Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Marvel!

On Tuesday night, comic book shops across the country celebrating Marvel Comics' 70th anniversary with special after-hours sales and events, and I went to two stores in Orange County that celebrated the House of Ideas, and although I passed on the much hyped The Marvels Project #1, I did acquire some completely affordable back issues of X-Statics. To celebrate Marvel's birthday, I've decided to list my top seven most personal, memorable Marvel moments. Disclaimer: The comics on this list aren't necessarily my favorite singular Marvel issues, but they are attached to memories that have enabled me to treasure comics in the mighty Marvel manner today!

7. Daredevil: Born Again. Before he redefined Batman with the beloved The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller deconstructed the Man Without Fear in the Daredevil story arc "Born Again." I read this arc as a whole, collected in trade paperback, and was most impressed with Miller's ability to strip away everything we know of Matt Murdock, from his position as a lawyer, to his friendships, to the very Daredevil costume, yet expose and retain what makes the character relevant to readers and the Marvel Universe as a whole. It truly takes a man without fear to see his life destroyed and still find a way to save the day and win the girl.

6. The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank. I was a fast fan of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon collaboration thanks to their work on Preacher, so picking up this Punisher relaunch via trade paperback was a no-brainer. I'll be honest; I wasn't overwhelmed with the story. Sure, the action was fast-paced, and the characters were true to the original spirit of Punisher comics, but the complexity I'd anticipated from the context of Preacher wasn't there -- until the last page. A ragtag group of Punisher wanna-be's catch up with Frank, ask him if he'd like to join their crusade, if a team of gun-toting vigilantes eradicating crime is what the Punisher has always wanted . . . and, gun firing, Punisher replies, "No." The importance is two-fold: Frank prefers to work alone, and perhaps without his war on crime, he'd have no reason to live at all. So why would he really want it to end?

5. The Secret Wars Tower of Doom Playset. I only had eight Secret Wars action figures as a kid, and I certainly didn't know they were attached to a multi-issue comic book epic, but before I enjoyed their adventures on the printed page, Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man, and Wolverine were my Avengers that battled the likes of Dr. Doom, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, and Kang on the Tower of Doom playset in the living room. That playset had so many cool features, from the elevator to the secret war room, from the jail cell to the hidden compartment . . . I can really go on, but trust me. No five-inch plastic bad guy could ask for a better hideout.

4. Iron Man. By far, my favorite comic book movie to date. Yes, better than Dark Knight. Iron Man simply has it all: action, comedy, romance, significant character development, and two things Dark Knight just didn't have: the staging of a world bigger than its characters, and the upbeat wonder that superheroes should inspire. Think about it. At the end of Dark Knight, Batman is public enemy number one, which is certainly dynamic in its own right, but if he's content to let the people in his world think he's a murderer, what of us? At the end of Iron Man, Tony Stark lifts the curtain. "I'm a superhero, and it's awesome." As a kid, whose boots would you have preferred to fill?

3. The Incredible Hulk #372-#377. Writer Peter David culminates years' worth of subplots in this Hulk story arc that ended up defining the character for decades to follow. Simply put, Doc Samson puts Bruce Banner in a hypnotic trance to confront his inner Hulk selves, and in the end his mind merges with the green and gray Hulk personalities to create "the Professor," a quickly enraged but analytically thinking green goliath. While the emotional subtext of this story was heavier than most comics usually allow, I was particularly moved by #372, in which Betty and Bruce reunite. That last page, where they embrace, is -- pardon the Hulk pun -- smashing.

2. Bret Blevins' Cloak & Dagger Sketch. My girlfriend at the time and I were simply strolling down the main street in Prescott, Arizona, when we went into an artists' gallery on whim and I surprisingly spotted paintings by Bret Blevins, who, among other things, had illustrated two of my favorite Marvel titles, Cloak & Dagger and Sleepwalker. The caretaker of the co-op said that Bret would be in the next day, and sure enough I had the pleasure of meeting him and soliciting a free Cloak and Dagger sketch. I treasure the memory and this sketch almost as much as Bret was totally hospitable and kind -- which is to say, completely.

1. Amazing Spider-man #347. I've told the story before, essentially my origin story as a collector, but I'll summarize it again here. When I was about 10 years old, my dad worked for a moving company, and one of his customers offered him a small box of comics. One fateful Saturday morning, Dad left the box at the foot of my bed, and in it I discovered the beginning of Peter David's run on The Incredible Hulk, Strange Tales volume 2 (starring Cloak and Dagger), and bunch of other titles I still collect to this day . . . but the issue on the top won me over completely. Venom holding Spider-man's skull like Hamlet in the graveyard, and the eerie island chase that ensued within the issue, masterfully choreographed by Erik Larsen . . . it changed the way I look at comics. It gave new ideas about how to tell a story through a cooperative relationship between words and pictures . . .

Which is why Marvel has earned its self-proclaimed title as the House of Ideas lo these 70 years. Marvel Comics have simply inspired countless others to pursue ideas of their own. It's their birthday, but they're the gift that keeps on giving. Happy Birthday, Marvel!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Shell-ebrate Good Times . . . C'mon!

Can you believe that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first hit the comic book page a mere 25 years ago this year? I partook in the shell-ebration by soliciting these karaoke-themed sketches from artists Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne at Comic Con! Also, I couldn't avoid the evil Shredder's attack . . .! He wanted my lunch money, but dollars are worthless in Dimension X.