I’ve given up reading superhero comics three times. The first time was when I finished primary school in 1979. Until then I’d been an enthusiastic consumer of the black and white reprints of DC and Marvel comics produced by Australia’s Planet and Newton Comics, but as I prepared for high school I decided it was time to give my-then favourites Green Arrow and the original X-Men away in favour of interests more in synch with my newfound maturity.
Of course it didn’t stick. A little over a year later, in 1981, I started reading them again. My parents’ marriage had just ended, I was thirteen, overweight, desperately lonely and flunking out at school, so I’m sure it was at least partly about comfort, about returning to something I understood, and which repaid the sort of emotional energy I invested in them by providing me with a sprawling, endlessly evolving and richly imaginative world to explore.
I tried again in my final year of high school. This time it was little more than an interregnum, a blip of a few months, meaning that by the time I started university I was back on the drip.
Somewhere during the decade and a half that followed I pretty much stopped reading mainstream superhero comics, transitioning to the sorts of titles DC was producing through its Vertigo imprint, although if the truth be told my happiest moments often involved moments like the appearance of the original Sandman, Wesley Dodds, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or revisionist riffs on the superhero like Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol.
But by the time I was in my early 30s I’d had enough. Most of the titles I read had petered out, and given it was the dark days of the mid-1990s, there wasn’t much new that appealed to me, so when the final issue of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles appeared I decided to draw a line under my life as a comic nerd.
Yet as Renton famously observes in Trainspotting, there are last hits and there are last hits. And, as the years passed, I discovered I couldn’t stay away. At first it was just the occasional deniable dalliance, but slowly my habit started to get more serious again, a process that has only accelerated in the past few years by the instant fix of digital comics.
Alan Moore often seems to take a little more pleasure in annoying mainstream comics audiences than is really seemly, but I suspect his recent comments about superhero comics being a form aimed at boys of 9-13 which have somehow become the preserve of 30, 40 and 50-something men are pretty much on the money. Yet my love of comics – and superhero comics in particular – isn’t just about wish-fulfilment or the need to keep returning to the things that delighted me as a child or the slightly nerdish delight associated with an awareness of sprawling continuities that stretch back decades (in her excellent study of superhero comics, Superheroes, the critic Roz Kaveney observes correctly that the Marvel and DC universes represent the largest narrative constructions ever created). Continue Reading →