So all this past spring, I’ve been looking forward to recapturing some of that ancient enchantment by immersing myself in six colorful volumes of Marvel superhero comic books: three Penguin Classics collections from the early adventures of Spider Man, Captain America and Black Pantherand three Folio Society best-of collections featuring Spider-Man, Captain America and Hulk.
Old mysteries and adventure stories deliver a dose of comic book action
For fans, both series are desirable and overlap little. The editor-in-chief of Penguin editions, Ben Saunders, a comic book scholar from the University of Oregon, provides a history of how Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others co-created these modern legends. Contemporary writers such as Qiana J. Whitted, Gene Luen Yang, Jason Reynolds and Nnedi Okorafor contribute additional introductions or winning personal forewords. Appendices contain recommended reading lists and sometimes additional essays, such as Don McGregor’s memoir of how he wrote the “Panther’s Rage” multi-issue, which provided some of the plot elements to the “Black Panthermovie. Each of these collectible Penguin hardbacks is about 350 pages and costs $50. Paperback editions are $28.
Folio Society volumes are $125 each, but for purists, they offer a slightly more authentic reading experience. While Penguin’s imagery is bright and crisp, its paper looks a little too shiny, smooth and white. Folio reproduces slightly faded colors and pulp more faithfully original comics. Former Marvel editor Roy Thomas not only picked the content for each omnibus, but also outlined the creative decisions behind these landmark adventures of Hulk, Spider-Man and Captain America. Each volume is housed in a sturdy slipcase and comes with an important supplement – a separate facsimile of the actual issue in which the superhero first appeared.
Popeye gets a makeover at 93
Now comes the saddest part: Being a fan of older popular fiction, I was surprised — no, appalled — that those Marvel comics never really cast a spell on me. Maybe I expected too much of them. While the art and layout are dynamic and highly imaginative, the writing ranges from hokey to downright utilitarian to histrionic. The stories feature few surprises, and the majority contain the same general plot engine: a sharp tension between each protagonist’s real self and their public persona, between the all-too-human beings inside those skin-tight outfits and the formidable superhumans that they were. called to be.
As a result, nearly every Marvel superhero – at least as far back as the Fantastic Four of the 1960s – is troubled and unhappy. They accept that with great power comes great responsibility but don’t know if they can handle the burden. In principle, their self-doubt, sometimes bordering on self-pity, invests them with a humanizing psychological complexity. Similarly, we are even brought to sympathize with their adversaries, who regularly see themselves as deeply wronged or entitled to revenge. Anguish, in both heroes and villains, is the predominant emotion in the Marvel Universe.
Thus, the teenage Spider-Man tears himself apart as a social misfit and feels guilty for the deaths of several loved ones. Thawed from a cryonic freezer, WWII-era Captain America feels alienated in the modern age and misses his long-dead junior partner, Bucky Barnes. Black Panther endures both physical hardships and serious questions about his ability to carry on the traditions of the Kingdom of Wakanda. And the invincible Hulk is stupidly aware that inside his green skin lingers an unwillingly transformed Bruce Banner. Banner’s own Hulk-inducing rages eventually, almost inevitably, turn out to be a consequence of childhood abuse.
Compared to the DC comics I enjoyed in elementary school, Marvel targets a slightly older audience, mostly teenagers and 20-somethings who can easily relate to emotionally sensitive characters. upset. There’s no doubt that this shift was partly driven by the market – older readers have deeper pockets than 10-year-olds dependent on the allowance. But Marvel’s top writers and artists also had a hunger to “do something new,” to explore and expand the aesthetic possibilities and cultural impact of their medium – something that underground “comix” went against the grain. had already done.
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After all, before this drastic shift still in progress, superhero comics generally offered a suburban, stockade view of American life and hurtfully ignored social, sexual, and racial realities. In that sense, today’s Marvel Universe represents a very welcome step forward. Nevertheless, as they became more and more relevant and naturalistic, superhero comics – not just from Marvel – gradually lost much of their joy as well as their naivety.
This process, however, has barely begun in these albums, which focus on work released in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Here, the story arcs still tend to be just as action-oriented. as one might wish, pitting costumed good guys against highly melodramatic villains, mad scientists and unlikely monsters. By contrast, contemporary superhero comics – from various publishers – are an entirely different matter: the brightly colored dreamland of my childhood has turned into a world of nightmares and case histories. Walk into any specialty comic book store – the days of drugstore shelves are sadly long gone – and darkness will surround you. Much of the artwork you’ll see is dark, stylized, and brutal, while many of the covers spotlight busty supergirls in shiny leather.
But, as I said, it is now. For the most part, these Penguin and Folio Society retrospectives only hint at the gloom to come. However, the pretensions to artistic greatness seem exaggerated to me. You may feel differently.
At least I continue to be childishly delighted by adult cosplay, the practice of dressing up as a favorite fictional or movie character. As our troubled superheroes know, putting on a mask can be liberating, a way to unleash your inner self. Appropriately, Andrew Liptak opens up his chatter”Cosplay: a story” watching costume balls, historical re-enactments, Halloween and the tradition of masked parties at science fiction conventions. Still, his heart truly belongs to the Star Wars franchise.
As a result, the book is teeming with white-armoured stormtroopers and ragtag rebel legions. There are also scattered photos of outfits inspired by comics, manga and anime, but where are the steampunks in their elaborate Victorian glory? Or Conan’s Sword wannabes?
That bullshit aside, Liptak’s story is generously packed, almost overpacked, with information about the cosplay fandom, including chapters on legal issues and costume making. Appropriately, San Diego Comic-Con – the Carnegie Hall of cosplay – will be will soon be in full swing this year, July 21-24.
Michael Dirda will be out for the rest of the summer. His Thursday book column will resume on September 8.
Penguin Classics Marvel Collection Series
Black Panther, Captain America, The Amazing Spider-Man
Series edited by Ben Saunders. $50 hardcover editions. $28 paperback editions.
Folio Society Comic Collections
Hulk, Spider-man, Captain America
Selected and presented by Roy Thomas. $125 each.
By Andrew Liptack. Gallery/Saga Press. $24.99.
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