continuity, he's not the first; he's just the best. He's like, the Michael Jordan of superheroes, he came into a well-established game and he's recognized as the best. Which is fine, but not Superfine. I mean, okay, you come to Earth a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, what the hell are you gonna do? Be a really terrific Dentist? Look, up in the sky, it's

STARS!

...Uh Green Lantern and Starman and Hawkman and Bullet Man and by Christ Airwave and a zillion other Joes flying around in capes and brightly colored underwear with stupid names. 'I know! I'll do that too!' That's Super? Same with Batman. "I'm like that Mr. Terrific Guy...

HE'S FAIR. LIKE MY FAIR LADY. :(

...except way meaner and I don't have the words "Fair Play" written on my tummy, because that only strikes fear in the hearts of guys what do wire fraud. "The Wonder Woman of Today? The original Wonder Woman's daughter. She made her out of clay. Like a dreidel. Thank God today's comic book writers are so much better than they used to be.

None of which is my point. My point is, that continuity may be all messed up, but it makes a sort of sense and it's yours. It's not mine, even if I want it to be. Because when I started reading comic books, it worked like this:

The Original superheroes my dad read about? They lived on a parallel Earth in another dimension that occupied the same space as ours, see, but vibrated at a different frequency. And that one, the first one, was Earth 2. On Earth 1, we had the Superman, Batman, Flash, etc I grew up on who started being introduced in 1962 (The year I was born, I'm sure that means something) and at the start were mostly revamps of characters who'd stopped being published in the late '40's early 50's 'cause no one was reading them. See, that was a continuity rewrite too, just like Crisis, but little kids like me didn't know crap about some Green lantern that wasn't Hal Jordan and who didn't belong to a cosmic police force. And at first, they didn't even tell us anything! Then they started sneaking old comic books into the new comic books! The Flash, see, he was reading old issues of "The Flash"! My Flash, the real flash was inspired by the comic book Flash my Dad would have read if he'd been a nerdy little sociopath like me instead of a Swarthmore Pre-med from Brooklyn. And then, okay, see, the comic book Flash shows up in the real Flash's world!

LOOKOUT! THEY'RE COMING!
Despite dialogue, the audience for comic books is surprisingly heterosexual.

And he's real too!! From another damn dimension! And Pretty soon the heroes are going back and forth, and the Justice League is having annual hoe downs with the Justice society, and Heroes who get all bent out of shape on earth 2 over some tragedy or whatnot come live on Earth 1, and wait, wait, don't forget Earth 3 where the Crime Syndicate hangs out, all the heroes over there, see, they're VILLIANS! And on Earth X? That's where all the heroes DC bought the rights to when Quality Comics went out of business live, Uncle Sam and The Ray and Phantom Lady who wore less clothes than any other costumed hero besides The Sub Friggin Mariner!

DO THEY FIGHT TERRORISTS TOO?

And on this world, GET THIS, BRACE YOURSELF, The NAZIS WON WORLD WAR II!! HOLY CRAP! And then, there was this earth where the real guys who actually wrote comics lived, I have no idea what world that was, but every once in a while the superheroes they wrote about would should up in their world which was presumably MY ACTUAL REAL LIFE WORLD which meant SUPERHEROES REALLY WERE REAL!! JUST FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION!!

I swear to God it was enough to give a kid in 1969 a nosebleed of sheer joy. It was so blissfully stupid and I'm sure it would never fly today, but here's what I'm saying. It was great. And it was great in a way that's never going to happen again. The paper quality is too good, the coloring, good lord, you can hardly look at the comics I grew up on... they're so pale and feeble and white. They cost too much. No one, no one is going to put up with the heroes of Earth 14 who look like our heroes but the sexes are reversed and they're all werewolves and Nixon beat Kennedy if it costs $3.99 an issue. That is, at best, a 25-cent conceit. Eighty Page giant, one new story, three reprints from the Golden Age. That's a lot of comic book for a quarter, and it doesn't all need to be good.

So, what else is this little corner of I-Mockery going to be? I don't know, what do you want? I'm kidding. I'll start caring what you want when you start paying me. And I don't mean the publisher, he pays me what he can from time to time... I mean you. I'll do this. You have a question? Email me. I'll read your email and if it interests me I'll write something on it for the column. But if its about your poopy, forget it, and most of the emails I get through this site are about people's poopies. Think I'm kidding? I wish. From time to time I'll review single issues, series, or collections, both current and from the past. Beyond that, damned if I know.

Until next time, SO LONG, DORKS!

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