Monday, January 19, 2009

Keep It Up: An Anti-List for 2009, part 3

This week gave us Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the newly appointed Divorce Day, and of course President Obama's inauguration, and as such is pretty much the last week one can pontificate about what's come before in the wake of an exciting new future, so I have a twofold desire to remember the highlights of comics in pop culture last year and to make some comics-specific resolutions for 2009. Although we're only nineteen days deep, these two years already stand in stark contrast to each other. How so, you ask?

First of all, 2008 was a year directed by the influence of comic books (pun intended). Consider that, in a single year, moviegoers had the chance to experience real-world incarnations of Iron Man, the Hulk, Batman, the Punisher, Hellboy, the heroes of Wanted, and the Spirit, not to mention the return of beloved franchises like Speed Racer, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and the X-Files. Sure, these films represent the gamut of box office success, but each of them equally shared the responsibility of exposing a mainstream audience to characters that are pillars to fanboy culture. Further, from the tragedy of Health Ledger's death to the tabloid interest of David Duchovny's sex addiction, most of these films offered some tidbit that contributed to the grand scheme of entertainment news in 2008, the actual respective movie not withstanding. In short, 2008 took the topics of message boards and late night gaming tournaments and dragged them into the daylight, around the office water cooler. I'm not sure if we geeks should thank '08, or vice versa!

On the flipside, 2009 has become the year comics bend to the news, rather than the other way around. Message boards are abuzz with the current Obama trend in titles like Amazing Spider-man and Savage Dragon, and the cover price debate rages in the face of a challenging economy. Movies like The Watchmen and the resurrection of franchises like Star Trek are certainly stirring the pot, but sans another unfortunate celebrity death, I don't think pop culture will maintain its love affair with comics until the next Iron Man becomes reality. Right now, comics are pop culture's booty call, "blowing it up" only when nothing else is going . . . and some action is better than none.

On the homefront, I appreciated 2008's premiere of, Mattel's adult-oriented on-line toy store, primarily featuring DC Superheroes in both realistic and animated forms, and a new He-Man action figure line currently exploiting the characters' classic look via today's advanced action figure sculpting and articulation styles. While the idea of Internet exclusivity sparked debate among earnest fanboys accustomed to scouring Target and Wal-Mart aisles for the latest action figures, the site has been obviously well received, since many of its products are sold out despite arguably high shipping rates. I'm as financially strapped as the next guy, but the chance to own an exclusive, high quality He-Man figure is perhaps the strongest opiate to face my inner child ever . . . and if I'm buying He-Man, he needs a bad guy to fight, right? Masters of the Universe is plural, right?

Therein lies my motivation as a collector for 2009: now, more than ever, collect to my inner child. I began this resolution early, thanks in large part to the latest wave of Marvel Legends action figures. See, when I was a kid, I owned the first wave of Marvel's Secret Wars figures, and since I didn't avidly read comics at the time, those eight toys were my Marvel Universe. Thanks to the now mainstream availability of Kang (and my girlfriend's diligence on eBay to score a Magneto), I decided to recreate those eight characters in modern toy form and effectively end all other Marvel action figure purchases. Mattel's adult-oriented DC and He-Man franchises will remain my only plastic guilty pleasures, so much so that I'll in turn eBay some fringe items in my collection to obtain them all -- or as close as I can get, considering convention exclusives and my own budget. So, while obtaining some of these elusive figures will condemn me to an ongoing crisis, at least trimming the fat of my fanaticism doesn't pit me against a proverbial infinity gauntlet of spending. Yes, I said it!

Regarding comics, the steadfast cornerstone of my collecting compulsions, I aim to continue purchasing series that appeal to my need for relevant stories and dynamic character development. I define "relevant" as all-encompassing; that is, if I can hand a comic book story (whether or not contained in a single issue, or a mini-series, or within an ongoing -- the story withstands any format) to a friend and recommend it as an excellent piece of approachable literature, it's relevant. Joe Kelly's I Kill Giants quickly comes to mind, as those seven issues tell a compelling story about a teenaged girl whose inner turmoil manifests into a fantastic allegorical struggle. If you know the series, you know that the context is socially significant, presented through a filter of dark humor and schoolyard antics many people can understand. Conversely, Grant Morrison's "Batman: R.I.P." stars one of the world's most recognizable icons, but I could never recommend it to a friend. It's too mired in classic Batman continuity to make sense to anyone not familiar with the comics' lore, and it's too dependent on Final Crisis and other events in the DC Universe to retain a self-enclosed identity. If I were to recommend a comic starring a hero driven to avenge the death of his or her parents, one in which the hero is a regular person tests the limit of his or her own abilities even in the face of impossible odds, I'd point to the Luna Brothers' The Sword. It's still a relatively young series with true cinematic potential -- and if it does find it's way to the silver screen, my friends can feel like they were on the ground floor of a brand new franchise!

Of course, I'm still prone to purchasing my guiltiest of pleasures: comics starring superheroes fighting social injustices like illiteracy or gang violence. Expect to see more of those comics here soon . . .

Finally, 2008 brought many changes to personal life, as well -- a few that required me to downsize my living quarters, a trend I understand has afflicted many an economically-challenged fanboy of late. Still, despite the limited space, I've effectively managed to recreate the bedroom I had as a child through an adult standard of organization and functionality. Collecting comics and toys is interesting in its adaptability to life: a boy's bedroom is supposed to have this stuff, and in high school and college the clutter becomes a quirky celebration of pop culture, not without its vulnerability to trends or social rejection -- but for me, that just meant focusing more on practical items like a Spider-man toothbrush over a more lofty purchase like a Bowen bust of Starfox or something. Now, in my late twenties, I've come full circle; I've been saying lately that my Christmas list at 29 differs little from my list from just nine. Kang, He-Man, Hawkman . . . Kids today don't know how good they have it! What does an adult do with a comic book long box tower eleven high? He keeps it up. What does he do with an action figure collection cluttering his shelves?

Keep it up.

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