Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Funnybooks as Literature

As you all should know by now, I’ve been reading comics since the (very) early ‘60s, which is when I discovered Spider-Man, and made him my own. So when I tell you that after 46 years of following his (nearly) every adventure, that I can be moved to true emotion by a story (and by the plight of characters) that — for all intents and purposes — I have known all of my life (longer in fact than I’ve known my wife), which is something of a big deal if you can understand that.

To be sure, this is something that I really didn’t think that could happen. I mean, sure I still enjoy reading Spider-Man stories (mostly), and I’m never going to get the character entirely out of my system (even during that brief period between the end of ‘95 to the beginning of ‘01 when I stopped collecting entirely, I wasn’t completely over him). Still, it was surprising to me that, well, I could be surprised.

Amazing Spider-Man #574 did just that to me, I found myself becoming emotional involved with what was going on even as the story was unfolding. The story dealt, with not so much Spidey himself, but one of Spidey’s long-time supporting cast members, Eugene “Flash” Thompson. Spidey first met Flash in High School, and Flash always played that typical dumb jock that picked on the hapless (brainy) Peter Parker. This lasted all the way through High School, and most of the way through College.

Eventually Flash enlisted in the army and went off to war (back then it was Vietnam — these days Marvel tends to fudge that topical bit of information as it would make Flash (as well as the rest of the characters) way too old for much of the current audience. Anyway, eventually Flash grew up (sort of) and he and Peter became friendly (they even roomed together for a while). Needless to say, Flash is and always has been something of a jerk. Well in this story, for perhaps the very first time, we gain a real insight into not only who Flash is, and why he is the way he is.

Interestingly enough, even though Flash bullied Peter, he always had a serious man-crush on Spider-Man. This was always dealt with as hero worship, and well, that was that. Only not so much. You see, there was more to Flash, and to his story that we had ever learned — until now. This story reveals all that. It tells a bit more about who Flash is, and why he is motivated to do the things he does.

And it has a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming.

It is deeply moving, and profoundly evocative. If you don’t read comics, you can pick up this particular comic and read it knowing whatever little you know about Spider-Man and his cast that you already know, and it will still be powerful, because while it so totally not about Spider-Man, it is obvious that Spidey is the heart and soul of this matter.

Why? Because what Stan Lee told us back in 1962 was the truth then, and is the truth now...

With great power comes great responsibility.”

Interestingly enough, around the same time that I read Amazing Spider-Man #574, I also picked up Invincible Iron Man #6, yet another comic book that surprised and taught me something. See, for me, most of the time comics are just light reading, escapist entertainment. On occasion, I get some new, interesting, or (believe it or not) even powerful out of them. Today when I read The Invincible Iron Man #7 was one of the latter.

It was there that I learned about Clifton Pollard.
Pollard was a gravedigger working at Arlington National Cemetery earning $3.01-an-hour. In November of 1963, it was Pollard that dug the grave of the recently-slain President Kennedy. The only reason that anyone knows this is because Jimmy Breslin then a reporter for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune was covering the funeral found and spoke to Pollard. Apparently Breslin was the only reporter in America who thought that the gravedigger’s story might be an interesting read.

Pollard told Breslin that he considered it an honor to open the earth for a slain President’s casket.

Clifton Pollard wasn't at the funeral. He was over behind the hill, digging graves for $3.01 an hour in another section of the cemetery. He didn't know who the graves were for. He was just digging them and then covering them with boards. "They'll be used," he said. "We just don't know when. I tried to go over to see the grave," he said. "But it was so crowded a soldier told me I couldn't get through. So I just stayed here and worked, sir. But I'll get over there later a little bit. Just sort of look around and see how it is, you know. Like I told you, it's an honor."

Say what you want about comics, but as far as I’m concerned they are legitimate literature, and Invincible Iron Man # 7 is one of the reasons why.

The comic was written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Salvador Larroca. It was one of the best comics that I’ve read this year.

And to think that my father always told me that comicbooks were going to rot my brain. Thankfully, He couldn’t have been further from the truth.


Tommy said...

With me, it was my father that was supportive of my comic collecting, but my mom that was more antsy about it.

Before learning a boatload of words in High School, I'd see lots of new words in comics.

rjsodaro said...

Neither of my parents were ever anything close to “supportive” of my love of comics. When I was 17 or 18 I attended my first comicbook convention (it was in NYC)I came home with a pile of comics, and — along with my best friend — spread our comics out over the living room floor.

My father walked into the room saw all the comics shouted “How much money did you spend?’ before I could respond, he said, “no never mind, don’t tell me.” then turned and walked out of the room. Good thing too, because I wasn’t sure how he would have reacted to my telling him that I had spent $100.00. Earlier this year I picked up Steve Saffel’s beautiful coffee table book Spider-Man Icon.

When my father (who was with me at the time) noticed that the book was $50.00, he said “How many times can you read this book for $50.00?”

I immediately responded, “You never understood why I wanted to buy the comics themselves when the were 12¢, so there’s no way that you are going to understand why I want to buy a book about those comics for 50 bucks. Stop talking.”

(And I never talk to my father that way. He stopped talking, and I bought the book.

Sol (Frederick) Badguy said...

Your parents are the same as mine about comics Tommy. Like my father I started some activities with joy after reading comics; drawing & writing are in my case (still need heavy improvement) photography as well.

Comics are indeed legitimate literature, an entry in my comic blog is about comic books not just being kids stuff, it should be redefined to say not just nerds stuff as well.

$100 back then on comics? How big a pile was it since comics were around 25¢ an issue?

This reminds me of something: What did your father say to you the Halloween you dressed as symbiote spidey "Uncle Bob"?

rjsodaro said...

When I spent the hundred bucks I believe that I came home with close to 100 comics (some of that money was spent on my train tickets and lunch — oh, and in those days we always made sure to buy my return ticket prior to going to the Con, that way we knew we’d have enough money to get home).

When I posed as Spidey (in Black, not Venom) I was 30, so he was way used to it by then. As I recalled, he simply rolled his eyes and put up with it.