Heroes

I am not what anyone would consider a comics geek; I also don’t, for the record, consider that a slight or a slur. I grew up reading comic books–I read everything I could get my hands on, frankly. My sister read Millie the Model and every iteration of Archie that existed at the time; I read them when she was finished with them. I moved on to super-heroes quite by accident. I had no interest in them whatsoever, but the Jewel where my mom would do her grocery shopping had a comic-book vending machine in the front (anyone else remember those?). Comics were twelve cents at the time. Mom would always give my sister and I a dime and two pennies every time we went to Jewel–the comic book would keep us occupied while she shopped in peace–and I accidentally pressed the wrong button–so instead of Jughead I wound up getting an Action Comics instead. I was quite distraught–and this was also neither the first nor the last time that I didn’t get what I wanted by not paying close enough attention. My mother told me, as always, “it’s your own fault for not paying attention, so just read it.”

I did….and became a fan. I never bought another Archie comic again (there really wasn’t any need–my sister still got them and I could read hers).

My enjoyment of comics continued, all the way through high school–until the cost of comics rose to a point that I wasn’t willing to pay for them anymore. I occasionally dip my toes back into the water, but not enough to be a geek or a nerd or any of the other terms used to describe big fans. I did eventually branch out into Marvel in college as well, but I always liked DC the best–more, probably, out of the fact that those were the comics I read as a kid more than anything else. I also don’t understand why you can’t be a fan of both–but there are clearly battle lines drawn between the fandoms, with some crossover, of course.

I don’t remember when I first heard about the Watchmen graphic novel; but I did hear about it, now and then, throughout the years; great things. But I never read it. I didn’t see the film when it came out a few years ago, and in all honesty I might not have watched the HBO series had it not starred Regina King–whom I will watch in any and every thing. No, that’s not true–she was simply a bonus. I like super-hero stories, and I enjoyed Amazon’s The Boys, so yeah, I would have watched Watchmen.

Enjoying the show as I did, I decided to go ahead and get a copy of the graphic novel.

It was about time, after all…and once I opened it and started reading, I could see why it is considered one of the greatest graphic novels/super-hero stories of all time…

watchmen

If anything, the hype about how terrific Watchmen is actually underplayed how actually terrific the graphic novel is.

The depth and complexity of the characters–and the detail in the world-building–is simply staggering.

I’ve always wanted to write a super-hero novel; obviously, as someone who’s been reading about them and watching them on either television or film most of my life (I remember when Batman aired in prime time), it would sort of make sense for me to try my hand at it. I’ve brainstormed about it a lot over the years as well; what would it mean to have powers beyond those of other people, the whole responsibility of power, and so forth. Marvel and DC both have done a terrific job of exploring those themes over the years, and quite frankly, I’ve never been sure I could develop a super-powered character appropriately, or tell his origin story–plus, almost every kind of super-power has already been explored somehow and some way; what could I possibly come up with that would be new and original? The reboot of DC in the 1980’s after Crisis on Infinite Earths also allowed them to add more depth and dimension to their characters–I always thought the pre-Crisis Green Arrow/Black Canary characters were the most human and most realistic developed–as well as crises of morality and faith and belief in themselves, as well as in humanity and the rest of the world.

Having now read Watchmen, I can see its impact on the industry, and on DC in particular.

Watchmen is set in an alternate timeline, on a different Earth; one in which the greatest, most powerful super-hero of all ended the Vietnam War with an American victory, resulting in Vietnam becoming the fifty-first state. The Keene Act banning masked vigilantes has been passed, and most heroes have either gone to work for the government, or retired. The book opens with the murder of the Comedian, a right-wing Fascist monster of a super-hero; one of the ones who went to work for the government. Rorschach, another hero who refused to retire and continued with his work despite it making him a criminal, starts investigating the murder and starts checking in on the others–not only to warn them but to see if they had any involvement. The comic also didn’t flinch from dealing with politics–fascism, racism, communism, etc. Also, the world is also on the brink of nuclear holocaust, with tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union growing with almost every page. The world Watchmen depicts isn’t that different from the world we lived through in the 1980’s; and like all great art, Watchmen makes you think by showing multiple perspectives without judgment…and that is part of its astonishing brilliance. The script is brilliantly done, the juxtaposition between the text segments–Rorschach’s memoirs, newspaper accounts, magazine articles, etc.–and the comic panels especially striking.

It also asks terrific questions about morality, right and wrong, and responsibility.

If you’ve not read the graphic novel, I highly recommend you do so–and then watch the HBO series (which deserves its own entry, quite frankly, and so I am going to give it one at some point).

I’ll Be There

I loved to read when I was a kid; it’s something I came to early in my life and has never left me, really.

I used to  buy books through the Scholastic Book catalogue (which didn’t count against my allowance), and check out books from the school library and the Tomen branch of the Chicago Public Library, which was about three blocks from our apartment and on the way to Jewel and Woolworth’s; my mom used to drop my sister and I there while she went to the grocery store. When we got our allowances, she would walk us up to Woolworth’s, so we could spend our dollar-a-week. My sister would get 45 records, which only cost 79 cents.

I spent my money on comic books.

I started with Sugar and Spike and Archie comics; eventually I moved on to super-heroes and horror comics. My parents never restricted my reading material–they preferred to restrict my reading time only–and so i kept buying comics, all the way through high school, with occasional other forays into the world of comics throughout my life. (I have the comixology app on my iPad, and scores of comics I’ve bought and downloaded but have yet to read.) But comic books have always played a part in my life, inspiring me and teaching me how to tell stories in a different way than books do.

Recently, Alex Segura tagged me in a “post a comic book every day” thing on Facebook, and digging through the Internet to find the comics that influenced me brought back a lot of memories.

One of the strangest–but true–stories about my books and how they came to be is that Dark Tide was inspired by a comic book. This one, in fact:

bloody mermaid

January 1972, when I was eleven years old, I chanced upon this comic book on the comics rack at the Woolworth’s a few blocks from our apartment in Chicago. I often bought horror comics from time to time, mixing them in with my super-heroes, but this one, for some reason, always resonated with me. I don’t know why I bought it, but that cover is pretty fucking spectacular, isn’t it?

In the 1980’s, when I wanted to be Stephen King, I started writing a horror novel called The Enchantress, which was totally about a killer mermaid. I wrote an introduction and four chapters before giving up because I didn’t know where to go with it from there–like I’ve said before, plot is always my biggest problem–and in all honesty, it was totally,  at least in structure, a rip-off of Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon. I also used the same types he did for the main characters: a woman, a young boy, a man in his early thirties, and a retired older man. All of it was bad other than the chapter introducing the woman, which I’ve tried at very times to reshape into a short story. It was also set in the panhandle of Florida in a small town named Tuscadega; which I used again as the setting for my story “Cold Beer No Flies”, in Florida Happens (available for preorder now!). I eventually renamed and revised the story into one called Mermaid Inn; again, keeping the story about vicious, killer mermaids. Mermaid Inn eventually morphed into Dark Tide; in fact, the entire story is pretty much set at a place called Mermaid Inn, only I moved it to south Alabama, below Mobile.

Wild that something I read when I was eleven inspired a book I published forty years later.

And were there killer mermaids? Afraid you’ll have to buy the book to find out. 🙂

And now, back to the spice mines.

Fernando

A chilly morning in New Orleans. It’s been in the fifties the last few days, but no worries, Constant Reader: the new car has an astonishingly powerful heater (something I am also not used to) and I no longer have any fears about my drive to the Frigid Territories North of I-10 anymore. (The Buick’s heater was erratic; which was fine for New Orleans–not so much for anywhere north of I-10.) Today I have some errands to run, and then I am going to try to get that essay finished in draft form today so I can edit it tomorrow. I also want to finish reading my Pelecanos novel; I am not taking it with me to Kentucky so if I don’t finish it this weekend I most likely never will. I’ll also probably finish reading Gore Vidal’s Empire today or tomorrow; I only have one chapter left so I may take it to the easy chair with me to finish today so I can start reading something new–non-fiction, most likely–in the bathroom.

Today, though, I am going to talk about the new CW show, Riverdale, which debuted this past week.

I will admit I went into the show wanting to like it. I grew up with Archie comics; despite the sweet nostalgia the comics had–they were really throwbacks to an imaginary 1950’s kind of teen life that never really existed in truth, the same kind of imaginary world created by shows like Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show; worlds that never existed yet people always feel nostalgia for (which is a topic for another time). I won’t deny that as a kid I kind of thought being a teenager was going to be like an Archie comic book, and was vastly disappointed when it wasn’t. When the comic books went through a sort of ‘reboot’ (a term I am really tired of, frankly, but in this case it actually fits) a few years back and made news, I downloaded some of the new comics to my iPad, and was pleasantly surprised with the update.

I won’t recap or rehash how the company reinvented itself and made itself actually topical and modern and fresh and expanded its audience; there are plenty of articles out there about this and everyone can access Google, plus I would just be rehashing the information and might get some things wrong. But it’s a world with which I am very familiar–Archie, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Hot Dog, Dilton Doiley, Reggie, Big Moose and Midge, Big Ethel, Miss Grundy, Principal Weatherbee, Pop Tate–and they also added a gay character several years ago, Kevin Keller (I bought the mini-series he featured in)–which would have been not only unimaginable as a kid but would have made an enormous difference in my life. So, I was kind of interested when I heard that Greg Berlanti (responsible for the DC television universe, and did a great job) was developing a TV show based on Archie called Riverdale, which would feature all the known elements of the comic books, give them a modern twist, and also make it dark and brooding; Archie meets Twin Peaks, is what it was described as. (I did watch Twin Peaks, and loved Season One; it lost me about an episode or two into Season 2.)

But I was also afraid it would be awful; just as I was afraid Arrow and The Flash would be. I am very happy to report that it was, in fact, not awful.

All the old elements of Archie are there: Pop Tate’s Choklit Shop; Betty’s unrequited passion for Archie, who only sees her as his best friend; Archie and his music; Josie and the Pussycats are even there. The script was flipped a bit in having Veronica no longer wealthy AND new in town; her father has been jailed for embezzlement and fraud, and she and her mother–originally from Riverdale–have returned to escape the glare.

But the show is structured with a noirish sensibility; the way the show is shot is absolutely gorgeous, and the bright colors also give it a comic book like feel at the same time. There is a murder mystery at the heart of the story; who killed Jason Blossom? And everyone in Riverdale seems to have had a reason to kill him, or is hiding something. It’s very soapy, yet very well done.

But, for me, the strongest part of the show is the appeal of the young cast–the older characters aren’t as well developed, but I’ll give that time. A. J. Apa is appealing enough, and of course, he is very nice looking; really, that’s all that’s required of Archie: good guy, kind of bland and a bit oblivious to everything around him, appealing. Archie never had abs before, though.

It’s extremely well cast; all of the young actors are appealing, the dialogue is snappy and clever (Veronica gets the best lines and I think is going to be the breakout character/star), and it was also fun to see former teen idol (and star of Beverly Hills 90210) Luke Perry as Archie’s father; in a nod to Twin Peaks, Madchen Amick is cast as Betty’s mother.

Usually, pilots have weaknesses that are corrected in the series; I detected none in Riverdale, and I was immediately caught up in the story. I liked it a lot, and am looking forward to continuing to watch.