Reasons to Read Comic Books
Comic Books Are Awesome
For those of us who remember the days when being seen with a comic book was the social equivalent of carrying a "safety blanket," the overwhelming popularity of comic book films lately may come as a bit of a surprise. Meanwhile, there is a reason we would barricade ourselves inside a pillow fort armed with a mound of comics and our trusty flashlight emerging only when our mothers ring the dinner bell. Honestly, it was only a matter of time before these crazy worlds, characters, and stories broke into the more popular forms of entertainment. Simply put, comic books have always been awesome, but the majority of Earth has just come to this realization.
And no, you will more than likely not know any of the comic book covers I will be using for this hub (because licensing is a total bitch for popular comic books). Instead, you may enjoy the splattering of obscure and, often, non-English comic book covers I have inserted throughout this article. Anyway, you people come to read what I have to say, right? Right? Anyone? So for all of you who enjoy my nonsensical psycho-ramblins, I give you the reasons to read comic books.
Here's a fun little game. In your next conversation with a friend, family member, colleague, or cat, ask them to list off members of our current Presidential Cabinet. After they realize that our Secretary of Commerce, Rebecca Blank, is not, in deed, the high school girl who sang the hilariously awful song, "Friday" (That's Rebecca Black), see how many members of The X-Men and The Avengers they can name off. Going one step further, I would bet they could list more of those superheroes than they could players on their favorite sports team.
I'm not just making a vague generalization here. What is the commonality among Cabinet officials, professional athletes, and superheroes? They each hold a position that is virtually unattainable to us, normal people. Meanwhile, the difference lies in how unattainable that position is. The leaders of our country and professional athletes are human beings with very human flaws, but the characters we read in comic books can be whatever the creators want. To explain this idea, let's examine the real-world origins of the two most iconic superheroes from the DC Universe, Superman and Batman.
The originators of Superman, Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist) were a couple of dorky 17-year-old Jewish immigrants when they happened to create arguably the most iconic figure in the history of entertainment. Superman is the supreme ideal figure who owns literally every quality sought after by every human being. He has super-strength, invincibility to virtually everything, super-breath (cuz why the hell not, right?), and, oh yeah, he can freaking fly, bro. Even with all of these physical advantages, he will always stand up for the ordinary people.
It's easy to understand how a couple of socially ostracized immigrants could produce such a figure standing up for people like them, but if you read the article through the hyperlink up there, the core ideal comes from a very real feeling. Jerry Siegel's father was gunned down in an armed raid just a year before the first publication of Superman. Suddenly, Superman becomes a very tangible figure. Those of us who were lucky enough to have a father-figure know how it is to be a kid and see this guy as our personal Superman. Siegel lost his during his teens, so he decided to create a fictional man immune to the real-world tragedies that could take ours at any time. Superman stands as that figure of truth and justice for those not as fortunate to be raised by their own Superman father.
I'm a bit biased on this one because I watched the final installment of Christopher Nolan's brilliant Batman Trilogy last night. I'll attempt to avoid devolving into an all-out fanboy rant about how amazing The Dark Knight Rises is and stick to the core mythology of Batman, itself. Before I abandon the film, outright, I'd like to draw attention to a particular quote toward the end of the film. No spoilers, but it juxtaposes the ideal presented through Superman perfectly. Addressing Commissioner Gordon, Batman offers this quote: "A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy's shoulder to let him know that the world hadn't ended."
Fans of the Trilogy will remember that Gordon was the one who comforted young Bruce after his parents were murdered. Superman is an all-powerful alien representing perfection in every capacity. On the other hand, Batman symbolizes the power of the ordinary, flawed, flesh-and-blood individual. He proves that we, as human beings, don't have to be restrained by our physical state to achieve greatness. Throughout his comic history, Batman has persisted as a very flawed figure who repeatedly fights for the common good despite his own shortcomings.
Comic Books as an Art Form
In the superb documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, DC artist Neal Adams says, "I know I sound crazy to say it, but guess what? If you put the best artist in the world with the best writer in the world, they will make the best art in the world, and you know what you'll call it? You'll it a comic book." The major allure to comic books is that they must balance written word and visual art in a way that actually makes sense (at least "comic book sense" anyway).
The distinctive cooperative method to successful comic books is seen through the painstaking diligence thrown on every page. Yes, a writer must be able to put together an interesting narrative that keeps a reader's interest spiked throughout, but the artist must also be able to produce striking visuals that not only supplement, but also complement the written narrative. For instance, what is Batman without the suit, cape, and cowl? What is Wolverine without the crazy hair and mutton chops? If one of these halves fails, the entire character fails, too. It is through this delicate balance that comic books prove as a leading art form.
The History of DC Comics (Narrated by Ryan Reynolds)
Comic Books and Escapism
If we take a second to examine the most widely popular books-turned-films series, such as the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, and The Hunger Games franchises, we can realize that each of these series succeed in making us believe in these fantastical worlds that have no chance of existing in our everyday lives. Comic books function largely on the same level, except that the most popular franchises rely on a suspension of disbelief in many regards. For instance, virtually no character actually dies in a comic book series. They will die. It will be tragic. A few issues later, some kind of miraculous occurrence happens, and the character returns. That's how comic books work.
We find ourselves delving into these worlds where perpetual youth and supernatural abilities are actually a thing. In a similar circumstance, I defy anyone to watch Star Wars and not try to pick up an object immediately afterward by means of "The Force" (face it, you've tried). A comic book is what happens when a creator actually allows his imagination to run rampant on a page. The story that comes out, along with the images the artist attaches to it, becomes a work of art. Insane, impossible, borderline-inconceivable things will happen in a comic book, and the creators rely on us to just go with it. Why? Because it is fun, dammit.