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BACK TO ARCHIVES

You Are Your Culture

Okay, so look. Two weeks ago I talked about my life story of being a comics reader. But there’s a lot more to a person’s interaction with comics than just reading issues.

I had the Batcape. I had the Batman cape, I had the freakin’ yellow utility belt. Batgun that goes click click. Bat-handcuffs. Bat-walkie-talkie. Bat-grappling hook and line (gray plastic). When you’re a kid, you want a boomerang. Cheap wood, Nerf, you don’t care. Although the Nerf green three-prong is really unsatisfying. Why? Because you want a Batarang. The whole utility belt and it doesn’t have a Batarang?

My older cousin Bonnie made me a Superman cape when I was a kid. Now that was cool. I don’t know what made her do that, as she must be like a 4th cousin through marriage. But she made me a Superman cape. Now that’s cool.

Masks. Gotta have a mask. Otherwise you’ve got to find reading glasses to be Clark Kent with. You want a Lone Ranger mask. Why? To be the Lone Ranger? No. Batman. Crappy plastic masks. They break. My mom made a mask out of an old inner tube. A rubber mask. Tied on with stretchy cord. Now that’s a mask. You can rip that thing off your face at super-speed and toss it yards away and jump up and down on it, that’s durability. And you want to rip that sucker off too. A lot. Why? Cause it’s freakin’ hot under a real mask, folks. Nightwing must be sweating like a pig under that thing, I’m convinced. No wonder the Gotham contingent is always cranky. Of course, they weren’t in Texas. El Diablo, now there’s a guy you see sweat a lot and I know why, brothers and sisters.

Let’s see. We all watched the Superfriends on TV. Why? Was it good television? No it was not. But it was the Superfriends.

Underoos. Gotta have Underoos. Spider-Man Underoos. Captain America Underoos. Captain Marvel Underoos. Your mom will let you wear your Captain America shirt out in public even. It just looks patriotic to th’ straights. That’s actually a plus in Texas. Heck there’s just one white star, so that sucker looks like TEXAS patriotism. Now THAT’s allowed.

What else? More TV. Linda Carter. They did Golden Age Wonder Woman for a season, and then they flashed forward and did more Modern Age Wonder Woman. How cool is that? Debra Winger was her sister Wonder Girl. Steve just happened to be reincarnated both times. I never understood that at the time. I hadn’t encountered Earth-1 and Earth-2. I was like Okay clearly Diana is immortal but is this Steve’s son? Do people remember that there was a Wonder Woman during WWII or do they think she was a myth or what? What was Diana doing from 1946 to the 1970’s? Did she go back to Paradise Island to be debriefed or what?

Then, although they weren’t on often, there were the old 60’s Marvel Cartoons... Whence we get the Spider-Man theme song... but there was also Cap and Hulk and Iron Man... “When Captain America throws his mighty shieeeeeeld... Tony Stark makes ya feel he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel...” All very Roy Thomas.

Then of course, to top everything, SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS. Dear god. The best parts were the guest stars. I’ve talked before about how Firestar is just MJ with mutant powers. But wow. And the Hulk show wasn’t bad, either. It wasn’t quite as good, but it had She-Hulk once or twice. But Spidey & Friends had BANTER. They had great script doctors and great voice casting.

It gets you into things. Things lead to other similar things. When I was in second grade, my favorite show was the Americanized Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman). I mean, it’s a team of five young orphans with amazing powers and a spaceship thing. It had a great villain with a somewhat inscrutable nature. They had cowls and capes and used them to super-glide, as it were. One looks for other things that are like what you like. Maybe you make the leap from JLA to Sci-Fi. Maybe you go from Dr. Fate to Fantasy books. Maybe you go from Hercules and Isis and Thor to books on mythology. Maybe you go from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. to spy stuff, Avengers and The Prisoner and Man From U.N.C.L.E. (what was it about the 60’s and spies and acronyms? I guess it was the influence of the Avengers?)... You go from Jim Starlin and Kirby to Star Wars and Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. Ralph and Sue and DC Challenge and Batman lead you to Sherlock Holmes. House of Mystery and Ghost Castle lead you to Lovecraft. And THOSE lead to other things.

And that’s come back around now. Look at the comics we read now. Flex Mentallo was ALL about what I’m talking about. You see a ton of this in Alan Moore or Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis or Mark Millar. Even Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek have this albeit in a never-grew-up way... Like the Charles Grodin character (yes, CG was once not a joke) in The Heartbreak Kid (which I saw recently), one can say, no matter who I am, if I’m a nobody, a nothing, an outcast-- I KNOW WHAT WORKS FOR ME. That’s what I want. Right there. That’s what I want from the future. That’s what I want to be. I want to be Superman. I want to be Batman. I want to be Spider-Man. I want that. I want to know more about that. I want to be an expert on that. I want to know what this is all about and who created it and how and why and who their influences were and who THEIR influences were and who _THEIR_ influences were and why. I want to read Understanding Comics and Eisner and see Star Wars and read _Hollywood Kryptonite_ and go to the conventions and see the movies and own the t-shirt. I want a TATTOO of Scud or Scary Godmother or Kill Your Boyfriend or the Superman symbol. I own the Ollie action figure and I’ve seen Robin Hood a million times and I’ve seen Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year. I want to get it, be it, do it, discuss it, think it, live it. I know now what my plan is. I got a picture of it. I can see it. I’ve memorized it. It’s in that box on that shelf on my wall in my head. I know what I like and I don’t care if it’s art (though that would help).

You are a human being. You live in a city or town. You have a TV or computer. You are a part of your culture.

You ARE your culture. You are your culture far more than you “are” your government. Some of us watched George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman and it clicked. Some young people (and a couple of not so young ones) watch Batman Adventures (or, god help them, the X-Men cartoon with Jubilee) and they click. Their brains go click click click like a camera like a Viewmaster like a Batman utility belt gun.

You see it in every issue of The Authority. Even in Alan’s Promethea and Supreme, though I have reservations about them, you see it in a be-careful-what-you-wished-for sort of way. You see it in all of Grant’s JLA. I love this job. I love these people. I love this place. I love what I get to do every day. I’ve exceeded my expectations of what I wanted to grow up to be. I wanted to be a fireman. I wanted to be a policeman. I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to be the President. And now look at me. I am _bulletproof_. I _AM_ flying. I _AM_ saving the world. I _AM_ fire. I am the SUN.

Grant and Warren and Mark Millar ARE writing comics. And so are Rachel Hartman and Brian Michael Bendis and Dwayne McDuffie and Sean McKeever and Christopher Priest and Mark Crilley and Stan Sakai. And their happiness shows, ‘cause they pass it along to you, the reader.

And that’s what it’s all about. For some of us, it started with a superhero. For some of us, it started with comic books.