Thanksgiving, Day 9: Comic Books

I would have posted this yesterday, as it was new comic book day, but I was still overwhelmed by democracy.

The reason I thought of this was because of a student in one of my classes. He’s a quiet kid, something of a Socially Awkward Penguin, but he and I have been talking about books for the last few months. I let him my Japanese copies of the Hitchhiker’s series, and found out he’s also been reading Connie Willis. We talked on the bus about books, and it was great – he’s a quiet, 15 year-old bookworm. My kind of people.

Today he asked if I knew who Deadpool was, and my heart grew three sizes right there and then.

Deadpool versus zombie Presidents. This is perfectly normal.

For those of you not familiar with the Merc with the Mouth, Deadpool is Marvel Comics’ most popular comic relief character. If by “comic relief” you mean “clinically insane” and “irredeemably violent.” He kills people for a living and cracks jokes about it. He has amazing healing powers and simply cannot be killed. In several cases, he’s managed the kill off every single superhero in the Marvel Universe. Repeatedly. For people who like wanton violence tinged with humor, Deadpool is your guy. The fact that he knows he’s a comic book character just makes it all the better.

Deadpool isn’t one of my favorite characters, though. I’ve talked before about my fondness for Green Lantern, for example, and I will always have a special place in my heart for the Legion of Super-Heroes. I prefer Superman to Batman, though neither one would really be complete without the other, and Firestorm has always been an underrated gem, in my opinion. But there have always been good characters in books and movies, and good stories as well. What is it about comic books that keep me coming back?

I could just refer you to Scott McCloud’s seminal work on the subject, Understanding Comics. He’s an expert on not only the history and evolution of comic books, but also the way they work as a medium, a cross between art and words which, when combined, become more than both. If you like comics, I highly recommend you give this book a read. If you’ve always wondered what the big deal is, then it’ll help clue you in.

I’m not quite that academic about them, though. I suppose I like comics because they provide me with something my everyday working world does not – wonder.

Also, practical lessons about not taking things that don’t belong to you.

Don’t get me wrong, you can find wonder if you look for it. It’s not all that hard to stumble across, but you need to know where to look. You might need a bit of special training or extra work, or a guide to show you the way. Comics – especially superhero comics – deliver it all right to you. Epic battles, staggering losses, heartwrenching moments of tragedy and unbelievable moments of victory. They’re all there, for just a few dollars. The superheroes and the villains they fight are us, writ large. Their powers are so much greater, their responsibilities are so much more important. We can look to them as examples of how to deal with our own petty adversities and inconveniences, knowing that the while the fate of the world may never be in our hands, our own fates often are. We cannot be Superman, but we can learn from him.

Not all comics are about superheroes, of course. In the non-capes-and-spandex section of the comic book field, there are still great tales of human experience to be told, and they are given to us by many great and talented artists and writers. By combining pictures and words, these creators are able to work wonders with our brains, bringing us along on imaginative journeys that could not be undertaken by words or pictures by themselves.

I’ve spent a lot of time and money on comic books over the years. Some of it has been wasted, sure, but so has some of the money I’ve spent on books and movies. Some of my favorite stories of all time come from comics. Some of the characters I look up to have come from comics. Some of my favorite artists and writers draw and write for comics. They have made my life richer and more interesting, and if that’s not something to be thankful for, well, then I don’t know what is.

An often overlooked lesson in comics – use your damned common sense.

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