I already bought my tickets to the very first thursday night showing of the third Captain America film, “Captain America: Civil War” (in IMAX). But I before I see that movie, I wanted to clear my head and get my general thoughts on comic book films in general, in writing.
When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a comic book fan — I wasn’t. He was so incredibly protective of his comic books that I never even got a glimpse of them — they were all protected in plastic coverings, hidden in what he described to me as a very large collection of cardboard boxes in his basement. But like me, he also loved science fiction (unlike me, he was a big fan of fantasy as well, but almost nothing that he ever recommended, outside of a small handful, ever gained my personal seal of approval.
That said, I did grow up watching the old George Reeves Superman TV series — even at my young age, I recognized that they were kind of silly. Mostly Superman spent is time dealing with minor mobsters and rescuing his mortal friends, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane from danger. Part of the problem, as I saw it, was that the criminals were always stupid — Superman was supposed to be this great hero, and yet they would always try to shoot him.
As a child, I was lucky enough to have the Adam West “Batman” series on TV. I was 6 years old, which is likely to be the perfect age for that particular Batman. But it was such a good, and fun show that even my parents enjoyed it, plus it was on early enough that I didn’t have to fight to stay up late to see it (like I did with the “The Ed Sullivan Show”). Today, it was a very silly show, but as a six year old, it was great. It also was helped by the very silly villains with their truly over-the-top behavior, but always treated quite seriously by the actors hired to fill those roles. This was a far cry from the darker DC movies of current times. It was pure camp, probably the purest we’ve ever seen. The fact that it was silly, but never actually treated as a parody was part of the appeal of the show.
The Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve “Superman” didn’t really make a big impression on me. I know a lot of people loved them, and that’s fine. The first one came out when I was just graduating from High School, ready to enter college, and since the film really left no big impression on me, I had to actually look that up.
But what did make an impression was the fact that Caltech had a student-run coffee house a couple of blocks from the campus that would be open late. You could stop by after or in the middle of studying, get yourself a burger or a milk shake, and relax. It didn’t actually look or feel like a restaurant — other than the semi-broken and already antiquated pinball machine in one corner, it was like relaxing in someone’s somewhat messy living room. There was an Intellivision set up in front of one sofa, which, for the most part, didn’t appeal to me. But what did was all of the scattered comic books (both Marvel and DC) that were scattered across tabletops, and a couple of these circular, rotatable metal stands (the kind that still exist today to sell comic books). It was there that I discovered Spiderman and X-Men and the assorted Avengers, as well as rediscovering Batman and Superman. Based on what was available there (which wasn’t much, I admit) I discovered a love for Marvel, particularly Spiderman and the X-Men. The other stuff was good also, but those two are what appealed to me the most.
I was still friends with the guy I mentioned above, with the big, but secret comic book stash. And when I told him about my experiences, he made some really good suggestions of other series to follow. The most notable suggestions included DC’s “Watchmen”, and “The Dark Knight Returns”, as well as indie comics like “Badger”, “Cerebus”, and “Nexus”. But most notably, it included Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”.
“Sandman” (and to a lesser extent, the early Cerebus comics) changed my opinion on comic books in general. For me, comic books were this mindless kind of fun that I could enjoy to decompress from work or studying. But Sandman was different. The story itself was incredibly well-written, and it was storytelling about how stories and myths are actually created. Sandman was just so head and shoulders above most of what I had been reading in comics up until then that I actually started to lose interest in all things comic-book related up until that point. It made everything else look so… bad by comparison. I still read Cerebus (until, I felt that it went off the rails and had lost everything that I had enjoyed about it up until then). I loved Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns — they were still smart and extremely well written (and they should be required reading for anyone at all interested in comic books in general). But they were also complete. And then when Sandman itself, ended (and what an incredible ending) that was the last actual comic book that I would read for a long time. I still picked up the occasional graphic novel, recommended by that friend. But I would no longer read actual physical comic books. They just couldn’t stand up to Sandman.
It was a lot like when I had been reading the juvenile Tom Swift books, and then I discovered Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl, and Larry Niven and Frank Herbert and Theodore Sturgeon and Arthur C. Clarke. And I could never ever read a juvenile book again because they made me realize that they were such a waste of time. The only juvenile book that I find I can still read, to this day, is “The Once and Future King”, by T.H. White — I could not get through the first Harry Potter book at all. It just feels so terribly unreadable to me, like Monty Python with all of the funny bits edited out. And really, to me, that’s how most comic books started to feel.