Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Favourite Book, Part Two

Last time I talked about the first time I ever bought comics. I ended up with about one hundred and twenty of them and used them to figure out how comic books are constructed.

For the next few years, I added to my collection only in fits and starts. I wasn't much for whining, and my parents weren't much for giving into it, but I did persuade them, on occasion, to let me pick up a comic book from a supermarket spinner rack or the magazine shelf of a book store. These comics were selected opportunistically, picked out based on the colours on the cover and whether the movement caught my eye.

I mean, really.
So very cool. (I still
like the black costume
This being the 1980s, I ended up with a lot of Thor and Spiderman, which suited me just fine. Thor had plenty of action, Norse mythology and plots that arced long but that I could pick up easily if I missed a few issues, and Spiderman had terrible quips, interesting villains and an engaging secondary cast. It also felt strangely real in a way I honestly sometime found off-putting.

Peter Parker was a loser, yes, but he felt like someone I knew, or could know, and it made me uneasy about my life and the lives of my fellow nerds. Most of us were just barely holding onto our dignity and social standing. If one of us was bitten by, I don't know, a radioactive seagull and drawn into a complex web of costumed mobsters while trying to maintain a secret identity, it'd be overwhelming.

Before you say it out loud, yes, I recognize that I worried about some weird things as a kid.

Anyhow, my comic book collecting was sporadic at best and as time went on, my collection began to fall apart, literally and figuratively.

I learned quickly that it was unwise to take a comic book to school. The front cover would wear off just getting carried around in a backpack, and could fall apart completely before you got home, assuming that a well-meaning teacher didn't take it from you beforehand. They could go to birthday parties and like, but other kid's mothers might not be keen on their kid's friends bring them over.
They really did kill a
character, too. Stayed dead
for, like a decade, too.

Even just keeping in my room wasn't enough because some of my more pious friends took it upon themselves to save me from the danger of comic books. That's how my latest find - a long white cardboard box made for holding comics - ended up in the closet. Which, in the interests of full confession, is the real reason I cleaned out my closet in the summer before 3rd grade. You're welcome, mom.

I didn't stop collecting, though, and slowly I built up a decent-sized collection. It was mostly Marvel, although I had a soft spot for 80s Batman, the Dark Knight Detective. I also picked up Legion of Superheroes whenever I could. It had the cheesiest plots and dumbest hero names, but there was something compelling about it. Tales of the Legion of Superheroes #329 probably ranks in the top 10 of my favourite comics of all time.

Absolutely no regrets - could
probably do another blog entry on
this game's impact on my DMing. Hrm.
Still, though, it was rare to get two comics in sequence, and I didn't have much money, having saved up and spent most of it on a Nintendo and a bunch of games. At the time, it seemed basically impossible to find a steady source of comics. It's not like there were stores that specialized in selling them.

My next big moment was buying a comic book with my own money. My choice was odd: The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Volume 2, issue 3.

I wish I could say that I bought it because the content was intellectually stimulating, but the truth is that it was a honkin' 64 pages long, and the front cover showed a mostly naked woman with clouds covering her naughty bits.
I am a shallow person.

Of course, the titillation factor was short-lived because, as other readers of this title know, this is basically a reference book for the Marvel Universe. I mean, it's right in the title, so it shouldn't have surprised me but, here it was: 64 pages of dry narratives of a superhero's life, accompanied by diagrams of their equipment and how they work. No, really. Have you ever wanted to know how Daredevil's grappling hook baton works? Well, even if you didn't, you'd know if you, too, had OHOTMUDE vol. 3. (That's what the cool kids call it.)

There was something else about the Official Handbooks, though. They presented the information in an almost journalistic style. The tragic circumstances that lead up to Daredevil taking up his cowl were just . . . delivered, almost without context, which enabled me to contextualize the events in a different way, and see them in a more subjective way

That's really the only problem I have with comics as a medium. With the exception of a few especially daring creators, the events that happen in a comic book are pretty objective, but presented in still frames that don't always give all of the information necessary to get the objective truth, and that can be problematic when you're someone like me, someone who has trouble understanding context.

Plus, statistics! Who doesn't want to know that Doctor Druid has the physical strength of an individual who engages in limited regular exercise, and the exact number of pounds of TNT that are equivalent to a blast from Cyclops' eye-beams? This nerd, right here.

I collection the Handbooks to this day, as anyone who followed my blog during my, "making Marvel RPG characters," phase can attest.

In addition to my buying it with my own money, the Handbook represented still another chapter in my comic book collecting, though: I bought it in a comic book store.

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