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The Golden Age

Way back in 2011 I saw Thor.

I reacted with Geek Glee, Geek Rage, and Geek Envy.

Chris Hemsworth defied my expectations and was terrific in the lead role — handsome, charismatic, and heroic. Asgard and the Asgardians came off OK, the Destroyer got to blow things up, Loki was sympathetically malevolent, and Anthony Hopkins‘ Odin chewed the scenery. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I really could not have hoped for a better Thor origin movie.

(Geek Glee! They got it right!)

I read my first Thor comic book a decade before Chris Hemsworth was born. I stuck with the series through some lean creative years, and developed that irrational sense of ownership geeks get over their closely-held secret obsessions.

(Geek Rage! How dare someone else cash in on my discovery!)

When I was twelve, I found my dad’s sculpting hammer and leaped around the overgrown hillside below my house, throwing it at trash heaps and rusty water heaters. I was still enough of a child that I fantasized discovery of an ancient hammer might transform me into a superhero, instead of the aimless and underemployed teen and twenty-something I would later become.

(Geek Envy! I was supposed to be Thor, not this talented Aussie with superior bone structure!)

if I could have just found the hammer, I know I would have been worthy!

The “Golden Age” of comics is twelve.

That’s how old I was in 1974, the year I discovered comics, and fell in love with Thor.

That same summer, I decided I also loved Captain America, and Conan the Barbarian.

(I kind of liked Green Lantern, too, though after seeing that movie, I think I’ll edit out that part of my past.)

All these characters and more besides came to the screen in the summer of 2011. This was either the apotheosis of my pop culture youth, or a rare moment of perspective on my Möbius-strip path through life.

Thor #227 — my first!

My little lad Jack was eleven. Miles was fourteen. They bracketed my age from the summer of ’74.

In 1974 I lived in Hollywood, California, which was no more glamorous then then it is now. My home in a 1920s-era bungalow on Cahuenga Blvd was up a daunting hill from a newsstand just south of Hollywood Boulevard. World News & Books is still there, and doesn’t look much different than I remember. Maybe they still sell comics, but those comics will be as different from the .25 cent books I bought as a kid as am I from the twelve-year old boy that braved that hill to buy them.

My boys have come and gone from the age I was when I discovered comic books, and they would never have dreamed of hiking a hill to buy comics with their allowance. They still watch comic book movies, but they far prefer video games or binge-streaming Netflix to reading comics or anything else. It troubled me that they refused to embrace my old comic book heroes, denying me the excuse to re-live my youth through them. But despite the boys (thankfully) growing into their own persons, superhero movies are a place where our interests intersect.

We liked Thor — liked it a lot — which was something, because after the first movie trailers, with all the screaming beards and hospital interns being thrown around, I expected the worst. We geeks always expect the worst when our heroes are reimagined for an audience that couldn’t be bothered with them in the first place. We threaten our dignity by letting our geek flag fly for Thor or the X-Men, and we imperil the rosy memories of our past by revisiting the deep affections of youth and remembering who we were, and who we might have been.

in the 1970s, Thor was often at his best in books other than his own

Watching these movies should be a victory lap, but instead it’s an ass-puckering second chance to feel ridiculous for loving comic books. Only now I’m not alone in a dim garage filled with comics longboxes — I’m defenseless in a theater, with my friends, my wife, and my kids. Even as Marvel’s movie franchise has grown to dozens of pictures with unprecedented and worldwide appeal, I still feel a little ridiculous embracing my comics fandom.

My favorite characters from my pivotal summer of ’74 got big movies all at once, validating in that only-money-makes-it-matter fashion that I had good taste as a kid. I stuck with comics, off-and-on, into my late twenties, but largely abandoned them as a fan during my brief career as a comic book writer.

And after coming home from Thor in 2011?

I was either ready to get out of comics once and for all or reawakening to a call long past its final echo.

I didn’t see it coming when I took the boys to Thor, but no sooner had that Sturm and Drang faded from the screen than Jack turned to me and said, “Hey dad, do you have any Thor comics out in the garage?”

Boy, did I.

behold, the Longbox Graveyard!

Longbox Graveyard is about coming to terms with comic books, and trying to enjoy them again. It is my method for examining why I ignored and denied my interest in comics for decades, to the point where I become burdened and a little embarrassed by my Accumulation of books.

My focus is on Marvel and DC books from the Bronze Age (1970-1985), because that “Bronze Age” was the “Golden Age” to me. Longbox Graveyard follows the transformation of my comics Accumulation into a Collection. I purge the books I no longer like, and tell you which books escape the Longbox Graveyard (and why). I write about getting (re)started in comics collecting — building databases, buying and selling back issues, and grading books. And I eventually try to come to terms with my own unsuccessful career as a comics creator.

I welcome your comments. Positive or negative, your participation encourages me to continue this blog.

(And if my nostalgia has you itching to read some comics, please shop through my affiliate link to MyComicShip.com, where your purchases award Longbox Graveyard with trade credit to buy … even more comics! Huzzah!)

NEXT WEEK: #2 The Micronauts!

(Special thanks to Farzad Varahramyan — a legitimate genius and a better friend than I deserve — for creating this blog’s original header art)

Longbox Graveyard #1: The Golden Age

Originally published June 22, 2011

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The Mighty Thor: Mjolnir’s Song

Longbox Graveyard #172

Thor: Ragnarok is in theaters this week, and the movie looks a treat, full of Hulks and gods and laughs and action. Mostly, it looks … big.

But no matter how big this film may be, it can’t be bigger than this Thor story from thirty years ago …

Welcome to the Dollar Box, where I review comic book treasures with an original cover price of a dollar or less! For this installment I wanted to do something big … and you don’t get much bigger than Thor #380, where every page is a full-page shot!

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

The year was 1987, and Walt Simonson was nearing the end of his run on Thor. And not just any run — for my money, Simonson’s Thor is in the discussion for the finest comics run of all time. I’ve already enthused about the first issues of Simonson’s era over at Longbox Graveyard (in two parts — ONE, and TWO), but with this issue we are in Simonson’s late innings, and the shadows are beginning to lengthen. Simonson had ceded his pencilling duties to Sal Buscema after issue #368, but like one of his Norse heroes, the master returned to the page for one last epic adventure with the God of Thunder, doubtless feeling some pressure to top the stellar work he had done before. The result was this “all-splash page” issue of Thor, an attempt to tell a big story with the biggest possible images.

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

And this is a big story. Thor battles the Midgaard Serpent … the mythological, world-girdling wyrm destined to slay Thor at the end of time. Thor has always been a book heavy with mythological overtones, and never moreso than in Simonson’s run. When Thor takes to the field of battle against the Serpent, it is with the full, crushing awareness that this is a battle he cannot win, and that his death at the fangs of the Serpent — followed by the destruction of the Earth that he loves — is his inevitable fate.

But what makes heroes into heroes is how they face their doom, and defy the fates, and that is what we have in Thor #380. Weakened by Hela’s curse, and sustained only by his magic armor and the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolner, Thor faces long odds in this battle. The Serpent is well aware of Thor’s sudden mortality, and also knows that this strange circumstance may free him of the doom that binds him to Thor — if he can kill this godling now, weakened as he is, then he might re-write his own fate. After all, he, too, is destined to die on the last day in battle with Thor.

Big stakes, big pictures, and big storytelling, and it works (mostly), not so much as a stand-alone issue, but as a victory lap for the end of Simonson’s long run on this title. Telling a story in this format is epic, but not ideal. A comic story needs images of differing sizes to operate at best efficiency. When all panels are the same size, they are afforded equivalent visual weight, working against the emotional pace of a story. The absence of conventional panel structure is especially acute when showing rapid action, such as when Thor is swallowed by the Serpent, then bashes his way back out through the monster’s teeth, a sequence better suited to two panels than two pages. But as a once-in-a-lifetime event — and especially as a punctuation mark for Simonson’s stellar run — it is fun to see storytelling on this epic scale.

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

There’s that word again — epic. “Mjolner’s Song” is epic in more ways than one. Tying the whole thing together is an “epic” in a literal sense. Storytelling captions narrate Thor’s battle the way some skald might tell it in the mead hall. These captions serve to heighten the mythological import of the conflict, while at the same time offering juxtaposition for the dialogue of our combatants, who can be charmingly flippant at times.

Thor #380, Walt SimonsonIn the end this is a confident and fearless issue that echoes the confident and fearless approach Simonson took to his run on Thor. Throughout his time on the book, Simonson boldly reinvented the rich legacy of the stories and characters that had come before, and embraced the magical weirdness of his subject matter — Simonson confidently and unapologetically gave us talking serpents and heroes who were simultaneously bound by their fates yet also self-aware enough to note that they have an infinite capacity for stupidity!

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

In the end, it is that “capacity for stupidity” that may provide the most important secret sauce of all for these kinds of broad-shouldered, super-heroic tales. Simonson was a master at telling Silver Age stories in a modern style. He kept what worked of all that had come before, ignored what didn’t, and cheerfully reinvented comic book storytelling, leaving us work that still resonates three decades later. Since these stories were printed, Thor has gone on to become a major movie property (thanks in no small part to the foundation Simonson laid down during his tenure), but even the finest effects Hollywood can muster can’t lay a finger on the battle Simonson gives us here.

It’s big, it’s loud, it’s fun, and it may even be infinitely stupid … but it is also an example of what comics do better than in any other form of fiction. In the end, it is tales like “Mjolner’s Song” that keep us reading and collecting this unique art form. This issue is well worth tracking down, either in original form, in one of Marvel’s many reprints, or online (in it’s entirety) thanks to my fellow blogging pal, Mars Will Send No More!

Thor #380, Walt SimonsonSO BE IT!

This column originally appeared at Stash My Comics.

 

Spider-Man Covers Gallery

Celebrate Spider-Man’s transfer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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Amazing Spider-Man #121

 

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