Friday, October 14, 2005

Our Decaying Universe

Wednesday, as the wife knows, is comic book day.

It's the day each week when the new comics come out and, even though I am not what I would call a comic geek, the few things I like are things I like a great deal.

They usually don't have much to do with the Big Two - DC and Marvel – and their respective universes, though sometimes I do walk back into that enchanted forest when there's reason to.

For instance, I'm currently well into a year-long series called Seven Soldiers that requires that I brush up a bit on my knowledge of the DC Universe. You know, Superman, Batman and his other magic pals.

And my absolutely favorite title of the moment, Ex Machina, is published more or less by DC under another imprint, but takes place in a universe all its own.

So I do have reason to visit each week, sometimes for the books mentioned above, sometimes for paperback collections of comics I used to own or, like this week, for a new collection of Krazy Kat strips, the immortal creation of the great George Herriman.

Now, one of the things that both companies have become increasingly dependent on are Events, defined as sprawling, supposedly cataclysmic stories that will alter comic book reality as we know it, and that usually require that the reader buy as many titles as possible lest they miss some trenchant detail.

These usually occur during the summer, when a schoolboy and his allowance are easily parted. The advent of incredibly sophisticated video games have cut into the audience for comics, though, which seem rather quaint with their paper and ink attempting to provide the thrills.

So the Events have become more and more ambitious.

This Wednesday was an especially exciting one, then, for comics fans who enjoy their heroes super-powered and caped. Marvel was releasing the final installment of their Event House Of M, which seemed to be an attempt to whittle down the number of X-Men style mutants in the company's storylines, while DC was unleashing the first issue of Infinite Crisis, a sequel to their now 20-year old Event Crisis On Infinite Earths.

If you missed that one back in 1985, let me offer some details from a primer that appeared recently at the comic site Newsarama:

As the story unfolded, worlds and characters died at an alarming rate. For every new arrival, like the heroic Dr. Light or the new Superboy from Earth-Prime, there were five departures. Long-standing characters like the Barry Allen Flash and Supergirl of Earth-1 died heroically as the Monitor's opposite, the Anti-Monitor, moved to destroy creation. At the climax of issue #10, the Spectre fought the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time. When the smoke cleared, Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, Earth-X, and Earth-4 had merged into one Earth.

You've got to know your stuff to read comics these days. I imagine there are some college curricula that are less complicated.

In fact, I recently had to do some reading up on quantum physics and string theory to get through some recent issues of Ex Machina. Seriously.

Anyway, let's just say this was a much-anticipated Wednesday by many comics fans eager to see their universes destroyed and/or reconstituted again.

When I pulled up to make my left onto the street where the comic store is, though, I found they’d closed off that end for roadwork. Approaching it from the other end, I barely manage to squeeze by and find, as I make my approach to the parking lot, that the owner of the store is waving me away and yelling something about how my car won’t be able to “make the gap.”

Sure enough, the roadwork had partly involved digging a huge trench right at the entrance of the comic store’s lot. I rolled my window down and the owner said “Go down to the library!” which I did, dodging chucks of broken asphalt.

Maybe it was our universe that was falling apart.

I followed the bedraggled string of fans who, like me, were desperate enough to walk in the rain for a few blocks to get to their goal.

I told you, comics aren’t for sissies. This bunch would have scaled a mountainside and had a lean and hungry look to them.

We all came in from the rain and found the owner chuckling, “See? Only the hardiest fans!” He was taking this pretty well for a retailer whose hottest day of the week (and whose hottest week in months) was being dealt a very real blow by road crews and weather.

As the majority went for the two hot titles, I gathered up my few purchases and scanned the racks looking for the latest issue of The Golden Plates.

Sitting there looking quite lonely among the stacks of superheroes was one copy of it, which is sort of odd for a brand new issue of anything.

Except for the fact that The Golden Plates is an ongoing comic adaptation of The Book Of Mormon, which might help to explain it.

I buy it because the fellow who does it, Mike Allred, is someone whose work I admire and I like to think I am not a fair weather fan. Allred, who has put his regular work on hold to do this, experienced something of a religious reawakening in recent years and decided to dedicate himself to adapting the entire Book Of Mormon into a graphic novel format.

He could be doing something that’s a lot more lucrative for either one of the Big Two, and has, but this is the road he’s chosen.

I bring my purchases up to the cashier who exclaims, “The Golden Plates! Yeah, you know we only order that for you anymore. You’re the only one that buys it!”

It felt sort of strange to hear this in the midst of fans grabbing at huge stacks of other titles, all of which promised earth-shattering destruction of one kind or another.

Tucking my plastic bag under my jacket I headed back into the elements, rain trying to sneak under my umbrella, universes collapsing around me, as I made my way back to the car with the only comic whose universe promised the reader eternal life.

You’d think it would sell better.


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