When I was a wee lad (5th grade through 7th grade maybe), I really liked comic books. Not just any comic books, but the Marvel Comics mutant titles. Among the titles that were delivered to and read by me every month were the X-Men, the Uncanny X-Men, Classic X-Men, X-Factor, the New Mutants/X-Force, Excalibur, the New Warriors, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and Alpha Flight. There may have been others. This does not include comic book I would inevitably buy in comic book stores (annual specials, mini-series, back issues, etc.) In retrospect, what a waste of money. I still have them all my comic books though. Maybe one day they will be worth something beyond sentimental value.
I loved the stories though. Like many lonely kids, the mutants spoke to me. They were also different and separate from everybody else. This sensitivity to the freaks and their alienation is why I preferred Marvel to DC and the X-Men in particular to the Avengers (and other titles.) I particularly despised Captain America who was, in my young opinion, the ultimate team player/cool kid.
Eventually I grew out of my comic book phase. My mother, probably disgusted by the amount of money spent on comics, allowed my subscriptions to lapse without telling me. Mostly though, I lost interest. The stories became too complicated. Dead characters came back to life (sometimes multiple times.) Marvel kept introducing new (and less interesting) characters with complicated back stories. Already established characters with mysterious backgrounds had their histories fleshed out–thereby losing their appeal. Figuring out the chronology of the Marvel Universe became impossible.
And then came the crossovers where for a few months a year, the titles merged together to create an all-encompassing story. As the number of crossovers increased it became too difficult to keep track of all of the stories which only built upon one another. Moreover, the stories became more violent and less fun. The writers tried to introduce what I can only assume was their attempt at more mature emotional content, but in truth they succeeded only in removing the actual pathos that the books already had.
I never completely lost interest in comic books. Over the following years I read graphic novels like Maus, the Watchmen, and Persepolis. (I even read some Star Wars comics just before the new movies came out and disappointed me tremendously. Then I swore off all Star Wars forever.) In college I met a fellow student who worked part-time at Marvel, and I would pick her brain about what happened in the Marvel Universe since I left it. It horrified me. I saw some of the movies. I liked Spiderman and X-Men. I loved x:2. I was less into Spiderman 2. I saw at least one of the two Fantastic Four movies on television and promptly blocked it from my memory. Daredevil was a complete bore, but I was never a fan of that series. Iron Man was well made; the two Hulk moves were not. By Iron Man 2, I had already given up and stopped watching. I ignored all mention of a Wolverine movie. Did it ever come out?
The film that really destroyed comic book movies for me–and the last one I saw in the theater–was the third X-Men movie. Because I was a fan of the older X-Men stories, especially the Dark Phoenix Saga, I was very excited about this movie. Marvel devastated me. Everything that I hated about Marvel comic books was in that movie in spades. To add insult to injury, the retelling of the Dark Phoenix Saga was so distorted that it damaged my memories.
For the past three weeks, I have been watching the early 90’s X-Men cartoon series. I watched it at the time, but I wanted to see it again. I was particularly interested in the cartoon series’s take on the Dark Phoenix Saga, which is the shadow from which no X-Men medium can escape. The cartoon does some things right and it does some things very wrong. Nevertheless, I’ve been mostly entertained. The characters and their relationships are more like the ones that I wanted to remember. I felt a twinge of nostalgia. I am even debating buying some trade paperback versions of my favorite stories. I even thought that I would try to get back into the comic books.
I spent the last few days on Wikipedia trying to figure out what happened where in the Marvel Universe since I left it. It was a disappointing homecoming. The once accessible series have become byzantine. The number of characters have become legion. The plots make no sense. Villain became heroes became villains again (and vice verse.) I could even not figure out how many times Jean Grey died and was resurrected (and died again.)
The X-Men and the Simpsons have a lot in common. Both were at one time groundbreaking entertainment in their own way. Both however, have become institutions. As a result both have to keep going long after the creative juices have wrung dry. Both repeat worn and tattered plots ad infinitum (with only slight variations) because there is nothing new under the sun.
I gave up trying to find my way back; I have grown beyond Marvel. I am sorry for that, but you can’t go home again.
Music listened to while writing this post: Antonin Dvorak “Violin Sonata in F, Op. 56” Allegro; Leonard Cohen “Lady Midnight”; Eva Cassidy “Over the Rainbow”; Mayra Andrade “Regasu”; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart “Piano Concerto #20 in D Minor K 466” Romance; Dionne Warwick “Promises, Promises”; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart “Cosi Fan Tutte, K 588″ Tradito Schernito”; Robert Johnson “Men and the Devil Blues”; Miles David “Flamenco Sketches” (Alternate Take); Ludwig van Beethoven “Variations On A Waltz By Diabelli, Op.120” Var. 15; Louis Armstrong “Ory’s Creole Trombone”; Elton John “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”; Max Bruch “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26” Allegro Moderato.