I’m going to have to beg an indulgence from you, Dear Reader, as I’m going to have to relate some personal tales before we get into this week’s meat and potatoes, a (hopefully) spine-tingling revelation about your favorite publisher and mine, Marvel Comics. Okay, maybe my favorite publisher. And hey, maybe more about comics in general than expected after all.
You see, I know no one really comes here for the exciting tales of Yours Truly, so I do feel a pang of guilt about even starting out with an anecdote, but it just so happens to be the very heart of the matter at hand.
Interested, sir (or madam, whatever the case maybe)? Read on!
When I was but a lass starting out into the wide world of superhero comics, I dipped my pinky toe into the waters with the X-Men, a fan favorite among disenfranchised youth if ever there was one. But I had a problem: my first books came as a gift from my older brother and therefore were of the high ages of Claremont and Byrne, but on the new newsstands were books ages ahead of what had come before (‘Adjectiveless’ X-Men #24, to be exact). As someone who wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough enough to go back issue diving, but still wanted new issues to read, I had quite a few questions. What happened to Psylocke? Where was Kitty Pryde? And, what do you mean Jean Grey had come back? How could anyone come back from the dead!? I was very fortunate at the time to have a close cadre of friends who were not only fans, but really good ones, willing to help out a damsel in distress. Any question I had was fielded fast and soon, the X-Men’s history became a lunch time story hour. I had the Phoenix Saga related to me on a school trip up Half Dome at Yosemite, I had the Siege Perilous explained before play practice, and all were told with the enthusiasm of people who not only loved the stories (or hated them in some cases), but who wanted to bring people into the fold. If the storyline was good, it was related with relish; if it was bad, we gave it a quick couple lines and moved on.
Reading old school Stan and Jack stories, we are really reading “Stan and Jack Stories”. It’s a little like being told those tales at lunch time as Stan “The Man” would take a moment out of his narrative to relate to the reader through narrative text, an editor’s note or even a sound effect or two. “Hey Kids!” didn’t feel like a marketing gimmick, it felt like the writer was calling to the reader passing by, trying to get your attention. I think that’s why we remember those stories the best, why Marvel has such a touchstone to the youth of that era, now older and wiser but still connected to “Stan and Jack Stories”. Or “Stan and Steve Stories” or whatever writer and artist jumped out of the pages of your favorite book to tell you what just happened.
It might be something well known or hidden among the fandom, but there’s an element of, well for lack of a better term, oral storytelling to our favorite funnybooks. Can you think of a storyline or plot twist that you’ve greatly enjoyed that you can’t retell to someone else? Have you ever stood at the counter of your local comic shop and gotten a ‘recap’ of last month’s issue? Have you ever told a kid the origin of your favorite hero when asked who the “guy in the cape” is? We tell these stories as much as they are told to us, one more ‘color’ to the art of visual adventures of our favorite funnybooks.
Marvel Comics has a long and treasured history of getting to the reader thanks to Stan Lee and it’s a hallmark of the House of Ideas. Nowadays, can we say the same?
Well… yeah. It may not be everywhere in the company, but the excitement from writer to artist to reader still remains. In fact (and you’re going to love me for this one), I would go so far as to say that the latest issues of Amazing Spider-Man have brought back that era in the finest example possible. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the storytellers who have been handed our pal Spidey have really done their best to get across that connection once more, telling us about last issue within the story, telling us how dangerous next issue is going to be with an end credit, and excitedly telling the reader about this Brand New Day with enthusiasm and a love of the character, just like I was told back in high school through my friends at lunch.
It is a connection that was sorely missed and I’m glad to have back.