I have long had a certain affinity with comic books. While I can’t say I was ever a serious collector (I never even bought any particular title all that regularly and even at the height of my comics-buying activity in my early 20’s, I was more often than not buying titles off a spinner rack at the convenience store near my home), I’ve loved the comic characters, the heroes and the villains ever since I was a small child.
My first exposure to comic book heroes in my youth came when I was very young, probably about four or five. I don’t remember being conscious of the concept of a comic book at that age, but I must have seen them. In fact, scratch that, I know that I did see at least A comic book when I was that young because I clearly remember flipping through a well-worn copy of The Flash while visiting my cousins around those years. I may have seen comics prior to that, but that is my earliest actual comic book memory. My actual comic character exposure came from television. I was one of those kids who watched way too much TV when I was little. The idiot box was a true electronic babysitter for me when I was very young and I can distinctly remember sitting in front of shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for hours on end before I ever set foot in a kindergarten class. I was also reading before I ever attended kindergarten, thank you very much, and I’m sure I owe that to Big Bird and his pals. A part of my television ritual back then included repeats of the George Reeves Superman television series from the 1950’s and the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series (created and produced by William Dozier).
To look at them now, both shows are pretty cheesy. Hell, they were cheesy to most folks in the early seventies when i was watching them, but not to me. I was hooked, especially when it came to Batman. Superman I was not as big a fan of, even as a young kid. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was no real sense of peril when it came to Superman. I mean, the guy could do anything and nothing was going to hurt him, ever. He was a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Batman, on the other hand, was just a regular guy. Okay, he was a filthy rich regular guy, but he was just a guy in a funny suit. When Joker or Mr. Freeze or Catwoman or Penguin threw Batman and Robin into some silly deathtrap (I specifically remember a giant clam actually swallowing the Boy Wonder whole… and I’m pretty sure there was something like a giant coffee pot slowly percolating acid onto our heroes as well), he could actually DIE. Nothing was stopping Supes unless those green rocks were around (and just how did seemingly every thug and lowlife in Metropolis manage to get a hold of Kryptonite anyway?), and the villains on that show were none too interesting. Batman was dealing with The Joker and Catwoman; over-the-top super villains, while Superman was dealing with guys in sport coats and fedoras who looked like they’d stepped out of an old Bogart film to appear as bad guys on Superman. It was a long time before I found out about characters like Lex Luthor and Brainiac, and for the longest time thought Superman only dealt with two-bit thieves or the occasional meteor shower.
As usual, however, I seem to have digressed.
I do know that I learned early on that there were two major comic book publishers in the US, Marvel and DC. And, despite my earliest introduction to comics being from DC-owned characters Batman and Superman, I found myself gravitating toward Marvel Comics. Batman always held a special place in my heart, but characters like Spider Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and The Punisher really captured my imagination in ways that the DC lineup never could. So all my life I was really more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy. Until now.
Suddenly, at an age when I probably should have long since outgrown comic book related interests long ago, I find myself slipping back to the other side and gaining a new appreciation for all things DC. What brought about this change? I can pinpoint three specific influences:
I’ve written plenty about my appreciation for Kevin Smith since I’ve been writing this blog, so its probably no surprise that he’d sway me in some specific ways on a topic like this. Kevin often talks about his long time love of comics in general and of DC comics specifically. Like myself, Kevin is a big Batman fan. One of his many podcasts is something he calls Fatman on Batman, a weekly discussion show he hosts dedicated to his love for the Dark Knight. The earliest episodes of this podcast focused on people who had been involved with Batman: The Animated Series, and most of his early guests were voice talent from that program. Arlene Sorkin (she voiced Harley Quinn), Mark Hamill (yes, THAT Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker himself was the voice of The Joker on that show), Tara Strong (an incredibly talented voice actress – you’ve probably heard her work and not realized it – she played Batgirl as well as a multitude of other animated characters such as Timmy Turner [The Fairly Odd Parents], Twilight Sparkle [My Little Pony], and Juliet the cheerleader in the video game Lollipop Chainsaw, to name just a few), Kevin Conroy (he was Batman himself), Diedrich Bader (the comic actor played Batman on another animated series: Batman: The Brave and the Bold and delivered perhaps the funniest line in Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, “and when it’s all over, you say ‘oh what a lovely tea party.'”), as well as writer Paul Dini (who Kevin’s had on multiple times) all made appearances early on. since then, however, Kevin started branching out into the world of Batman comic writers and artists, featuring the likes of Scott Snyder (Batman’s current main scribe) and Grant Morrison (often known as DC’s “revamp guy”, he was responsible for lots of Batman work at DC), and Jim Lee (a practically legendary comic artist who now serves as DC’s co-publisher along with Dan Didio, who has also been on the show). Needless to say, all the DC talk I’ve been listening to from Kevin and his show definitely had an effect. I also finally got around to reading the Smith-penned comic series Batman: Cocophany and Batman: The Widening Gyre, which I can’t help but consider as two of the best Batman stories I have ever read.
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (Parts One and Two)
The Dark Knight Returns is often cited as the definitive work in the Batman universe. A four-issue run published in 1986, Miller’s work presents an aging Batman returning to crime-fighting after a ten year absence and facing opposition from the Gotham City Police Department and the United States government. The story hinges on Batman’s return also sparking the return of The Joker and culminates in an amazing fight between Batman and Superman (trust me, it winds up making sense in the context of the story). At the end of 2012, Warner Brothers Animation Studios released a direct-to-DVD and Blu-Ray set of animated features based on this classic series (which has since been published as a single-volume graphic novel). It is simply amazing. Kevin Smith has referred to the two films collectively as, “the best Batman movie that will ever be made,” no small compliment coming from someone who’s name has almost become synonymous with Batman in many ways and right on the heels of the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy ending The Dark Knight Rises.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
I just had to bring up a video game, right? Injustice: Gods among Us is a fighting game released earlier this year and featuring a host of DC heroes and villains going tot-to-toe in brutal brawls. The game was developed by Nether Realm Studios (the guys who did the recent Mortal Kombat reboot) and plays brilliantly. It includes a story mode that explains just why Batman might fight against The Flash or Wonder Woman (and in a way that makes sense – if you’re a comic fan anyway) and just how a non meta-human like Bats or The Joker might be able to fight a Superman or Green Lantern or Doomsday and live to tell about it. The game includes DC luminaries like the ones I just mentioned, but also offers up a few lesser-known characters such as Hawkgirl and Raven and Killer Frost. Injustice also manages to do something that years of inclusion in the Justice League of America was never able to: it makes Aquaman look cool. No joke, Aquaman is legit in this game in a big bad way. Let’s put it this way: each character has a “super move” in Injustice, similar to the “X-ray” moves from Mlortal Kombat. In Aquaman’s he feeds you to a fucking shark. ‘Nuff said?
It is primarily these factors that has suddenly sparked my interest in the DC universe and led me to go back and re-read some DC classics such as Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s (the writer of Watchmen) The Killing Joke. This doesn’t mean that I’m ready to jump ship from Marvel just yet. I did also read Avengers Vs. X-Men this year and went to see Iron Man 3 last week. But i also watched Justice League: Doom (an animated feature that has the League of Doom infiltrating the Bat Cave and stealing Batman’s top-secret contingency plans to take out various members of the JLA – just in case one of them goes rogue), something I may not have done a year or so ago.