Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tales to come

Sorry again about taking a mulligan yesterday. It was something of a perfect storm, starting off the week with the sinking realization that the people I am relying on to help push my project across the finish line are no help at all. And I don’t mean I need their help in the sense of “this big heavy load will be easier to move with assistance, harder to move by myself” I mean it in the sense that “my hands are tied as far as what I’m allowed to do (even now, after all the certification and compliance hoops I’ve been jumping through all dang year) and I need someone else who is duly empowered to take care of it on my behalf, but those people keep asking me questions that I have no answers for, and no way to ascertain the answers, because SEE ABOVE RE: HANDS, TIED”. Combine that with the fact that it barely hit the high 70’s yesterday and yet the air conditioning in the building was cranked up (like it’s late August or something) and altogether I was grinding my teeth and hunching my shoulders and losing feeling in my fingers and eventually my eyeballs and sinuses felt like they were going to pop and I couldn’t focus on much of anything. I was pretty useless when I got home, too, but some sleep put me right and today I’m trying to maintain calm as I continue banging my head against the wall. So far, so so.

At any rate, that’s more or less yesterday’s news. Today what I should be blogging about is Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, which was something I assigned myself as SUMMER SCHOOL make-up work (everyone was reading the book late last year, which sure enough was about when I got my copy, though it’s been languishing on my shelf ever since). The problem, for once, is not that I have too little to say about a book, but that I have far, far too much to cram into a single blog post. Long story short, Howe’s book is really very good. I’ve read plenty of books about Marvel Comics which were more or less produced by or with the blessings of the House of Ideas, and thus which were rah-rah pro-Marvel all the way. I’ve also read a few books about the comics industry as a whole, which shift the partisan/factual balance but also tend to mainly cover the early years of the artform in the late Depression and World War II era through maybe the mid-70’s or so; in other words the birth of superheroes, the disappearance of superheroes, the resurgence of superheroes (which is the point at which Marvel Comics as we know it emerges), some superhero experimentation and then the settling into the status quo.

The problem with the general overview approach described above is that they tend to start wrapping up the history lesson right at the point where I was born or was a little kid, which means everything comics-related I ever experienced first-hand isn’t covered. And the problem with the Marvel-centric stuff is, obviously, the difference between marketing materials and actual historical-critical analysis. So I’m grateful for Howe’s book because not only does it focus on Marvel’s history as a warts-and-all, yet still surprisingly non-judgmental, subject of fascination, but it covers developments well into the 21st century, which allows me to compare my own mental notes of what I was reading in middle school, high school, college, and even later.

I have a couple of quibbles with Howe’s take on Marvel, but only here and there. Overall, again, it’s a great book, even-handed and illuminating. Howe gets it, he’s clearly a fan and he often makes points by citing examples of comics by name without over-explaining the reference, which probably means if someone had never read a comic book in their life and tried to read this book a lot of it would go over their head, but for someone who is obsessive about the inner workings of a fictional universe published serially for fifty-some years, it’s just about perfect. (And there’s surprisingly little middle ground between those two extreme examples, I reckon.) Honestly there are fewer things that I out-and-out disagree with than there are things which I can’t believe Howe left out of his story, although I do understand that making the book 800 pages rather than 400 probably would have cut down on its sales numbers somewhat.

I’ll always self-identify as a huge and lifelong Green Lantern nerd, and GL of course belongs to DC Comics, the Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman side of the great Big Two divide. But I read a lot of Marvel Comics growing up. A LOT. And there was a time when it was assumed that you were either a Marvel person or a DC person, and I was without a doubt a Marvel person, as paradoxical as that may sound. You could make the argument that part of our identity as capitalist Americans is wrapped up in being raised to love certain companies and corporations, from their logos to their figureheads, and Marvel Comics was the prime example of that in my misspent youth. I would rather have eaten at a mom-and-pop pizza parlor than at McDonald’s, but I was passionate about Marvel and felt like I had some kind of emotional bond with their public face, Stan Lee (that’s him up above). I have no shortage of both fond and frustrating memories of Marvel from growing up, and no shortage of opinions about them either. And as I said, a surprising number of those memories weren’t really captured in Howe’s book.

So obviously, it falls to me to expand on Howe’s work via this blog, and to tell MY Untold Story about Marvel Comics. Coming soon, probably this fall! (UPDATE: It took until mid-November, but here's where I finally got the ball rolling.) A recurring series of posts of indeterminate length and duration examining the ups and downs of a funnybook publisher as seen through the eyes of a burgeoning geek and big fan. I’m looking forward to it already.

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