It's a Marvel

I'm a grown up person. An adult. I'm not over the hill, but I can see the view from the top.... .... and I've started reading comic books. Not just any comic books, Marvel books. And, you know what, dammit, they're good.

Okay, they're not comics. They're "graphic novels" - but that's like five comics in one.

When I was young, I had the typical UK seventies fare, things like: 'The Beano'. From time to time, I got 'The Fantastic Four' or 'Thor' and found them so exotic, but they were really hard to come by. Later, I read 2001 (though I got annoyed by the green guy using jargon).

A year or so ago, I saw a graphic novel. Marvel's Civil War. The basic premise is so obvious one wonders how they didn't tackle it before (yeah, I know about Watchmen, but this was the world of Spiderman and The Fantastic Four). The premise is that in a world of superhero vigilantes, how long would you expect government to tolerate their activities? An incident occurs which provokes national outrage, and a law is introduced requiring the heroes to register. When you've a closely guarded secret identity, maybe a family, a spouse, a child, and have made enemies of super-villains with grudges, this isn't an easy path. Some will not comply - then what do you do?

I got the book and really enjoyed it - both sides made their case. Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) made the pro-registration case, others (such as Captain America, who isn't a huge figure for me) went underground.

There were some references I didn't get - what was 'wakanda' for instance, what's the difference between 'superhero' and 'mutant' (still not clear on that) - but these didn't matter. It was a good story, and I enjoyed it.

I read some more. Civil War had stories with more depth, sequels and prequels. I read Civil War: Iron Man and Civil War: Road to Civil War.

Then I wondered what lead up to Civil War. I read some 'Avengers', specifically 'New Avengers' and 'Mighty Avengers', I went to the beginning with New Avengers Volume 1 - as we get to the post 'Civil War' era, at New Avengers Volume 6, there is a split in the 'Avengers' titles, for reasons that are to with 'Civil War'. So now we also have Mighty Avengers Volume 1 spinning off.

One of my old favourites (and soon to be a major motion picture), Thor, was referenced in 'Civil War'. As he was an old favourite, I remember reading his stories at my grandparents', I picked up Thor By J. Michael Straczynski.

I also picked up The Ultimates volume 1: Super-human - this is not part of the main continuity, but is a 'reboot' without the contradictions and collected baggage (... yet).

By now, things are getting worrying. One title leads to another, if I read 'Avengers' and want to understand what's happening do I have to read all the branches of 'Avengers'? What about the individual titles, 'Iron Man', 'Hulk' etc? In short, the answer is no - some stories do cross over, but they don't (usually) rely on a crossover between titles.

The avengers titles went through a story arc called 'secret invasion' - the upshot is that we now have the 'Dark Avengers' too. That's three titles. I was concerned it'd mushroom from there. I'm not up to date on 'Dark' as it's only just coming out as graphic novels - but the 'Dark' Avengers are the Avengers, as far as the marvel universe is concerned.

It seems that 'Marvel' are aware that they can't proliferate titles without overwhelming their readership (and diluting the availability of their characters) - so this year there is another big event called 'Siege' - this is a multi-title deal, so I'll be waiting for the graphic novel collections. Following this the number of Avengers titles are being reduced to 'The Avengers'. If the graphic novels come out quickly enough to get me up to date, I may even move to getting the story as it comes out - though I hope it's not too 'nice' in 'the heroic age' after the darkness which I've found so attractive!

Wanting a bit of darkness doesn't mean that doesn't mean I'd want the books to closely mirror the times as some say they have done, but I do like a bit of grit. Interestingly, I've been educated a little about a corner of American politics which had passed me by as a result of reading marvel. I'd not read the story in question, but did somehow pick up on controversy surrounding something called 'The Tea Party movement', which as near as I can see wants to blame the national debt of the USA solely on the current incumbent of the Whitehouse (who has been in office for a little over a year) instead of giving some of the 'credit' to the guy who was in office for eight years beforehand. Though their FAQ claims they're concerned with fiscal responsibility, Obama is referenced prominently, not Dubya - and 'The New Quiz's' favourite, Sarah Palin, supports the movement. They were referenced in a demonstration in a Marvel comic, which caused controversy in the US, heh, waddya know? (I honestly don't understand why 'liberal' is seen as bad by some Americans, being 'illiberal' is incompatible with that concept espoused by those opposing 'liberals', that is 'freedom'). Anyhow, I'm going off topic, so....

What else have I read? I treated myself for my birthday with a subscription to Marvel digital. It's pretty good, though not perfect. There are annoying gaps in the titles available (sometimes mid-series), and their RSS feeds don't (currently) play nice in Google Reader. Nevertheless, using it I've read the superb '1602' by Neil Gaiman which asks about the fate of the superhero appearing in the 17th century. I've read 'She-Hulk' which filled in the background of Jen Walters (who appears in Civil War). I've read The 'Black Panther' series which shows the history of 'Wakanda' (a fictional state) and his marriage. It's all good - if only the RSS feeds worked. I've discovered 'Deadpool', 'Agents of Atlas' and the mad as a bag of teapots 'Hit Monkey'

I've not stuck with Marvel. I've read 'The Last Man', 'Watchmen', Joss Whedon's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Vol 1' and 'Fray'. I've read 'V for Vendetta' by Alan Moore, and even a little Batman.

Whilst there is much to appeal to the kiddies, generally things seem to have 'grown up' - and we have involved, grown up themes. Indeed, just this week, 'Civil War' was referred to in the Washington Post.

So, I've read some comic books. I've enjoyed 'em - and if anyone else thinks that's silly - tough.