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Saturday, 6 August 2016

10,000 Views Special: Why I read Comics

Two weeks ago this blog received 10,000 views. First off I would like to thank everyone for taking their time to read this blog and push it up to 10,000 views. I was debating what to do to celebrate this milestone until I thought that I should do something personal. As you can all tell I am a huge comic book fan and I read any comic: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image etc. My favorite superheros range from Batman to Black Panther to Ms Marvel to Hellboy to Spawn. For over half my life I have been reading comics and around half of this blog is devoted to comics. This post may seem a bit rambling but it needs to be a bit of a ramble to properly explain why I read comics and why I'm optimistic about the future of the comic book industry.

Why I read them
This may seem an obvious point; comics are made to entertain people and we read them to be entertained. I do read comic books for that reason. I read books, play video games, write stories and watch films for this reason also. However, to me comic books are much more than just illustrated monthly stories. Mark Hamill, who played both Luke Skywalker and the Joker, stated that comics were 'the greatest form of escapism'. In my opinion this is a fairly accurate statement. Comic books throw you into a world where people who should not exist exist, the most fantastical events take place, and things that would be regarded as the greatest of feats in our world are treated as normal. Comics throw you into the lives of fantastical people with no build up; you become part of this world at the same rate as the character you are reading about. Comic books have been published for far longer than any person reading this blog has been alive: Doctor Occult, DC's first character, first appeared in 1935, Superman in 1938, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Marvel's first hero, in 1939 and Batman in 1939. Issues published by companies continue from their origins so many years ago, and readers get thrown right into it. It is like meeting someone for the first time: you enter their lives at some point and you find out the rest as you progress your relationship. In 1991 the Mutant Registration Act last appeared in the Marvel Universe, but it would later be mentioned in the Civil War story arc fifteen years later in passing. That is the glory of comic books; it can briefly allude to events happening years ago without taking you out of the present. 

Comic books are all about escapism. Although I do like realistic heroes, stories and events, (after all Batman is one of my favorite all time characters), comic books manage to blend realism with fantasy. Batman is one of the most realistic heroes using his fortune to build advanced equipment to fight crime, but he fights alongside an alien he gets a whole host of powers from the sun's rays and the daughter of the Amazonian queen who brought her to life from clay, (or was the biological daughter of Zeus). Y: The Last Man has the very unrealistic scenario of every mammal with a Y chromosome, bar am escape artist and his Capuchin monkey, dying alongside the realism of a world societies recovering from the initial collapse. Comic books blend realism and fantasy to draw us into a world so different from our own to help us forget about our own world. Even comics which have virtually no fantastical elements do this well. From Hell, for the most part, deals with a realistic mystery set in Victorian London trying to solve the Jack the Ripper case. Alan Moore managed to get a realistic setting for most of the story but did it in a way which drew people away from their own world and into one with Abberline hunting the Ripper. The staying power of comics is evidence of this escapism and the characters created really bonded with the readers.

I wish to talk more about the characters as it gets quite personal. Comic books have been published over so many years, with many characters over the decades, which means that as comic book readers we can see the evolution of these characters. We saw them at their highs and we saw them at their lows. We understand what they are going through and care so much about them. I was one of the many people who were outraged with the U-turn of Spider-Man's personality in One More Day and how Batman revoked his 'no killing rule' in Batman v. Superman. When Batman v. Superman was released I saw several internet comments questioning comic book fans why they were so outraged that Batman and Superman killed people. The simple answer is that we have bonded so much with these characters that we hate to see everything what they stand for thrown aside. Commonly referred to as the worst fanfiction of all time, My Immortal depicts all the Harry Potter characters in the incorrect ways, (such as having Dumbledore being uncaring), which was one reason why it got so badly slammed, (although that was just one of many things wrong with that fanfiction). This is the same case. We know so well these characters so we don't want to see them portrayed badly. I love Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but I was disappointed in the way they treated by favorite Batman villain: Scarecrow. He is a complex and dark villain who utilizes the one weakness we all have, our fears, and in Batman Begins he is soon overshadowed by the final act while in the others he is sidelined. Now I shall get into my final point about why I read comics, (partially to do with the characters).

I suffer from chronic depression and social anxiety disorder. For many years I found it hard to cope with these issues; often I felt alone and felt like a pariah. When I was first diagnosed it was a time when I had started to truly get into comic books. Years prior I had a small interest in comics: I would read a few comics, (largely Dark Horse's Star Wars publications), I loved the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, (Spider-Man 3 less than the rest), when I was younger I watched The Batman by the creators of Jackie Chan Adventures and I thought The Dark Knight was a cinematic masterpiece, (I still do). Around the time I was diagnosed I properly got into comic books. I had started my own collection in earnest, I got Batman: Arkham Asylum, I started looking online for older comics, I bought on Amazon one of my favorite comic book video games, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and I read about the characters which didn't appear in the comics which I did own. When I got immersed into the world of comic books I started to sympathize with characters. The X-Men and the mutants were outcasts of society, Hellboy found it hard to initially fit in with his human colleagues and was plagued by the knowledge that he was summoned to Earth to be the catalyst of the apocalypse, Batman was tormented by the memories of his parents, Barbara Gordon's paralysis and the Joker killing Jason Todd, and Daredevil himself had depression. To me this made the escapism of comic books even more poignant and at times it helped me cope. Explaining these feelings to people who do not have depression or social anxiety is difficult but seeing characters having their own problems helped me cope with my own.

When this was happening comic books were not yet in the mainstream. I received a bit of criticism for enjoying comics, not very much though, and for a while I was the only one that I knew who read comic books. This soon changed. Batman: Arkham Asylum was well received by both comic book fans and non-fans alike, and the sequel Arkham City gained even more attention. Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe suddenly hit everyone, not just comic book fans, with The Avengers. People who I knew who had scoffed at comic books in the past were talking excitedly about this new films, and to this day it is one the IMDb Top 250 films list. That same year we also had The Dark Knight Rises, although not as good as the previous one, showed that comic book movies were good and profitable. Now we are at a stage where the Justice League is getting its own film, the previously obscure Guardians of the Galaxy could have a film regarded as one of the best comic book movies of all time, Deadpool could have a much loved movie and comic books could be in the mainstream without being ridiculed. 

Why I'm hopeful
Comic books moving to the mainstream, and the changes happening in the industry has inspired some hope. Although Marvel Now! is a bit all over the place at the moment, (Captain America 'Hail Hydra' springs to mind), it is doing somethings right. I really am liking the fact that one of my favorite Marvel heroes, Carol Ann Danvers, is now Captain Marvel, and is enjoying some much needed attention. She is a really good character who's been often overlooked in the past. Equally, I like how Marvel is having Rira Williams become the new Iron Man. It's a bold move which adds some diversity to the Marvel roster. Although DC's New 52 was hit and miss it did some really good things. Harley Quinn's and Batgirl's own publications were really well done and developed two very loved characters. DC Rebirth released this year has done several good things, like bringing back Wally West, and it genuinely had me stunned. The revelation that Superman has cancer and that the Watchmen are entering the DC Universe was a big shock to the system. 

Comic books in recent years have been introducing so many more diverse characters: we have Muslim heroes, deaf heroes, homosexual and bisexual heroes, heroes with mental illnesses and more ethnic minority heroes. I have to say Simon Baz is now one of my favorite Green Lanterns and I hope he appears in the live-action DC films. Miles Morales as Spider-Man for years has been the saving grace for the the Ultimate comics and I really hope he appears in the MCU. As comics become more diverse more people can become interested in them; we can have future comic book writers picking up a Dark Horse, IDW Publishing, DC or Marvel comic now and becoming inspired by it. Hopefully with comics now in the mainstream people can read comics and seek the same solace which I did. May comics continue to do as well as they have been doing for another eighty years.

DC Rebirth

Marvel Now!

Thanks for reading, thank you for the 10,000 views and next time I'll be reviewing the Suicide Squad movie.

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