Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brave & The Bold / Superman Family: A lonely bell was ringing

Like the song says, there is something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone. And I was feeling a little lonesome last Sunday.

Oh sure, I’ve got a good life, with a wife I truly love and a job I really like, but that still doesn’t stop the existential shits from creeping up on me. Sometimes, like last week, it all gets a bit much, and there’s no point in anything, because existence is useless, and we’re all just sacks of meat, playing out strict and inescapable roles in the universe, and there’s no such thing as free will and there is just nothing, nothing, nothing.

I sorted it out by buying a bunch of late bronze-age comics books that showed up in a local second hand bookshop. Because life is just a bit more meaningful when it’s got some of Jim Aparo's Brave & the Bold in it.

I was obsessed with Jim Aparo’s Brave and The Bold comics when I was a kid, far more than the regular Batman titles with its strange Gene Colan or Don Newton/ Alfredo Alcala art. It was a lot more slick and sexy, and it was actually a lot easier to find Brave and Bold comics in New Zealand in the early eighties than almost any other comic. They were everywhere.

And B&B really felt like value for money, because you not only got the best Bat-artist doing most of the art, but you also got to see him take on Metamorpho or the Metal Men or Sgt Rock or a supremely sexy Supergirl or dozens and dozens of other DC characters. And the art was always so bright and clean and colourful, and Aparo drew the sexiest eyebrows in comics, and I love the way he would draw Batman kicking people, and the stories were simple done-in-ones, (sometimes in 17 pages or less…).

I had dozens of them when I first started collecting comics, and read them over and over and over again, until they all started falling to bits. I still have a few coverless ones left, three decades later, but the rest were lost over the years.

Because by the time I got to be a teenager, I wasn’t interested in that kid’s stuff anymore. B & B had been cancelled, replaced by the dull Outsiders, and Aparo’s art was just a bit too clean and simple, and the stories weren’t important in the Grand Batman Mythos, and I just stopped buying them.

Now, well into the second decade of the 21st century, and I can’t get enough of those comics, and obsessively hunt them out. Sure, it’s a desperate attempt to recapture my youth (fuck off – I’m 38 on Monday, I’m allowed to pine for my lost youth), but it’s also because these are bloody good comics that still stand up well, and are more visually and thematically exciting than the vast majority of comics being published in the new century.

I got a sweet little pile of B&B comics from that second hand bookstore last Sunday morning, with one of them - #186 – one I clearly remember as a favourite as a young ‘un. It’s an okay story, with some slightly spooky use of Hawkman, but I think I mainly remembered it for the bright pink cover. Look at this thing!

It’s so garish and glaring and tasteless to the modern eye, but I love it to pieces because of this, and because it grabs the attention. And it’s the kind of thing that makes it so easy to overlook the flaws of the comic – the way the art can be a little rushed sometimes, and the way the dialogue is clunky and clumsy, (I still have a little cringe anytime a superhero in a says “check!’)

Teenagers are idiots, and I was certainly no exception, because these Brave and Bold comics are excellent, no matter what I thought when I was 13. They might not be Important to the ongoing Batman saga, but they all offer a complete little package of groovy story and slick art, and I’ll always be up for more.

As simple and easy-reading as the Brave and the Bold comics were, they’re some goddamn Shakespeare compared to some other comics I also got at that second-hand store last week, but I have to admit I also fell for the charms of the Superman Family.

These Superman Family comics from the very early eighties are not complex comics. Easy stories designed for easy reading, and little more. But sometimes that’s all you need.

Superman Family was one of the last gasp efforts of the pre-Crisis Superman. Despite some great creative efforts from the likes of Kirby, the audiences for long-running series like Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane had dried up, so they were slapped together with Supergirl and surprisingly durable ongoing stories about the private life of Clark Kent and Mr and Mrs Superman.

They’re the most basic stories with the most basic art, but the simplest stories are always the most addictive. The clear, wide line of mega-journeymen like Kurt Schaffenberger and Bob Oksner still looks sharp, 30 years on. Compare it to the nineties, where scratchification overcame storytelling, and looked dated two weeks after it was published, and now is genuinely repulsive. This earlier stuff is more timeless, and occasionally beautiful, with things like Win Mortimer’s terrific Supergirl.

I also grew up on this stuff, usually because these were the type of stories that would be reprinted in big, chunky black and white Australian reprints, and they were also stories that I ended up sneering at later in life, as I seriously considered whether I needed two issues of the Claremont/Lee X-Men #1.

And now, again, I find new charms in these simple stories. I love the way you get to see Superman interacting with the people in the city around him, just being a regular standard joe who happens to have x-ray vision and super freeze breath. And I love the way you get to see the Earth-2 Superman and Lois settle into cosy domesticity, putting their feet up after a lifetime of service, but still willing to rush into action when needed.

The thing I like most about these comics, and the thing that gives me hope in a world of meaningless shit, is that they’re full of nice people, helping each other out and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. These aren’t characters driven by vengeance or destiny or any of that bollocks, they’re just normal folk. (Who happened to be superheroes, or friends of superheroes, or girlfrends of superheroes). It's something that's is painfully rare in modern superhero comics, and something they could certainly use more of.

I didn’t just overdose on all these saccharine sweet DC superhero comics last Sunday morning. I also got Amazing High Adventure #1, the 1982 Marvel comic which I saw the ad for a hundred times in the late eighties and always wondered about, and it was both amazing, and full of high adventure, so that also helped me feel a little less alone in the universe. So did the World's Finest comic with a weird original Batman that I also saw advertised over and over again. And so did the half-dozen issues of the Langridge Bros’ Zoot comics I also got, because the Tarquin comics still make me laugh, even thought it felt weird to this isolated comic soul when I saw the address to send mail to was literally around the corner from where I live now.

So on a Sunday morning, when there was no way to hold my head that didn't hurt, buying a punch of decaying paper products filled the void in my soul a little bit, and that's not quite as sad as it sounds, because that paper was full of wild-eyed adventures that made me feel young again. No matter how old I turn on Monday.


Nik said...

Great post, mate. I love those old team-up comics of the 70s and 80s, when we didn't have heroes meeting all the time and it was more of an event. Something about the "meeting" of two logos on the front covers always grabbed me.

Bob Temuka said...

I like the way the logos were shrunk down, making them slightly more detailed. And I also liked the way they would come up with new logos for characters that didn't have one before, and they were usually quite good, even if they were only going to be used once.