Make Mine Brand Echh

13 May

At one time, my father worked for DC Comics. He isn’t anyone famous, he wasn’t a high-profile employee, but one of the “perks” of this job was that he’d bring home each comic from both Marvel and DC every month, a gigantic pile of comics which soon littered my bedroom floor and cascaded down the staircase to the living room, an uncontainable flood of pulp paper. This was during the mid 1980s, when direct sales of comics through a burgeoning comic book store network revitalized the flagging industry. As a result, there were lots of experiments in comics at the time, some good like The Dark Knight Returns and Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, while others were sort of retarded, like Amethyst and the Fraggle Rock comic. I mean, here’s a comic about a television show that features puppets. It’s the comic book equivalent of broadcasting a ventriloquist on the radio.

It’s true what they say: too much of a good thing can be not so good. Or something like that. What you need to understand is that every title from both DC and Marvel (and Marvel’s adult [read: boobs with nipples] imprint, Epic) totaled a couple hundred comic books per month. Because it wasn’t just Detective Comics Presents Batman and The Amazing Spider-Man, but Batman & Robin and The Spectacular Spider-Man as well. Every big name hero gets at least four titles, one per week, with many branching off into other titles like The Avengers and World’s Finest where they pal around with other, lesser superheroes. Then there’s the titles for those assholes, and then you’ve got berserk shit like the Heathcliff comic and Ambush Bug specials just to apply more pressure to my old man’s aching back. He’d complain about bringing them home, but bring them home he would, to some degree because, as part of his job, he was expected to read every fucking comic from both comic book publishers in order to maintain overall continuity. So basically, you’re asking a grown man to read Power Pack. I don’t think he read all or even most of them and I don’t blame him a bit.

I, on the other hand, read each and every comic, each and every month. When they cost money, I didn’t give a shit about comic books, but since they were free I was happy to paw through every retarded page in every issue I could lay my hands on, before my brother could hermetically seal them in acid-free comic book bags with coated cardboard backing. I actually read more Marvel comics this way, because the copies from that publisher that my dad brought home had COMPLIMENTARY COPY stamped across the front in purple ink, thereby rendering them valueless. I didn’t care about collecting comics, I just wanted to read them. It was part of my voracious desire to read continuously and about a variety of subjects. Periodically, my mom would come into my room and nearly faint dead away at the sight of the foot-high pile of comics that comprised my bedroom floor. We’d shovel them into big black garbage bags and leave them at the curb for garbage trucks. This was before the planet was dying and people had to recycle.

Despite the fact that I was able to read Marvel comics with greater freedom, I preferred DC’s fare much more. I can’t really explain why. It certainly has nothing to do with loyalty to my dad, who never felt or expressed any loyalty to DC in the first place. Had I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk over Legends of the Dark Knight, I don’t think he would have noticed or cared. But I didn’t, I always thought Hulk’s plots were stupid and drawn out, while Batman comics contained neat story arcs that didn’t require my purchasing every back issue in existence to figure out what the hell was going on. It’s funny to me that Marvel is considered by many to contain the better human stories, because I couldn’t disagree more. I do understand that when Marvel first hit the scene in 1960, their in-depth explorations of many superheroes’ alter egos was revolutionary. However, by the time I was checking comics out, DC had long since caught up and their characters were likewise having crises of conscience on every other page.

It’s probable that the time I got into comics, when DC was first printing “FOR MATURE READERS ONLY” on the covers of some of their more salacious titles, has a lot to do with my preference. The first comic book I remember really enjoying was Swamp Thing, and I began reading it precisely when Alan Moore first started writing the series, beginning with the brilliant story The Anatomy Lesson. Here was a comic book with big words, literary pacing, and a science-fiction twist which turned Swamp Thing from a big strong guy covered in moss to one of the most powerful and ethereal characters in the DC universe. Watchmen by Alan Moore also came out around this time, and I’ve already written about its impact on me. Keith Giffen was writing for The Legion of Super Heroes which made a ridiculous idea of a super-powered, futuristic police force somewhat compelling. And then, of course, there was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is probably the singular cause for my ongoing Batman obsession.

My dad wasn’t thrilled about me reading these “mature” comics, but by the time I was ten I had already read The Catcher in the Rye and Go Ask Alice, so the adult themes presented in these comics books–largely copious amounts of cleavage and light sexual innuendo–seemed pretty tame in comparison. I mean, I saw Revenge of the Nerds in the theater when I was nine, for crying out loud, and that had full frontal nudity. I think that the reason I preferred DC over Marvel is because I am a fan of reading more than I am a fan of looking at pictures, and while the drawing for many Marvel comics was far superior to DC’s at the time (no dis to George Pérez), I found the stories inane and stupid. A good comparison would be between Marvel’s Secret Wars and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Both are company-wide crossover events involving every character in their respective continuities, but Secret Wars was a kind of gimmick that had few repercussions on the Marvel universe after it was done. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a complete revision of DC’s continuity, killing off many characters and rebooting the origins of others. It’s like the former took an easy way out while the latter really worked to make a cohesive plot. Which is not to say that Crisis on Infinite Earths was perfect, by any means. I could deride that particularly overburdened Dear John letter to Julie Schwartz all day.

Pop eventually quit working at DC, and the deluge of comic books ceased instantly. I got over it. Comics were a nice diversion, but nothing I really wanted to spend money on. Except for Batman, which I followed in various forms throughout my twenties, I pretty much abandoned comics until I got nostalgic for my wasted youth and started buying up trade collections of titles I remembered, and reading ones lent to me by friends. And you know what? I still prefer DC by far. I’ve amassed a good collection of Superman and Justice League books, a lot of titles under their Vertigo imprint, a bunch of Green Lantern paperbacks, and the bulk of collections that survived the nearly thirty years since my dad worked at DC are from that publisher. In fact, I don’t have any more comics with the purple COMPLIMENTARY COPY stamp on the front at all. I wish I had held on to the complete run of Atari Force that my brother bagged, though.

4 Responses to “Make Mine Brand Echh”

  1. 3Fingers Brown May 14, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Somewhere I own, “Not Brand Eeech…” Yes, I’ve always been an unabashed Marvel fanboy (although for the record, I’ve never been a fan of the Kree Alien, Captain Mar-vel, even after he died of cancer) but I think that spawned from my obsession with comic book art (or rather superheroines with big boobs) as a kid and as you noted, Marvel’s shit just looked better – George Perez aside of course.

    However by the time I reached my height of comic book collecting at the age of 13 or so, I realized that the superhero’s and their background stories really didn’t matter as much as the writer who had just taken over the comic. I was just as happy reading Miller’s work on TDK after reading his excellent work on Daredevil, (In particular the “Born Again,” run – which if you haven’t read is a stunning read that also looks great).

    So yeah I loved the X-men but that was easy. Chris Claremont’s epic 17 year run created such rich characters and stories that it was impossible to not get sucked in – even if it meant digging back to the beginning of the “New X-Men” in 1975. Not to mention that it was punctuated with art by John Byrne, John Romita Jr and ultimately Jim Lee among others. When he left in 1991, I followed not long behind. And don’t get me started on the many shitty X-spinoffs that came out in the 90’s.

    So yeah there’s some basic shit you need to know about a superhero to really get the most out of his stories – but I think that goes for either pantheon. I don’t bother with Green Lantern. Don’t know his origin and he’s not interesting enough for me to care. He’s from space, he’s got a ring, he can make anything with it. I don’t even know who’s in the Justice League (aren’t they just ALL of DC’s heros basically?) or the Teen Titans (this is the team of kid sidekicks, right?)… But I always felt the same way about Spider Man to be honest. Aside from him being from Queens, I always thought he was kind of lame and there was way too much backstory involved (ok, now which of his girlfriend’s did Green Goblin kill?).

    Bottom line is good writing is good writing. Batman to me was the corny, 60’s Adam West model that I saw on TV until I picked up Miller’s work. Same with Moore’s Swampthing (which I need to reread btw). I absolutely HATE Superman – lamest hero and alter-ego ever (at least Peter Parker wears a mask). I ALWAYS root for Luthor! however some of my favorite comic book reads from the last 10 years have been Superman: Red Son and All-Star Superman, not to mention Kingdom Come.

    So yeah, there’s good and there’s bad from both companies – and even the indies that so many people love because… well they’re indie. At the end of the day, you do yourself a disservice by not checking out everything out there. Shit to be honest, I always thought Thor sucked – he was Marvel’s equivalent of Superman – until I read Simonson’s psychedelic take on the thunder god.

    Anyway, my rant is over. I can have these comic nerd debates all day and I’ve got grown up things to do… like write about zombies.


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