Thursday, March 13, 2014

Uncanny & Unlimited

This is a backstory slash origin issue. The story of how I teamed up with an amazing app.

I first discovered comic books at Briar and Tobac. My father, a man of religious devotion to the magical wonders of pipe smoking, would plop me in his car for his every-other-Saturday trip to this tobacconist, where he would chat a spell with the owner, peruse the endless variations of pipe designs, and purchase another bag or two of pipe tobacco (and a pack of pipe cleaners).

(You see, kids, there was a time when "pipe cleaners" were not merely tools for making stick figures and stick animals.)

The owner, being a smart enough fella, kept a small collection of used comic books in a string of single-row magazine racks that spanned an entire wall of his store. I would sit Indian-style (you kids now call it "criss-cross applesauce" because somehow sitting like this is insulting to Native Americans), basking in the odor of dozens of different brands of tobacco, squinting at the page through a mild fog of smoke, and sift through the collection.

It took me a few trips before I got remotely selective. Early on, I didn't care if it was Hot Stuff or Spidey Super Stories or Weird War Tales. I only cared that I had discovered some new world that spoke directly to me. The feeling must have been similar to walking into a church where people are speaking in tongues, but you understand every word. Gradually, my interests gravitated to superheroes.

I especially remember being drawn to Captain America & The Falcon, although I don't recall why. Maybe I thought it was cool that these guys were strong and kicked butt but still brought along a non-super-powered bird of prey just for kicks. It certainly wasn't the Kirby art that won me over.

My addiction was accelerated when my parents bought for me my first "Book and Record Set," a comic you read while playing a 45 single, with dramatic interpretations of the characters and a melodramatic narrator who made William Shatner seem dull and muted by comparison. It was Greek theater for the prepubescent.

With this discovery, I mutated from Budding Comic Enthusiast to Novice Collector and never looked back.

Roughly ten years and six comic boxes full of treasure passed before my hobby began to slip on my priority list. The ritual weekly trips to the independent comic store, carried out with patience most years by one of three mothers who must have sympathized with their socially awkard and nerdy sons' plights to find meaning in a world without girls, began to fade as I learned how expensive dating, or even attempting to try and get dates, could be. I also began spending more on music, which became an incresingly-powerful elixir as I got deeper into poetry and hormonal angst.

My comic book hobby died completely while I was in college, although I fought a while to deny it. Between music, food, alcohol and girls, comics were a luxury I could no longer afford. As my friends continued to follow the trevails of the Justice League, Spider-Man, Sandman, Hellblazer, the X-Force and whatever new projects Alan Moore or Frank Miller were working on, I would just sit and nod during their conversations.

I felt like the Mormon who continued sitting in the church pew during services but no longer believed a word of what was being said. Do we remain uncomfortably in that pew from fear, from shame, from denial? Or do we, even as our faith seems irretrievable, yearn for that devoted innocence of our faithful days? Do we hope for an internal resurrection?

My days as a Collector are now long gone and will not be resurrected, not for comic books. Over the years, I've bought a dozen or so trade paperbacks, storylines that received unusually high critical praise or strong buzz. I have become a tourist.

I'm a tourist because being a collector is expensive. Every issue runs around $2. I can read a $2 issue faster than I can drink a $1 Mountain Dew. These costs add up quickly, and I simply can't afford that kind of hobby at this point in my life.

Enter, with dramatic flair, MARVEL UNLIMITED.

Marvel Unlimited is to comics what Netflix is to TV and movies, what Spotify is to music. You pay a monthly fee for access to over 15,000 issues from the Marvel Comics library. For $9.99 a month, or $69 for the annual subscription (which I will be doing after my discounted first month), you can read as many available issues as your little heart desires, as many as your little eyes can strain to handle.

Newer issues (< 6 mos) are not available, generally. Considering that leaves me with only 25+ years of unread comics from which to choose, I’m thinking that particular restriction won’t be a problem.

Since signing on a mere 24 hours ago, I have read eight issues of the Joss Wheedon-scripted series The Astonishing X-Men, and every minute of the experience has been heavenly. If and when I tire of the series (or catch up to the limit at #67), I’ll move to the modern Hawkeye series. Other series being considered are the reboots of Captain America, the Avengers, Uncanny X-Force and X-Men Legacy. I also plan to dive back into the mid-'90s and catch up on earlier X-Men and Spider-Man storylines, among others. For those nerdy enough to admit knowing a word of that which I’ve been writing, I welcome suggestions and recommendations.

It’s almost like I’ve been transported back to Briar and Tobac, the hazy scented air wafting around me, as I hungrily scan the long row of possibilities, knowing (at least for a while) that whatever I pick is going to be fun. And all I need for that feeling now is WiFi. No smoking required.


troutking said...

I have never in my entire life read one comic book. Unless you count collections of Calvin and Hobbes or --gasp!--Garfield. If you could recommend one comic book to read as my first one, what would it be?

Also, surely you've seen American Splendor about Harvey Pekar?

Robert Berman said...

My parents got me my first comic books for Christmas one year. All three were tie-ins to other franchises: Micronauts (toy), ROM (toy), and Star Wars (toy and movie). At one point I was collecting about 15 a month, almost all Marvel, which strained my budget at 60-70 cents each.

Over the last few years I've gotten some trade paperbacks and even hardbacks. About 50% are versions of stuff I had as a kid, and 50% are newer, like the Astonishing X-Men you mentioned. (The New X Men series leading up to Whedon's work is also quite good, though some of the work since then is not as good.) I really like the painted stuff, Alex Ross and the like.

I'm enjoying the current wave of geek chic while it lasts (, even knowing that the days are numbered when high school cheerleaders are wearing Green Lantern shirts around town unironically.