My earliest memory of the super hero genre is definitely the 1992 X-Men cartoon series. Being the youngest in my family a lot of my tastes developed based on what my older sisters were interested in. I remember watching the show and asking my sister questions about it since she seemed so knowledgable on the subject. Eventually I realized that this amazing cartoon about super heroic mutants was actually based on comic books published by a company called Marvel. What amazed me even more than that was the fact that in the comic books the X-Men lived in the same world as so many other super heroes. I found it fascinating that Wolverine and Captain America could work together and even be on the same team. At the time there was no real source for buying comic books in my town. There was a rack at Wal-Mart but it hardly had enough to keep up with anything. But what did exist was marvel.com and an online encyclopedia of Marvel characters and their stories. I would call it the Marvel Wiki, but I’m not sure Wikis were a thing at the time. Whatever it was called, I started reading it every day. I would read whole articles and learn everything that happened to my favourite characters and how their stories intertwined with other heroes. Eventually, when I learned to drive and had a part time job, I would drive to the nearest city and spend every cent I could on comic books. I think my love of super hero comics came from a love of the fantasy of super powers and saving the world as well as a fascination with how often these characters interacted and crossed over into each other’s titles. This fascination led me to try to collect as many comics featuring my favourite characters as I could. Interestingly enough, this started a long chain of collecting and reading that has resulted in me having a bit of a distaste for Super Hero comics. I know, I know, this is nerd blasphemy of the worst kind but it’s a fact. Over the past few years I’ve slowly but surely lost my interest in Super Hero comics, especially those published by Marvel. And here’s why.
After my first purchase at a comic book store I was hooked. I started reading Thor and X-Men comics, and a fairly short lived series called “Zombies!”. These held me over for a few weeks but once I realized I couldn’t afford to drive to the city to by comics every month I begged my mother to let me get subscriptions. She agreed and let me mail in for a subscription to Thor and X-Force. There may have been one other title but I’m not remembering what right now. It was so exciting to receive comics in the mail every month that allowed me to keep up with some of my favourite characters. It helped that this was when J. Michael Straczynski was writing Thor with Olivier Coipel doing the pencils and covers. It may be nostalgia speaking, but I think a lot of folks will agree with me that Straczynski’s run on Thor was beyond amazing and anything drawn by Coipel is a delight. This was also when X-Force was being drawn by Clayton Crain and written by Craig Kyle/Christopher Yost. I don’t know what other people think about this team of creators but holy crap did I love it. It was a great time to dive into the world of Marvel Comics. The unfortunately thing was, for me at least, that I became a bit obsessed with keeping up with the characters stories. I wanted to read every volume of X-Force that came out and I absolutely HAD to keep up with Thor’s stories. When marvel would have a major event like “Secret Invasion” or “Avengers Vs. X-Men” I had to keep up with it because I wanted to see how my favourites were involved. The worst part was the fact that I was trying to be a die hard X-Men fan so I tried to collect all of the X-Titles I could. I was reading X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, Atonishing X-Men, Nightcrawler, X-factor, and the New Mutants. These weren’t all being published at the same time necessarily, although most of them were. I read Thor and a few Avengers titles on top of this as well. With the big events piled on top of that I was spending a lot of money, and even more time, on reading comics. This went on for quite a few years and I think my love of collecting and my obsession with the ever intertwining and expanding Marvel universe got a little tiring. I burned myself out a bit. Well, more than a bit. When you read that many comic books every month you start to see a lot of patterns in the storytelling. When you subscribe to every title involving a character you also wind up reading some pretty poorly written/drawn stories as well. I was in it for better or for worse, and after about eight years of buying and avidly reading Marvel Comics I honestly started to get bored.
The older I get the more I am realizing how much I appreciate variety in the media I consume. I can’t spend too much time watching just comedy movies because I get very bored of them. I can’t read too many fantasy books in a row unless each one is pretty distinct from the rest. And after eight years of reading Marvel comics I started to see an unfortunate lack of variety as far as the stories went. Granted, I haven’t read every title so I can’t speak for everything Marvel has ever done, but the characters I was following seemed to be doing the same things every few years. There was a really great Spider-Man storyline where (SPOILERS) Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus switch bodies, and Spidey’s mind dies in Doc Ock’s body. That is one of the most “super hero comic” sentences I have ever typed but it was a great storyline. It lasted for over a year and Doctor Octopus in disguise made for one of the most interesting takes on Spider-Man I had ever encountered. Then, in the end, they brought Peter back and had a big crazy story that led to him being Spider-Man again. It was honestly really disappointing because now Spider-man is who he’s always been. He’s Peter Parker. He’s the same Peter he’s been since teh sixties, and that’s kind of boring. If I really wanted to read about that character I have 50 years worth of stories I can go back to. But that’s kind of what mainstream comics like to do. They’ll have some big, major changes to the characters, like a Civil War or a Spidey/Ock swap, and it’ll be really exciting and fresh. Then a few months down the road they’ll decide everyone liked things better the old way and go back to it. On top of all that, so many of these big “universe altering” storylines they have tend to boil down to super heroes fighting each other. I haven’t read Civil War II yet but I feel like I get the idea and have lost any desire to bother with these kinds of stories. I thing everything about Marvel would seem so exciting to a new reader who hasn’t gone through the cycles yet. For me, however, I’ve seen so much of the same stuff over and over again. Super heroes get angry and fight each other, the X-Men manage to barely avoid genocide for the seventh time, everything gets better until it all happens again.
I know I sound cynical and grumpy. I think I kind of did this to myself honestly. Excessively reading and collecting so many stories within the same genre was going to burn me out eventually. That’s how I work. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with loving these comics or anything like that. I do think, however, that these massive, interconnected universes with never ending stories and canons are their own, unique sort of storytelling. It’s extremely complicated, and in some cases excessively repetitive. At this point in my life I honestly don’t believe these methods are the best for consistently good storytelling but that’s a whole different post. Today I just kind of wanted to touch on why I am gradually leaving the world of Super Hero stories behind. At least the “big two” (Marvel and DC.) I’m trying to venture more in to the world of creator owned and independant comic books. It’s a great medium and these days I’m very excited for comic book stories about so many different things. Marvel Comics have been good to me over the years, but it’s time to move on to something new.
A brief P.S.
I should say, I do still read a few comics by Marvel! I am keeping up with Spider-Gwen and Thor, which I think are great examples of Marvel breaking their usual patterns. I want to be clear that I do realize that they are doing some great stuff and not ALL of their stories are repetitive in this way. This just happens to be the case with a lot of their stories, and from what I can tell the overall state of their universe. This is just my experience, though.