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. 🙂
It could be the earlier (some clichés would say simpler) times evoked by radio, or maybe it’s the ‘theatre of the mind’ that I find so much more creative than having someone spell it out for us in a film or TV program.
Whatever it may be, it transports me to a time before every minute of our day was accounted for, before everyone was constantly ‘plugged in,’ when families would sit around the radio together for their news and their entertainment.
Yet, it is modern technology that allows me to take this step back in time. I downloaded two apps to my smartphone recently, one called Radio Spirits and the other, Vintage Radio Lite. Both were absolutely free.
Each day, Radio Spirits has two radio programs, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a mystery, you never know, from the Golden Age of radio. I love that randomness. It’s like when audiences tuned in and what was on that night was on. Some nights you’ll want to listen, some nights, it’s a show you’re just not interested in.
Vintage Radio Lite is more of an on-demand service. You can search through their catalog of hundreds, if not thousands of programs in a myriad of genres, cue one up, and listen away, complete with original commercials.
I’ve always been a fan of old radio shows, listening to radio dramas on my radio Walkman on public broadcasting Sunday night in elementary school, having stumbled upon them by accident. As a teen, I discovered old cassette tapes of The Shadow radio programs, and in recent years, I’ve often been found with a CD of The Shadow or old Superman broadcasts in my car for a dark, rainy car drive.
With these apps now on my phone, it’s actively created a new type of family time in our house. It’s not an everyday thing, but there’s plenty of times where we don’t feel like watching television, but would like something on in the background. So, we ‘tune in’ via the app, and as we eat our dinner, listen to the phone/radio and chuckle to the likes of Fibber McGee and Molly, Our Miss Brooks, or the Alan Young Show. I’m also quite partial to the Jack Benny Show, and, as I said, any time Orson Welles played The Shadow.
My sister-in-law sometimes jokes with us that our son will be confused as to what era he grew up in with our love of old movies and radio, etc, etc. While I don’t think it’ll be that bad, Meg and I hope that growing up around these things will give him an appreciation for what’s come before, and make him realize just how far things have come. It’s important to us not to lose the past, but preserve it and honor it, as we move forward to the future. We hope he will do the same.
A little modern technology, letting us appreciate and preserve the past. Pretty neat.
If you’re familiar enough with this quote to know what follows, then either a) you’re a little dorky like myself, or b) you might be our obstetrician.
On a recent visit to the office to see if our little one was going to be making their entrance to the world anytime soon, the doctor was ‘feeling around’ for lack of a better term, to see if Meg had started effacing. We were asking questions, and at one point, jokingly, the doc responded “who knows? The Shadow knows…” followed quickly by a “nobody gets that reference today.”
But, I did!!! 🙂
After the who and the what and the when about the baby taking it’s sweet time to arrive, it led to a nice conversation with the doctor about not just The Shadow, but several other old-time radio shows from the 1930s and 1940s. It seems our doctor (who looks like he walked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and I love it), used to listen to recordings that his father had of the old radio shows (back when our doctor’s father was a kid). We talked about Jack Benny, Dragnet, Little Orphan Annie, and, of course, The Shadow.
In case you don’t know, The Shadow is a character from ‘pulp magazines’ way back in the day. Usually filled with some type of bizarre crime story, kids and adults could pick up the dime novel and read a thrilling, noir-ish adventure.
On the radio, The Shadow was really Lamont Crantson (or Kent Allard if you read the novels), wealthy man about town, who, along with girlfrend Margo Lane, would often solve crimes in 1930s/1940s New York City. The Shadow possessed “the powers of mesmerism” which he learned in “The Orient,” and allowed him to ‘cloud men’s minds,’ making himself invisible to their sight and able to tap into the minds of evil doers everywhere. For my money, some of the best radio adventures of The Shadow were the ones from the late 1930s voiced by the great Orson Welles. Even now, if you can get your hands on one of the old recordings, it’s pretty exciting stuff to listen to.
Theatre of the mind – the stuff you see on television and movies will never compare.
Hopefully the doctor realizes it’s more of a (dorky) daddy interest and not a mommy interest. Wouldn’t want her to have to deal with questions about radio crime fighting while in the delivery room. 🙂