I’ve gone on and on previously as to why my comic book reading is few and far between these days, likely taking me the full gamut from childhood comic fan to young adult comic aficionado to now being that parent who will one day tell my son that those funnybooks were ‘better in my day!’
With that said, and in all fairness, I thought I should at least give a shout out to the few comic books that I do love to purchase and read, notably because they hold a connection to all the timeless features of comics and characters from my childhood.
Batman ’66 – I’m glad to see the Adam West and Burt Ward era of Batman finally getting a little well-deserved respect. For the longest time, artists, writers, filmmakers, comic readers – they all cringed at the mere mention of the 1966 Batman TV series. I have some friends that still do. But you know what? THEY didn’t make Batman lighthearted, they merely reflected (and accurately, I might add) the Batman comic books of the time period. And catching reruns as a kid (when the Michael Keaton film was coming out, so reruns were everywhere) I loved it. I still do.
Every month I get a comic I can pick up and count on to deliver some whiz-bang-pow fun with very colorful villains just as I remember them. It tells great, done-in-one-issue stories that are like they walked right out of the 60s. It’s a wonderful throwback to simpler times of comic books. I even submitted a proposal for a Batman ’66 story I wrote myself featuring Louie the Lilac and The Minstrel, but alas, any comic with “Bat” in the title these days is big business and small writers like myself are usually not let into the club. Thus, I will continue merely as an entertained reader.
Adventures of Superman – It’s true when I say they just don’t publish Superman comics like they used to. As I’ve mentioned in my lament about comics these days trying to be more evergreen and ready to launch into movies and TV shows, everyone is young, unattached, with very little history to draw upon. This book, however, is different.
And that’s just why I love it.
It’s classic Superman. The Superman we all know, whether we watched George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, or just Supes cartoons, you can pick up this anthology, with anywhere from 1-3 stories per issue, and just get classic tales of Superman, the way we all remember him in our memories.
I remember the first time I heard that catchphrase “Who Knows What Evil….Lurks in the Hearts of Men?” or that sinister laugh. I was hooked. Still am.
While the first few issues of this new comic series were more bloody than I would like (I prefer my Shadow a bit more cerebral, like the Orson Welles-era radio plays), the fact that the series keeps itself set in the 1930s is enough to keep me reading.
Another side note on my writing career – I also sent a proposal pitch to Dynamite Entertainment for a Shadow: Classics series, which would adapt some of the old radio scripts to comic form. Alas, once again, it went unanswered. Maybe someone else will pick up on it and do it. Heck, I’d just like to read it. Some of those old radio plays were downright eerie.
Life with Archie – I was never a regular reader of Archie growing up, but sporadically, as a kid, I’d pick up an issue to see what that red-headed ladies’ man was up to. This book intrigued me when I came across it in the grocery store because it’s Archie and his pals all grown up.
On top of that, each book is actually two books. You get one story set in a hypothetical universe where Archie has married Betty and another set in a world where Archie has married Veronica. Yes, Archie apparently gets to have his cake and eat it too.
Either way, he and the gang deal with very adult issues and problems and I love seeing the chances taken by placing these characters in a new, grown-up environment.
So, there you have it. What my comic reading is up to these days. In between these occasional reads, I’ll usually try to sneak in a novel or non-fiction book here and there, or an old comic hardcover or collected edition off my bookshelf, something from the past that I know I enjoyed and will continue to love.
And see, I even was willing to spill the beans to you all about my hopeless attempts at comic pitches that are just out there in the ether. I haven’t quite admitted those to anybody, so there you go. Two for the price of one. 🙂
Almost nine months ago, I poured my heart out after a frequent four-legged visitor to our backyard, whom Meg and I lovingly nicknamed “Monster” (for the extra toes that came with his Polydactyl nature) showed up again after one of his trademark absences, bloodied and injured.
Although we knew we couldn’t keep him with three feline sons of our own and one human baby running around, we got him into our basement, cleaned up the best Meg could and the next day, got him off to the Humane Society so he could get the help and care he needed. If you can’t tell from my original entry, my heart broke that day. Monster had been showing up in our yard shortly after we got our first cat, but he wouldn’t start showing love and affection until years later, following a lengthy disappearance. He really had become like our fourth cat, but was more like our equivalent of a barn cat, coming and going out of our detached garage, with me checking in on him before work each day, leaving behind food, blankets, some petting, whatever he would need to get through the times.
I figured it was time for an update on my buddy, Monster. Since that time, I have been making periodic trips to the Humane Society to check in on him, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s recognized me every time. While it’s made me sad that I couldn’t take him back with me, I learned quite a few things about him from the folks at the shelter.
First of all, he’s around 5-8 years old. And, his friendly demeanor, seems to be a permanent trait not just limited to me. I was frequently told as I’d visit that he became a sort of, unofficial greeter for all those entering the cat room at the shelter. He would meet them at the door, talk to them, show a little head-bunt love and show them around.
My trips continued whenever I could. I’d talk with him, pet him, tell him how glad I was that he was healthy again, and that, while I missed him terribly, this was going to lead to a nice new home for him.
I stopped by within the past few weeks for a visit, but things were different this time – he was no longer there.
I asked around and, while it took those almost nine months, our little Monster (his name changed once in the shelter, of course), has been adopted and given a home. I don’t know the details (it’s not the kind of thing they’d just release willy-nilly), but it’s a home. All those years of dodging dogs, cars and storms, looking for food or somewhere comfy to just rest are now gone. When I got home that day, I felt a twinge of sadness knowing that this now means I won’t ever see the little guy again, but it’s balanced out (or perhaps the scale is tipped quite heavily) with a feeling that my former garage-buddy can spend his remaining years being pet, keeping warm, and feeling the love of a household.
Shouldn’t they all get to feel that way?
Him getting the gift of a loving home after all that’s occurred is one of the greatest gifts I could be given.
Merry Christmas, little Monster, wherever you are, buddy. 🙂
If you have yet to see this movie, and you want to believe that human beings can be good, decent people, please do so. Don’t bother with made-for-tv versions or theatrical remakes years later. Go for the real deal. Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood.
If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll give you the gist – a white-bearded, jovial man who happens to be in the right place at the right time, is a last-minute replacement for a drunken Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He’s such a hit, he’s hired to be the department store Santa. So ‘goodwilled’ is he, that when Macy’s doesn’t have the toys kids are looking for, he sends them to rival department stores. The head of Macy’s loves it and instructs all employees to recommend other stores that carry products they’re out of. It’s the goodwill gesture and PR event of the century. Other stores jump on board and commercialism seems to be thrown out the window. Until a grumpy store psychiatrist doesn’t care for Kris Kringle and pushes to have him committed on the grounds that if he claims to be Santa, he must be insane.
A hearing and then a trial ensues, where a plucky young lawyer sets out to prove the impossible, that the man in court is in fact, the one and only Santa Claus. He does so too, in a wonderful, spectacular way.
The court wants proof from a ‘recognized authority’ that this man is Santa? Well, leave it to a disgruntled postal employee to set the wheels in motion. The Santa trial is making headlines and with lots of letters to Santa needing somewhere to go, the postal service has them all delivered to the NYC-based courthouse where the trial is being held.
The U.S. Postal Service – a recognized government entity, therefore acknowledges (as it is a crime to willfully misdirect mail) that the man in the courtroom receiving those letters is Santa Claus. How can the county court disagree with that?
It’s a spectacular and charming scene and every single time it happens, every time the case is dismissed, and young, cynical little Susan believes, it just give me reason not only to believe in the spirit of old St. Nick, but in how good people can be.
It’s the type of movie I can’t wait to show my son one day. I look forward to watching each year, and sometimes, a few times during the year. Not because of Christmas (in fact, it was originally released to theaters in the summer!), but because it’s about hope, about believing.
As lawyer Fred Gailey says in the film of Kris Kringle: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”
Forget the presents, forget church and religion. For me, that is what the entire season is about – believing in the goodness of people, believing and hoping for a better world, where people treat and help each other all year-long like they show they can during those few weeks of the holidays.
As Kris Kringle himself says: “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”
I’m a sentimental sap, I know.
But hey, it keeps me believing. And I’m 33.
One of the things I love about the holidays is some of the great history that comes along with it. I’m an absolute sucker for the History Channel’s documentaries on the stories behind Halloween, Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas.
The old photos, newspaper clippings, engravings – there’s just something so amazing to not only learn how these traditions we know today came to be (many of which are not what we think), but some of the most iconic moments to come about throughout them.
That’s why I’m so in love with the story of the “Yes, Virginia” letter from 1897. In fact, I even did a reading of it when I was working in broadcasting when I was anchoring the news on Christmas Eve last year. It’s just another one of those things, like my soft spot for “Miracle on 34th Street” that fill you a wonderful feeling of why, whether you’re young or old, a good dose of belief in goodwill and representatives of it, such as Santa Claus, make life a lot less dreary.
When eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon was beginning to doubt the existence of Santa because of peer pressure from her friends, she took her father at his word that if it’s in the New York Sun, ‘it’s so’ and wrote a letter to the editor of the paper in 1897. That letter read:
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” – Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.
The response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897 and was penned by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church. Since that time, it’s become a part of American folklore at the holidays, and has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
Church published his response as follows:
“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
What a wonderful response. Maybe I’m partial because of my journalism past and I love the idea of a media outlet coming out with such a response to not only support, but boost her belief. It’s the way it should be. In a day and age when it seems so easy to be unhappy or unkind, isn’t it nice to show kids (and us adults), that there’s a little Santa in all of us?
I think so. 🙂
I’m going to geek out a bit and talk about comic books and families.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a reader of comic books for most of my life. The tastes have changed, as have the characters, topics, and nature of it all, but it dawned on me recently that one of the things that has been a constant staple of my affection and love of the genre is a connection to the idea that characters go through life, change and age, just like the rest of us.
Long before I became a parent, as far back as at the age of ten, I was intrigued by the idea of ‘legacies’ in comic books. By legacies, I mean the passing of the mantle, families, all of it. The mere fact that characters were allowed to grow and change.
These days, I admit that I don’t read too many modern-day comic books. Giant companies like Disney and Warner Brothers own Marvel Comics and DC Comics, respectively, and what they want these days are properties – characters and worlds that they can quickly spread into movies, toys, cartoons and a myriad of other cross-merchandising. For those companies, though, properties need to be timeless.
It used to be that heroes grew up, sidekicks grew up, took over, some died, some had families, and it made it all interesting. Today, executives and editors have chosen to hit a giant, cosmic ‘reset’ button. Now, the heroes of the 40s are gone. Batman, Superman, many of their brethren, instead of being in their 30s/40s with families, etc, are all in their early 20s. No one’s married anymore. It’s all just…uninteresting. And when you read news articles with quotes from these companies and editors, they claim it’s because the stuff before it (generations, families, spouses, etc) were what was boring.
For me it was just the opposite.
While it may sound like the raving of a comic fanboy or grown-up, old nerd, there’s more to it than ‘back in my day…’ I’m 33 years old. I’m a dad. I look in my son’s eyes and I see myself, my wife, our families before us, and all that lies ahead of him.
When I as a kid, comic books, especially DC Comics (of which I was a big reader) told great stories that intrigued me, because the characters had lived life, were changing, and in some cases, were growing old.
I’ll give you a few examples. When I was a kid, I was intrigued with the fact that long before my generation, there was a team of super-heroes known as The Justice Society, who were fighting crime during the 1940s. Even before my parents time, sure, but the thought that there were super heroes during that World War II era fascinated me, especially because these characters WERE STILL AROUND!
Not only that, they were around and older!
Picking up a comic book in the 80s and early 90s, I was finding that the Green Lantern of the 1940s, The Flash of the 1940s, characters like Dr. Mid-Nite, The Hourman were offering advice, guidance, and the occasional side by side fistfight with villains, alongside the heroes of the day. For a ten to twelve year old reader, this was a mind-blowing, yet wonderful concept. Imagine finding out your grandparents had been super heroes, and they and some of their friends were still occasionally hopping into the game, inspiring your parents and people your age to do good.
There was even a revived Justice Society comic book series in the 1990s that had the aging heroes dealing with their place in a modern world. Whether it was heart attacks, medication, what the public thought of them, whether younger generations of heroes were too violent, or whether they were still making a difference, it was an incredible perspective, and one that I was mesmerized by as a kid. The book sold well and had a great following. Unfortunately, the book’s writer has stated time and again that DC Comics editor of the time, Mike Carlin thought ‘no one wants to read about elderly super heroes’ and abruptly cancelled the series. It was sad.
Even as a pre-teen, I felt that these characters were getting a raw deal due to ageism.
Characters like The Flash (one of my favorites as a kid) was another great example of legacies. You had Jay Garrick, the super-speeding Flash of the 1940s who grew old, retired, occasionally making an appearance to help the younger generation. Then you had Barry Allen, who took up the mantle after Jay retired, was the Flash for a decade or two and then died while saving the world (the way a hero should go out). With that, the former kid sidekick Kid Flash, took up the mantle and became the third generation Flash, and there would eventually be even more speedsters. Once again, the kid in me thought this concept was incredible. It was like discovering your grandparent or elderly neighbor had been a super hero in the 40s, your parent or uncle, inspired to do the same, had done so after him, and then, you knew the time would come when it was your turn, and that, in time, you’d also pass the mantle on to someone else.
Even Batman had some legacy. Back in those days, the story in comics went that Batman had gotten trained by retired 1940s hero Wildcat, and found much inspiration to join the costumed variety of hero while watching the 1940s Green Lantern fight crime while he was a kid.
The fictional character of Batman at that time was in his 30s/40s. Dick Grayson was all grown up and maybe that’s why when Bruce Wayne got injured in a long storyline of the 90s, it just felt natural for me as a reader that Dick Grayson then take up the mantle to become Batman.
It was sadly, not meant to last, and after about a year or less, Bruce made a miraculous recovery and became Batman once again. They repeated the concept some ten years later or so, but again, it didn’t stick.
People grow, they have families, they teach younger generations, they age, and eventually, they pass on. To the young me, it made these characters more believable. Yes, you have to suspend belief when it comes to supermen who can fly, mystery men who move at super-speed and a grown man who dresses up as a flying rodent. When you saw them have emotions, connections, wives, husbands, children, heart attacks and health problems, though, it was tethers to the real world for me.
Then, years later, with years of history, families, characters built upon them in comic books, legacies were thrown out almost completely. The fictional reset button was set, character who had been married and older were now in their 20s, single and unattached. Children the characters had were gone. The generations, the inspirations, that feeling that these were traditions carried on and torches passed, were no more.
Perhaps these days, the people in charge, the executives making decisions and creating comics, movies, etc, think that children, teens and young adults don’t want to have that kind of connection with fictional characters.
For me, that was why I loved them as a kid. I felt like they could very well be real because of the generations and history that were built upon them.
When characters don’t change, when they have to be evergreen so ‘anyone can jump on board,’ they become boring. They weren’t evergreen when I was a kid and I had no problem keeping up. If anything, it made me want to read more.
Many interviews I’ve read for the decision-makers in the realm of comics saying they took away the age, the spouses, the children, because they felt it made the characters boring. For me, it was the growing old, the married lives, the children, that made it all so damn interesting.
It’s a huge part of what made reading comic books fun for me. Maybe that’s why I honestly don’t find them fun anymore.
I think growing older myself, becoming a father has only reinforced what was already there since I was ten years old. It’s why I don’t buy many modern-day comic books. It’s why I’ll dig through 50 cent bargain bins for an old back issue of something from those eras where it was okay to have a middle aged or senior hero.
This long-winded rant, though, is not supposed to be so much ‘what’s wrong with a literary medium of comics today’ as it is an appreciation for the idea that generations carry on. Families grow, they have problems, and sometimes they fall apart. It’s also about the idea that one generation can inspire the next.
We all take cues from those who have come before, whether they are good or bad. Our ancestors passed down traits and lessons to those who would become our great-grandparents, our grandparents, who would then influence (good or bad), our own parents, who would, in turn, make us the people we are. Now we, as parents, have to be the examples and inspirations for the next round.
As I look around at my son, full of hope, joy, intelligence and goodwill, as well as my longtime friends around me as they begin their own families, the comic book geek in me can’t help but look at us as one of those generations of heroes, now setting examples for and priming the next generation of little heroes.
And on that note, I’ll leave you with something slightly related, but just plain fun – an episode of “Batman: The Brave and The Bold” that’s all about legacies:
As we inch closer to winter, the evenings have become darker all too quick and by the time I pick up my little buddy for our daily trek home, we’re among just one of many pairs of headlights shining through the darkness on the roads. That naturally means I can’t get the greatest view into the backseat from the driver’s seat and thus my ears are attuned to what’s going on back there.
The other day we were making our way home. Our usual, classical music, was gently pouring from the speakers for a relaxing drive when from the dark of the backseat, there arose a stream of chatter. What was he saying? I couldn’t tell you and it didn’t matter. As just ‘ya-ya-ya-ya’d’ away, I was overcome with a sense of something that I can only describe as pure calm and joy.
This is my boy, I thought. This is my boy, taking in a world around him and sharing it with me.
As I continued driving home, I sat there and smiled, my eyes on the road, but my mind engulfed in the comforting blanket of this little guy’s voice.
I can think of no greater feeling in the world.