Comic books are like crack to me. While most people either read one or two books a year or donít read anything save for the daily paper, I tend to overload my brain by reading a comic, a regular book, and a biography or a book of prose at the same time depending on my mood. I donít think of myself as a comic geek, though. I have a healthy love life and I donít live with my mom. When I go to Donís Atomic Comics (my dealer of choice), I often see guys getting dropped off by their moms or waiting in the car while they get the latest issue of Ultimate Spiderman or what have you. I am not that guy. Those guys give a bad name to those of us who enjoy comics while leading a functional life at the same time.
All the big budget comic movie adaptations have gone a long way in removing the stigma that comic lovers have had to live with. When I was fourteen, I stopped reading comics altogether because somebody in high school goofed on me and didnít pick it up again until my mid-20s. For a good ten years, I read Stephen King, Clive Barker, Bret Easton Ellis and then branched out to other writers and genres only to get sucked back into buying graphic novels for the stories instead of the collectible value. Titles like Sandman, Preacher, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing and Lucifer got me hooked again with their ten volume series runs and surprisingly grown up storylines. While I was growing up, the industry grew up with me and branched out to cater to an older demographic.
The films have been hit or miss. Purists despise most of the big screen translations, but itís a different medium that targets a broader audience, so I understand that nine times out of ten the film versions of my favorites arenít going to be direct transfers from their pulp predecessors. Batman Begins walked a delicately fine line between staying true to the mythos and making a few compromises for the sake of film. I canít wait until next summer when The Dark Knight comes out and Christopher Nolan surprises us all again with the shocking casting decision of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Iím a Batman Superfreak. Well, to be more accurate, Iím a Joker fanatic. Heís the real star of the series if you ask me. It can be argued that Tim Burtonís Batman paved the way for the glut of comic films we have today. They made money, plain and simple, so Hollywood started churning out more.
And I have NO idea why most people didnít enjoy Superman Returns. I watched it five times and every time it got better. A lot of people complained that there wasnít enough action and those people are douche bags. The pacing was perfect, the cinematography was incredible, and in two and a half hours, Bryan Singer brought the franchise out of the gutter. The Spiderman movies appear to have the most commercial appeal, and I like them and all, but find that theyíre not as enjoyable with repeated viewings. I have yet to see the third installment and responses have been mixed. Spiderman just isnít important enough to warrant seeing in the theater and since Iím a completionist, Iíll end up buying it on DVD anyway. You canít buy one or two movies in a trilogy. Thatís how it works.
And thereís always a weak link in the chain when it comes to any trilogy, but it was disappointing that each X-Men movie got successively worse. íIím Juggernaut, Bitch!í? Seriously? Are you kidding me? Bryan Singer was wise to go off and direct Superman instead of having his name attached to the third film. I never liked the comic and they barely held my attention on film. The first movie was pretty damned good and the following two were deplorable. Thank god that franchise is over. I hope. For some reason, DC adaptations carry more successfully to the screen than their Marvel counterparts. The Punisher was pretty damned good, though, and Iím really looking forward to seeing Robert Downey Jr. suit up as Iron Man next summer.
Most comic geeks agree that Hellboy was a great movie even though it was a commercial disaster at the box office. And for some reason, Alan Moore never carries over well to the silver screen. From Hell, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V For Vendetta (or The Matrix 4, as some like to call it) were all unforgivable shit on screen. Moore is so perfect on the pulp page that any attempt to translate his work into film is a recipe for disaster. One could almost say the same thing about Frank Miller (Sin City, 300), although his movie adaptations have been a lot more popular. I think his dialogue comes off as a bit corny on screen compared to their execution on paper, though.
As for the comics, Iíll always be a DC/Vertigo guy. The Vertigo imprints are pure gold, reprinting some of the best storylines in the history of comics. Over the last ten years, Marvel has continued to box themselves into a corner by pulling sensationalistic bullshit like killing off their heroes (Captain America), running variant front covers so that their remaining fans will buy more copies of each comic, and doing ridiculous off-shoots and futuristic what-ifs riffing on their best franchises (Marvel Zombies, Ultimate Spiderman, etc.). What they come off as is Ultimate Pieces Of Shit. Screw Marvel and everything they stand for. Thatís my position and Iím sticking to it. If you take offense to that, Iíll fight you and all of your asthma inhaling friends single handed. Make sure your mom waits in the car, because you wonít want her to see you catch the beating of a lifetime.
And in the same way that film enthusiasts follow great directors first and great actors second, itís always better to follow great writers first and great artists second. If you donít have a good story, no amount of quality artwork is going to save you. Sure, there are some series that attract the best and the brightest, but if you follow a great writer at the top of his craft, you canít lose. Alan Moore, Mike Carey, Brian Azzarello, Brian K. Vaughn, Ed Brubaker, Kyle Baker, Adrian Tomine and Darwyn Cooke are all equally impressive on the printed page. Neil Gaimen, Grant Morrison and Frank Miller have all had their moments too, but theyíve peaked. The industry tends to burn the good writers out eventually, signing them on for multiple series runs and wooing them from one end of the pond to the other until theyíre exhausted. Itís sad to see, but in a business that lives and dies by fickle tastes, these guys have to make their money while they can before a different flavor of the month crops up.
I got to interview three of my heroes a few years ago and I feel obligated to follow their work. After talking to Mike Carey, Brian Azzarello and Brian K. Vaughn, I feel like Iíve got a deeper understanding of their creative process and, by extension, a deeper enjoyment in their work. Nothing can replace Mike Careyís Lucifer now that the series is over for me. Nothing. I just have to live with the sad realization that no comic I read for the rest of my life will entertain and inspire as well as that one did. There are some great series out there, donít get me wrong, but no storyline will ever take the place of Lucifer. I re-read the series every fall and find new appreciation every time. I made a bet with Don (of Donís Atomic) that I could land an interview with Alan Moore and got within striking distance, but Moore isnít conducting any interviews for now. The guyís an institution, and heís established enough of a foot-hold in the business that he really doesnít need to do any more interviews to promote himself. After losing the bet, I had to buy fifty dollars worth of comics that the staff picked out. Weird, freaky black and white independent comics like Stray Bullets and Mail Order Bride that I wouldnít normally buy. I read them and ended up getting hooked on those, too. Damn you, Donís Atomic! Damn you to hell!
I will literally spend 150-300 dollars every time I stop in to buy comics, so I have to keep my distance most of the time. Unlike the rest of my hobbies (which are legion), I canít restrain myself when it comes to buying comics. Itís an addiction, but thankfully, I can write most of it off on my taxes as íresearchí as long as I write about them. So Iíll be deducting the last shopping trip thanks in large part to this article. Take that, IRS!
As long as I have a girlfriend, get sex every week and drive myself to the comic store, I can consider myself a recovering comic geek. Itís a fine line, though. One false move and I could turn into one of those guys with uncombed hair and a mottled complexion who wears iron-on superhero t-shirts in public with striped shorts and holds lengthy arguments over which Doctor Doom appearance made the top five. Hopefully, I will never set up action figure dioramas in my back yard to play with when my friends come over or have my car emblazoned with a Transformers logo. Those guys are f-ing losers, and they make the rest of us look bad by comparison. Not all comic readers are that guy, and that guy should shave his palms, get some sun and get laid before he pisses his life away reading Ultimate Spiderman between mole shaving sessions with his mom. Iíll always be addicted to comics. Iíd like to be a healthy member of society at the same time as well, though.