Each Wednesday, one of the Blog@Newsarama contributors discusses the things we love about comics in a feature we like to call, “I ♥ Comics”!
I love monsters. And it has nothing to do with liking to be scared (though I do).
I wasn’t a hideous kid or anything. I don’t want to come across like I had a miserable childhood, because I had a family who loved me and usually one good friend at any given time. But I was a shy kid and I didn’t connect easily with other people. I was never good at sports and didn’t particularly care to be outside. I’d much rather have been in front of the TV or hidden in my room with a book or a few comics.
I probably wasn’t that different from a lot of kids who grew up to be comics fans.
The books and comics I read at first were all about heroes. Larger-than-life folks whom I could dream about being like. I started with Richie Rich (man, to have the toys he did) and kept going through Tom Swift, Batman, Tarzan, Thor, and James Bond. It was a nice escape. Imagining I was those guys, I could feel cool, powerful, rich, and popular.
But somewhere along the way, I saw Boris Karloff in Frankenstein and it changed my tastes. I still like heroic fiction, but I don’t connect with it the way I used to. Frankenstein introduced me to a character who was more like I already saw myself than like I wanted to see myself. I projected myself onto this poor creature who just wanted to be loved and accepted, but couldn’t make it with the cool kids. And they didn’t just ignore him in the lunchroom, they picked up pitchforks and torches and went after the guy. Here was someone more pitiable than me. I fell in love with him.
I don’t know that it was a conscious decision, but looking back, I can see that I started identifying more and more with not just outsider characters, but monsters. Or at least, a certain kind of monster. People in fiction can be outsiders for lots of reasons. Maybe they’re framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Maybe they’re driven by a singular mission that no one understands. Maybe they’re just buttholes. But monsters – at least the ones I like – are outsiders for reasons completely beyond their control. They look different and scary and people react to them on that level alone. They’re lonely. Who can’t relate to that? Who hasn’t thought at some point that if everyone just knew the real me, they’d all accept and love me the way I deserve?
Some monsters do find acceptance. My favorite Star Wars character is Chewbacca. He’s huge, furry all over, and frightening, but Han and Luke and the gang all treat him like family. He’s a monster, but he’s a hero. That’s pretty cool. Hellboy’s another example. Or Sasquatch from Alpha Flight. I’ll take a monstrous hero over a handsome, chiseled one any day.
But the monsters I love best are the ones who still have to fight prejudice and persecution. Comics are full of them: the Hulk, the Thing, Beast, Nightcrawler.
I love how any time the topic of a mutant “cure” comes up in X-Men comics all the mutants get offended and talk about how they don’t need no cure and how “being a mutant isn’t a disease.” Then, inevitably, Beast or Nightcrawler will tell them to shut the hell up. It’s all well and good to love your mutation if it gives you cool powers and you can hide it whenever you want to fit in. But when was the last time Wolverine really suffered for just being a mutant? Or Kitty Pride? Or even Cyclops? Yeah, Storm, tough frickin’ life being worshipped as a goddess. Nightcrawler was chased through the streets Frankenstein-style with pitchforks and torches! He’s not just a mutant, he’s a monster, so don’t whine to me about a world that hates and fears you.
Storm or Colossus complaining about how tough it is to be a mutant is like Tyra Banks or Brad Pitt whining about how hard their lives are. Now the Hulk… there’s a guy who knows what it’s like to be mistreated. Or poor Thing with that trench coat and sunglasses get-up of his. The Thing knows what it’s like to be an outsider. And these guys don’t have a built-in support system like the X-Men do.
Yeah, the Thing’s got the Fantastic Four and they love him and all, but they don’t know what it’s like for him. A lot of comic book monsters have teams or supporting characters who care about them, but that never makes much difference to the big picture, does it? General Ross or the Sentinels or random xenophobic bigots or even unthinking friends like Johnny Storm always come along to put the monsters in their places.
I love that monsters are getting some good story attention these days. The current “Planet Hulk” storyline is all about the themes of rejection and acceptance. Another monster I like is the Goon (I’m coming back to the Hulk, I promise). The Goon’s a regular dude, but he’s got a butt-ugly mug and people are scared of him. Mostly because he’ll twist your neck off if you so much as look at him wrong. But fear works both ways for the Goon. It makes folks uneasy around him, but it also keeps them polite. The Hulk’s trying out that tactic right now and it’s working beautifully. I can’t wait for him to get back to Earth and see if it’s going to work there too. He’s going to be so pissed at those smug Illuminati punks who shot him into space because they were scared of him. I can’t wait to see their faces.
Another promising monster tale is A.J. Lieberman’s take on the Martian Manhunter. I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction to the preview art was, “Oh, great. Make him less human. That’ll sell some books.” But I realize now that MM is a classic monster: the green-skinned alien. He’s achieved heroic status because he hangs out with the coolest kids in the universe, but Lieberman’s exploration of what MM had to give up for that acceptance should be fascinating. And if he refuses to continue playing a charade, if he lets his true, more monstrous self show, will he continue to be accepted? Or will he be shunned? And what will that do to him? Interesting times ahead.
I don’t know where he’s going with it thematically, but Steve Niles’ less-silly, more-monstrous version of the Creeper will be interesting to watch develop. How will normal people react to that character?
I said above that Hellboy is generally accepted as a hero, but that doesn’t go for the rest of the BPRD. They’re lousy with issues about identity and acceptance, and the series of BPRD mini-series are doing a bang up job exploring those. And I haven’t even touched on Bigby Wolf in Fables or Ghost Rider or probably a bunch more that I’m forgetting. Who are your favorites?
Yup, it’s a good time to be a monster fan. Or just someone who can relate to stories about trying to find a way to fit in. And if you get a little chill or scare in the process, so much the better.