Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spider-man 3: Peee-yeew.

Prepare yourself, gentle reader, for a rant from an aging child...

When I was but a stripling of 10 and 12, I cared about superhero comics.

No -- I mean, I CARED.

I was a bronze-age fanatic. I had stacks of 'em, an entire milk crate packed to the gills and spilling over. I wasn't a collector -- I was a ravenous reader. This was before most people thought you could make money off these things. You didn't "bag and back" comic books; you read them. The only "industry" built up around them was bunches of 10-year-olds like me, salivating at the newsstand every week, waiting for the new releases ("Comic book stores?? We didn't have no steenking COMIC BOOK STORES!!")

Every day I passed by the newsstand on the way to school, anxiously scanning the new titles arrayed like glossy full-color mosaic tiles across the wire racks. And of all the heroes that really meant something to me, Spider-man was far, far up on the list (with maybe Kirby-era Captain America, Iron Man... oh, yes, the Avengers.... but I digress).

I was a Marvel boy through and through. I might have snuck a couple Mister Fantastics or Batmans home in my school bag, but I wouldn't have been seen in school with those. They were for private fascination, slumming, to see how the other half lived. The only thing that kept me from buying everything Marvel printed between 1974 and 1980 or so was limited funds. I had to budget for my favorites. If there was money left over, I might try an Iron Fist or a Dr. Strange, but you had to keep the big-picture: If the fat annual version of your favorite hero was due out in a few days, it was going to cost one whole dollar. Scrimp that coin, bucko.

(If you want to know more about what it was like growing up a Marvel boy in the Big Apple, I commend to your discriminating eye the very fine essay by Jonathan Lethem, "Identifying With Your Parents," in The Disappointment Artist.)

Needless to say, the comics world has changed radically since then. Major motion pictures. Specialty stores in every town. Everyone and his dog writing graphic novels (which is a good thing in my eyes, by the way). Comics are everywhere.

The way you could tag yourself as a hopeless geek in 1975 was to try to start a conversation about Little Nemo in Slumberland (the Edwardian-era Surrealist Sunday paper comic strip by Winsor McKay). Now? Shut up. Everybody knows that. In those days, you could only learn about the McKays and Herrimans of the world from odd older men who'd actually served in the field and cared enough to write books on such topics. These guys were not being featured on magazine covers or beating away rabid fans at book signings, let me assure you. But these days, it's a whole sub-culture, and there's probably a teen hanging out in my local library right now who could tell me more about McKay than I could tell her.

But I digress.

So: You know by now that I was what Stan Lee, Marvel founder and guiding light, always called a True Believer. You couldn't do wrong by me, Stan.

And today? What hath Marvel wrought?

I've seen the first and third Webslinger movies. All I can say is, "I knew Spider-man. I read Spider-man for years. Tobey Maguire, you're no Spider-man."

I mean, Peter Parker doing dancing sequences? Disco and ballroom?

Uh... No.

They somehow managed to create a movie that had no plot and almost no action. I've never seen so many people crying in a superhero story in my life. You would have thought they hired a writer from the old True Romance comic book line from the '50s. Break-ups. Betrayals. Talking, talking, talking -- which is fine, if the script were anything beyond trite, disconnected clich├ęs.

I want my Spider-man back.

I'm going down to the basement. Where's that consarned milk crate?!


Eric Little said...

I had the same feelings about DC Comics in the 1950's, and even if the Superman TV series then was ineffably cheesy, I still was able to enjoy it for what it was (and still do on DVD).

I used to go to drugstores to search out my favorite comics. (Of course, my mother eventually threw out the army crate I had filled with comics.)

thinkulous said...


Thanks so much for shouting out the brotherly comic-lover vibe! Sadly, very sadly, I can only blame myself for the loss of my comics.

One year, when I was doing a huge, impromptu, cross-country move (I know, I know, it's not excuse) I dumped all but 10 of my old superhero issues. Forgive me, oh, thou Captain America and Avengers! I beg your mercy! I had zero space and was paying by the mile!

(But you should see the Daredevil vs. Captain America battle royale I did save!)