by Glenn Matchett
There’s a strange thing about being a comic fan and it’s very hard to explain to someone who does not read comics. Once you’re in you kind of have to go all in. Once you start reading one thing about one property or one character its very hard not to go ‘Oh I’ll try this too’ and sooner than you can say you have a big pile on your desk of stuff to read and barely any time to do it (or is that just me?). I won’t lie I was in comics initially for just Spider-man and the occasional Batman collection here and there. I just didn’t want to bother with anything else but slowly but surely I got dragged in. I’m probably making it sound like a terrible thing but honestly its stunning how much different material there is for comic fans. Even super hero books each offer something slightly different but it’s absolutely amazing that there is a comic for every single person in the world, I truly believe that no matter your age, gender or interests there is a comic for everyone.
So how did I go from Spider-man now I was reading the book in time with the most up to date issues? I have to blame Ultimate Spider-man really because the writer of that book (You guys remember Brian Bunders right?) was also writing another Marvel titled called ‘New Avenger’s’ and it turned out Spider-man was on that team too. It may sound a bit odd to a certain group of comic fans but yes it was more important a character I enjoyed was on the team rather than who was involved in the production of the book. I’m still very much a supporter of character first but will be more inclined to try something I’m curious about if someone whose name I enjoy is involved and sometimes I have read books I never would have imagined being interested in because a certain writer or artist is involved. In any case I was mostly curious about New Avenger’s because Spider-man was on the team, it was everyone else I was wary of. I did not have much knowledge about the rest of the Marvel Universe despite what I had learned from cartoons and back then I failed to find Captain America interesting. It wasn’t until the event comic ‘House Of M’ that I really took an interest in reading New Avenger’s. Being a sucker for alternate realities like I am and given that Spider-man had his own mini (of dubious quality and significance) I gave the event comic a go and enjoyed it immensely. I was now reading New Avenger’s and was now willing and eager to expand my comic reading horizons.
Not knowing much about the Marvel Universe and knowing that were several other Ultimate books apart from Spider-man I thought they were the best place to start. I managed to get a bargain on the first hardcover of the Ultimates and Ultimate Fantastic Four but decided to give X-Men a miss. It is strange despite my many years as an Irish Fanboy other than the films I have never been a big fan of Marvel’s mutant super group. I like them fine in other people’s comics but the X-Men Universe seems like a big pool to step into and I already have so much swimming around in my brain I doubt there is the room so I left them be. Ultimate Fantastic Four featured a group again whose team members I liked and had two stories I enjoyed but didn’t grab me enough to read it regularly but the Ultimates really took my interest. What I liked most about Ultimate Spider-man is the risks they initially took like the big change to Norman Osborn or changing Gwen Stacy from top to bottom and the Ultimates had some similar interesting themes. It featured characters who not only had severe personality flaws but they weren’t exactly the clean and crisp heroes I had been expecting.
Next I found myself interested by the concept of Daredevil and again was further enticed by the fact that this was the writer of Ultimate Spider-man. I didn’t want to just jump in with that specific run and didn’t really want to backtrack all the way to Stan Lee’s run and sought out what I refer to as a ‘reasonable jumping on point’. Basically if something has a long history I look for the best jumping on point where I can learn everything from the ground up and backtrack if I wished. I knew Marvel was again helpfully collecting Daredevil in hardcovers so started with Vol. 1 containing both the Kevin Smith and David Mack runs. It took me some time to get into both arcs but sooner rather than later I was all in and eagerly started Bendis run. Seeing a long term story develop over the concept of Matt’s secret identity being kind of uncovered was great to watch and told a fascinating long term story using one simple concept. A lot of time in comics I think an idea is introduced or touched on and it has potential to craft some good stories but then its soon brushed off the table for the next earth shattering change or event but Daredevil is where it was used properly. One idea was mined for story for 4 more hardcovers and it made Daredevil one of those characters I would read no matter who was on the book. Marvel then started to reprint the classic Frank Miller run in Omnibus form and being a big fan of his Batman work that I’d read I was eager to jump on it. The material was all that I imagined it to be and so much more. Some truly great comics and only further cemented my fan of Daredevil’s world. I look forward to checking out Mark Waid’s run once it’s collected as I hear amazing things in regards to it.
Being largely brought up with Marvel I was hesitant to step out of their rather sizable pool of characters. However the cartoon series Justice League Unlimited had introduced me to some great characters I fell in love with and I soon began wanting more of them. Thanks to that cartoon I read not only the Denny O’Neil Question series but also Justice League International and thoroughly enjoyed them both. Although he was only really used mainly in one episode of JLU I was very interested in reading the new Booster Gold series because it dealt with alternate realities and time travels. Given it had the magical combination of superheroes, time travel and alternate realities it seemed this book was meant just for me and I checked it out. I was soon drawn in more to the world of the DC Universe as a whole and fell in love with Booster Gold as a character. I started to try out more DC books both with failure and success but also was eager to branch into more indie books.
I remember after joining the message board Jinxworld one of the posters and a good friend of mine named John Drake mentioned in his signature how a book named ‘Invincible’ was the greatest superhero comic in the universe. I found this quite an impressive boast so inspired by this comment sought out the book and quickly became addicted. The title at the time had two Hardcover’s that I absolutely devoured and waited with baited breath for the next instalment. To this day I agonize over waiting for Invincible for often times more than a year, get the book and then read it so fast my fingers catch fire and then begin the wait all over again. The same writer (Robert Kirkman) also wrote another indie book entitled the Walking Dead which shock of shocks did not feature super heroes but rather real people in a world filled with zombies. This was not your normal zombie tale however as it kept going and going and going and I became intrigued and once again gave it a go. I discovered another book I quickly devoured and would wait agonizingly each year for another instalment and it thrills me to see the book get more attention not only because of the TV show and other media but because it’s a damn good comic first and foremost.
I tried a few ‘must reads’ and doubt I’ll ever forget the expression on my comic retailer’s face when I asked if ‘Watchmen’ was any good. This was my first exposure to the rather extreme ‘Watchmen effect’ where people treat it like its sacrilege if you don’t enjoy it or haven’t read it. It’s quite an odd phenomenon that has to be experience to be believed and I haven’t seen any other comic treated like this. Some might say it’s because Watchmen is the best ever, is it one of my favourites? Absolutely but I could name 10 other comics without thinking too hard that I enjoyed more so I don’t think it’s the be all and end all. One such comic I did enjoy more was the highly mythological Sandman series written by literally legend Neil Gaiman. Again I sort of took a chance with Sandman and bought the prestige Absolute editions not knowing that much about the title and I thought there was no reward without a little risk. I discovered a fascinating series covering the world of an intriguing character that not only used pre-existing mythology to craft its world but also built up a lot of its own and it was really something to behold from beginning to end. I think every comic writer wants to kind of write their own Watchmen but really I think we should all try to be doing our own Sandman. Unlike Watchmen it never tries to be anything else and doesn’t disregard anything (in fact it goes out of its way to incorporate a lot of things and does it wonderfully) and added a lot of stuff to a larger world. I may be in the minority here but I think comic writing is just as much about giving back to the medium you love as well as writing something critically acclaimed and Sandman was one of the rare ones who did both.
I read many others along the way and enjoyed the heck out of some like the Waid/Weiringo Fantastic Four, Tellos, Fables, Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, Young Avenger’s, Marvel Zombies, True Story Swear to god, Fallen Angel, Marvel’s Dark Tower and Wizard Of Oz adaptions, Superman: Red Son and many other titles too numerous to name but one I wish to give special mention to is Supreme Power. Written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Gary Frank the comic basically takes characters similar to those in the DC universe and asks ‘well what if it was real?’ It’s not the most original concept and was largely a modern day ‘Ultimate’ like update of Mark Grunwald’s ‘Squadron Supreme’ comic but I loved it from beginning to end. I just loved how true to form it all was and that comic to me is one of the highlights of being a comic fan of the recent decade or so. It’s not even one that gets talked about a lot but it dealt with some great concepts and had a terrifying look into how we would treat beings like these if they were real and how quickly things would go south. Marvel recently has tried to rejuvenate the concept following JMS departure from the company but it seems the magic is gone but those comics will always be a highlight to me as a comic fan for years to come.
Maybe someday I can make someone feel the same way.
Next: Behind the page