Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Regretting the Hourman purge

A purge of any comic collection can be a good thing. Disposing of the old and mediocre to make room for the new and brilliant. That’s what life is all about.

It’s to be expected. It’s part of the whole obsession with comics. Get as many of you can, and then get rid of vast chunks of it, and then start all over again.

For years, all I wanted was more, more, more. I built up a collection of more than 20,000 issues at the height of the obsession. Binging on hundreds and hundreds of comics I didn’t even like, just to have them in the collection.

It never went as far as buying multiple copies of single issues ­ that’s just stupid ­ but there were far more issues of Power Pack, Psi-Force and Wonder Man than were strictly necessary.

And yeah, hauling around and storing and maintaining a collection like that becomes more of a chore than necessary, and that’s when the purge urge hits.

I’ve gone through several comic purges over the past decade, the biggest in 2006, when a wedding and international travel seemed like bigger priorities than owning a complete run of the Reign of the Supermen storyline. Selling off thousands of issues was easy with a local internet auction site, and I figure I made three or four thousand dollars slimming that bloated collection down.

And then it all starts over again, and I somehow end up with stacks and stacks of perfectly average Spider-Man comics, when perfectly average just isn’t enough. If it doesn’t spark, if it doesn’t have life or make me laugh or remind me of better days, then there really isn’t any need for it.

The rampant spread of trade paperbacks over the past decade certainly makes that decision easier. Why hold on to a pile of Claremont X-Men when chunky collections can be found in every library in the land?

That was certainly part of the decision to sell off all the Milligan/Allred X-Force/Statix issues in the latest purge this week. They were good and fine comics, even if they were already getting a bit dated, but there are stacks of the books in the library system that can be borrowed anytime, so why have them sitting in a box in the spare room? Especially when I never quite managed to get every issue and had been left with odd holes in the run ­ issues I needed to complete the collection, but never really needed enough to actively seek out.

The rest of the stuff that was auctioned off to the poor, comic-starved tribes of Whakatane and Gore, was even easier to dispose of. This time it was beat-up Spider-Man comics from the 1970s, where somebody had coloured his eyes in with a green felt tip pen, and some John Byrne Superman, and some Peter David Hulk, all of which are again easy to track down if the urge to read them really hit.

There are some sentimental regrets in ditching these comics, some of which I’ve been dragging around the country for 20 years, but those regrets do tend to dry up when I actually read the damn things. One last re-read before they get sent out confirms that they’re not terrible comics, but they aren’t great either. Out they go.

And yet, there are still regrets, and not just because of that cheap sentimentality. That last re-read does show there were some shining gems in the ocean of dull mediocrity that have been swept along. In the latest clean-out, an almost complete run of Tom Peyer and Rags Morales’ Hourman series from the turn of the millennium was gone, and one last read almost convinced me I should’ve held on to the last series.

Or at least one issue. While the two-year run of the comic was overall surprisingly rewarding, the fifth issue was a real cracker. The Death and Life of Hourman is a powerful little comic, as the title character downs some Miraclo and springboards out into the life of the original Hourman.

It’s a simple enough story that says multitudes about the power of knowledge, pulling somebody into confidence and power, while still living with huge amount of regret. It’s about using drugs as an excuse for a change in persionality, and the gnawing feeling that it takes chemicals to get there. It’s about the Golden Age Hourman grinning and screaming out “Ruurrhhh! Raarrrhh!” as he barrels down the street, knocking his modern counterpart out of the way.

That part still makes me laugh.

But the comic is sold now and needs to be passed on to somebody else, so away it goes. It’s a bit sad, getting rid of a story I genuinely love, but that’s okay. I’m sure I’ll read it again some day. And chances are the memory of it will be a lot better than the original.

That’s how it usually works.