An entry from my Marvel blog of the mid-2000s asking and answering the question: at what point did I as a reader become aware of the personalities behind the stories I had been reading?
I really did intend to do some more Reader Mail today, but something else came up that’s sent my mind spinning in another direction. Over on John Byrne’s message board, there’s a thread going on asking when each board-member’s perception of comics changed, and they realized that these were stories being created by fallible human beings, rather than omnipotent machines.
In other words, when did you first peer behind the curtain?
It’s an interesting question, and one that, in light of the last few days, I’d like to throw out to everybody here (not to steal Caleb M. Edmond’s thunder or anything.) And while I’m at it, I’ll even answer it, and it’s a two-fold answer.
The first time I really became aware that there were people who wrote and drew the comics I read was at a very early age, when I read FLASH #228. It was something like the fifth issue of the series I had read–I was only seven years old at the time. In the story, writer Cary Bates, while driving to his high school reunion in Cleveland passes through a dimensional rift and finds himself on Earth One, the home of the fictional characters he writes about. in the course of a dozen pages or so, Cary seeks out the Flash in his civilian identity, helps him to defeat his enemy the Trickster, and finds his way back to the real world.
I guess I always sort of unconsciously knew that there were people whose job it was to dream up these stories, but like with so many of us, because they were so real to me at that age, it was something of a shock to be confronted with the reality of Cary Bates, writer. (There’s even one plausibility-defying sequence in which Cary is pulled over by a highway cop who recognizes him as the famous writer of FLASH and lets him go.) The line of demarcation was still sketchy enough to my young self that, a year or so later, when Cary wrote himself into a Justice League story, I had a hard time dealing with it because that story was drawn by a different artist, who depicted him differently.
I got to relay most of this to Cary himself a week or so back, when he came into town and he did lunch with my office. Cary’s working on a still-secret project for my office that I’ll tell you about one of these days.
The point at which I realized that there were people behind the comics whose points of view might differ from mine, and who might have an impact on my enjoyment of the books I was buying was probably AVENGERS #211. Around this time, a number of Marvel’s mainstay creators had left the company to go to DC, citing conflict with editor in chief Jim Shooter. But AVENGERS #211 was the place where it was all driven home for me. After about a year of aimless storylines and fill-ins, Jim took over the reins of the title he was most associated with at Marvel at that point. In the abstract, this was cause for celebration–I had really enjoyed the Korvac Saga a few years previously. But in his first issue back, in an effort to get the series back to basics, Jim jettisoned most of the Avengers characters I liked most–folks like the Beast, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man–in favor of a “big-five” line up of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Yellowjacket and Wasp, plus Tigra.
I liked the Big Five, but because they all had their own titles, I figured that Avengers was going to be able to do less interpersonal drama between the characters. Immediately thereafter, inspired in part by the Dark Phoenix storyline he’d been forced to intercede on, Jim set out on a storyline in which Yellowjacket would progressively be driven to villainy. This is the storyline in which Hank struck Jan (only one time–he wasn’t a habitual wife-beater.) I didn’t like any of it, and it wasn’t long before I dropped the series entirely.
In hindsight, while I still don’t love every element of the craft of that run, or the work of some of the artists involved, I can see what Jim was going for. it wasn’t what I was interested in reading at the time (and I think it made most of the characters look like jerks in one way or another along the way), but it was a valid storyline to attempt. Nevertheless, it put me off of reading AVENGERS until the point when I started interning at Marvel.
So that’s my story. What’s yours?