I read Spider-Man in the original Sanskrit.
No, I’m not old enough, or lucky enough to have picked up Amazing Fantasy number 15, which featured the first ever appearance of everyone’s favourite wacky wall-crawler, whose latest movie incarnation debuted in North America this week, but I also wasn’t introduced to Peter Parker, Aunt May, and J. Jonah Jameson on the big screen, the small screen, or the computer screen.
Yes, true believers, my first introduction to one of the the most iconic comic book characters of all-time came from picking up a comic book. For those of you too young to have interacted with this particular type of content delivery device, typical comic books consisted of about two dozen pages of thin newsprint-type paper, wrapped in a glossy cover with an image that promised action, adventure, maybe a bit of scantily covered or tightly wrapped female flesh, and a hero in serious trouble. These creations were sold for one or two of those really small coins that could go the way of the penny by the time you finish this sentence.
For those of you old enough to think I’m kidding about anyone not having seen a comic book, the next time you’re out shopping, try to buy one. Yes, you can get graphic novels — snob-speak for paperback versions of comic collections — at your neighbourhood bookstore, I mean your local Chapters outlet, but try finding an actual comic book.
Comic books used to be sold on spinning metal racks at every supermarket, drugstore, and corner grocery that hoped to pry a kid loose from their allowance, but these days good luck finding them outside of a specialty comic store, and good luck finding a specialty comic store.
Just for the heck of it I did a yelp.ca search for comic book stores in Vancouver and scored 19 hits. I followed that with a search for record stores — and if you don’t remember records, they were sort of like prehistoric CDs, I mean, MP3s, I mean, downloadable audio. The number of stores listed as selling vinyl in Vancouver — 19.
I’ve read comics since I was old enough to read, and collected them since I was old enough to stop my parents from throwing them out, and I’m not one of the Comic Con fanboys who’s offended by any variation from Stan Lee’s original scrolls. One of the coolest gigs I’ve ever had was adapting a Marvel comic book character — Moon Knight — as a TV series for a Canadian production company. When I confessed that I’d not only read, but owned every single appearance of Marc Spector (and yeah, I know all his other names too), I was anointed the show’s DG — Designated Geek — and if it had gone to air as planned the showrunner wanted to send me to Comic Con to defend the places we strayed from the Moon Knight mythos.
The defense I never got to deliver was . . . Which Moon Knight mythos? And then I was going to rattle off every incarnation, revamp, relaunch, reimagining, Ultimate Universe spinoff and ret con (comic speak for “retroactive continuity” where creators add to or alter a character’s supposedly sacred secret origin story) and ask how our changes weren’t fair game.
Yes, there are comic book adaptations that pain me like a Doomsday punch to the solar plexus. Yeah, I’m talking about you, Superman remake where Lois is married with kids, Catwoman in name only, and Elektra where the world’s most bad-ass assassin is played by a woman who was unabashedly cuddly even when she was kicking butt in Alias. But I was at opening night of The Avengers, I’m psyched for the new Spider-Man and I may have to wear a Batman shirt to the latest Dark Knight.
But I can’t help hoping that just maybe one of these movies will do something truly heroic and turn audiences back on to the true origin of all these heroes, so they visit their nearest comic book store before it’s too late.
– Mark Leiren-Young blogs and does all sorts of other stuff at leiren-young.com