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    The Best Comic Ever

    by Ian Brill

    FINDING THE BEST FROM THE REST
    It was in September of 2005 that, for reasons too dark and mysterious to tell you here, I was on a quest for the Best Comic Ever. I had just moved to San Francisco and had a world of comic book culture just a $1.50 Muni fare away. I was ready to write something of a travel article interviewing people of all sorts about what they think the Best Comic Ever is. I had hoped that the variety of answers I would get and locales I would go to would teach me and perhaps you, dear reader, a little bit about what it is it be a comic book reader. It was to be quite the exciting article.

    Then classes started getting hard, and my search for the BCE had to be put on indefinite hiatus.

    I felt bad that I was going to let down the wise elder who sent me on this quest because he had been so nice to me and had this great idea. I had to make myself feel better, and that means what it always means: reading a bunch of comic books. It was there that I found what I was looking for. There were punches in the face, gods ripping up the streets of New York City and me amongst the bystanders watching the heavens crashing into themselves right above our heads. I knew this was something.

    ***

    Before I left for Northern California, the manger of my local comic book store, a good man named Mike, loaded me up with plenty of good reading. Mike and I both have catholic tastes in comics with our conversations ranging from anticipation for the latest volume of “Acme Novelty Library” to why Mike Sekowsky’s work on “Justice League of America” works for us. But the comics I was looking for that day were of a certain breed.

    Mike runs a store that’s been in business 25 years and has amassed quite the inventory of back issues. It was a wonderful thing to walk in and ask for a comic that had arrived on newsstand when my Dad was half my age and walk out two minutes later with it. In recent weeks I found myself coming in on a lazy Sunday and asking Mike to give me something cheap and stupid. I had found the perfect way to use both the store’s massive archives and Mike’s unending knowledge of funny books.

    When I say cheap, I mean cheap. A dollar to $2 is preferable and anything over $6 is pushing it. When it comes to asking for something cheap I can assure you all meaning is on the surface. “Stupid” is something else, though. I’m using the word as a term of endearment, the way you can read a certain book, turn off the rational side of your brain and just have fun. When I say “stupid” I mean Zen stupid. There’s the small chance Mike could have taken what I was asking too literally and put a barrel full of unsellable Acclaim and Chaos! Comics in my hand, but I didn’t worry. Mike knew what I was saying. I walked away with an old superhero comic, usually something Mike read as a lad, that allowed me continue my lazy Sunday bliss. “Flash” #300 was the first comic I can remember buying on the “cheap/stupid” plan. It was a retrospective of a series I love in its 1960s incarnation, so I was won over by the return of Carmine Infantino, the co-creator of the series, to the book. I had found a way to always inject some fun into my comic book reading. I was going to find out how important that is.

    The Sundays with Mike got more frequent, and so did my supply of back issues. Mike liked anniversary issues, so I’d read those oversized books with artist and writers saying why they think Batman or Superman is so important. Then there were the big stories in the little comics. Amongst the anonymous short boxes that rested behind Mike were stories of Spider-Man teaming up with a giant bald man who lived on the Moon or Superman teaming up with an older Superman from another dimension. These were my rewards for a week’s worth of community college done away with. When it came time to transfer to university, Mike and I knew the perfect way to say goodbye.

    At first it was just one “cheap and stupid.” Then two, then four. We had dived into the pool of back issues and were swimming at a furious pace. I had never taken on this much before, but this was special. Mike and I looked at each other and knew that I wasn’t going to come back for a long time and probably would never live in the area again. If this was the ending to a chapter of my comic book fandom story, let’s go out in style.

    Mike had gotten a stack of Marvel Treasury editions. I had heard of the books, but this was my first time seeing them up close. The idea of classic comic book art by John Romita Sr. and John Buscema blown up in size, these comics coming way before the deluxe hardcovers we have now, was something I was interested in. Going through the issues wasn’t like running your fingers through a short box. It was like shifting plates. Looking through them they all seemed too expensive, considering they contained material I could very well get elsewhere. Then, near the bottom, I saw a beauty shining through beat up newsprint. The third “Marvel Treasury Edition” had Thor flying right at me. It was Kirby. Right then I knew I had to make a little extra room in my suitcase.If you ever want to gauge the amount of crap you have lying around, move into a place much smaller than your current dwelling. Your pack-rat mentality will be deflated when you’re stepping over unread and half-read comics just to get to bed at night. I set myself up for hours of comic reading joy when I left with all the swag Mike sold me. Now most of my time was spent organizing it all – when I had time between school and writing assignments. One night I decided to give myself a break from dealing with comics, so I read some comics.

    An oversized collection of Jack Kirby comics doesn’t do anybody a lot of good sitting in a drawer. I took it out and got ready to become cheap and stupid. I found more, though. I found the BCE.

    I always enjoy the cosmic match up of Stan Lee’s Kerouac-meets-Madison Avenue scripting with all the power the King brought to his comics. I had already devoured his “Fantastic Four” (Marvel Comics) run as well as many of the “New Gods” (Marvel) books. Here was all that comic book joy in classic coloring and pages bigger than my head. Even the much (and fairly) maligned Vince Colletta showed talented with a fine inking style. There were panels where I could see ol’ Vince had erased work to make the job easier on himself (or his many underlings), but then there were moments where Kirby would close up on a pair of eyes and they’d be shadowed by some kind of weird spiderweb. These were gods, after all, so why not make them feel a bit less down to earth?

    These powers combined into a sequence in a comic book I shall never forget. Roman and Norse gods mix it up as Thor and Hercules tear through the panels in the greatest fight of all. After the fight, there were scenes on a movie set that featured some of the best examples of Kirby’s take on design. His interpretation of the 1960s was like Andy Warhol’s New York City meeting Caligula. Any actual film production house would kill to have someone with the imagination and skill a person like Kirby has working for them. Almost everything Kirby does so well is in these pages. The poses, the characters in action, the destruction and the faces were all there. They were all taking me over. When Hercules throws an 18-wheeler at Thor I could hear the sound effect in my head before I read it on the page. I’d see Thor punch and for a millisecond the child side of me would worry I might get hit. The more mature and rational side of me would calm my worries but perhaps that depletes the enjoyment of a book like this. The point of opening up this comic was to get away from the decadence of an ever faster-approaching adult life. This comic reminded me of why I read comics.

    That’s what makes “Marvel Treasury Edition” #3 the Best Comic Ever. Catch me on another day or another plane of existence and I might tell you Jamie Hernandez’s “The Death of Seedy” or Kevin Huzienga’s “Or Else” #2 is the Best Comic Ever. They do the same thing that Kirby did for me here. After dealing with all the bullshit of just trying to stay regular in life I remember why I enjoy art and absorbing other’s creations. It’s why we work so damn hard to get a steady paycheck and a roof over our head, so there are those few extra hours in the evening to enjoy another’s soulful storytelling. Any comic that does that for you is the Best Comic Ever.

    Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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