So you leave comics for a few years, come back and everything’s changed, and not necessarily for the better. I’ve been a fan of Spider-man since… well, since I was younger than he is now. In the good old days, Peter Parker bumbled through life, jobs, education, ulcers, women, other superheroes and a whole raft of unlikely villains who, truth told, should have cleaned his clock at every outing. Still, being possessed of weird powers derived from a creepy-crawly, a genius-level intellect (his own hard work, not a mutation or the after-effect of being bitten by a radioactive Stephen Hawking) was enough to dispatch enemies with fearsome names like The Rhino, the Scorpion, Doctor Octopus, and the somewhat less fearsome Tinkerer; there was even a super-villain called The Fly; things were never going to end well for that fella.
Yup, the good old days.
Fast forward a few years, after the wilderness period of high literature and arty hats, and I’m back reading comics, and Spider-man has changed beyond all recognition. Well, I say ‘all recognition’, but that’s not strictly true. I do recognise him: he looks a lot like Batman.
I gave up reading comics about six years ago. I didn’t grow out of them (who grows out of reading comic books?); I just ran out of space to store them all. I’ve got an attic full of old comics (lots of them still in their cellophane) and the bathroom ceiling was starting to creak under the weight. So what could I do?
Well, obviously, get the attic reinforced. But that was just a temporary measure. I couldn’t keep buying these things forever. So around about the same time I started writing seriously, I decided to give up on comics, depriving myself of the oldest form of story-telling in existence.
So, moving forward a few years, and I have the same problem. Lots of books and not enough room to store them all. This time though, there was a solution: the Kindle. Now I could read and keep as many books as I wanted, without taking up an inch of shelf space1. I later moved on to an iPad (a better reading experience for me).
A few weeks ago, I found a couple of apps that would let me buy comics, download them and then read them on any iGadget connected to my account.
‘Sounds fair enough,’ I thought. ‘I’ll try one or two and see how I get on.’
Three weeks and two hundred quid later, I’m having the time of my life! Comics have changed a lot in six years. For a start, they’re not comics anymore apparently; they’re graphic novels: a master stroke in marketing which means that old geeks can tell folk they’re still neck deep in serious literature.
‘What’re you reading at the moment?’
‘The Killing Joke.’
‘Ah, sticking with the classics I see.’
Spider-man is now a multi-millionaire (that won’t last; he’s Marvel’s fall guy), Iron Man looks a lot like Robert Downey Jr (I wonder why), Nick Fury, who used to be white, is now is the spitting image of Samuel L. Jackson (again, I wonder why).
Best of all: the Silver Surfer has discovered slapstick comedy and has a travelling companion (a bit like Doctor Who, but a lot less creepy).
The sentinel of the spaceways now has to contend with soaring the galaxy with someone who has to eat, sleep, and make planetfall for toilet breaks. The surfboard needs a washroom, my friend…
1Actually, I still buy real books: The Odyssey (read it!); American Gods (read it!) and a couple of Booker Prize winners (never finished ’em). I keep them on a shelf near the door so folk can see how clever I am when they walk in.