The Girl Loves Ink | Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Proposing a comic book culture Convivencia.

 

 

During its Golden Age, or at least what I consider to be its Golden Age, the Muslim Empire extended all the way to Spain. Within Spain, a concept called Convivencia was enacted—the Jews were held accountable to Jewish laws, the Christians were held accountable to Christian laws, and the Muslims to Muslim laws. It was a time when culture flourished and everyone was overall happy with where they were in life—as long as they paid their non-Muslim taxes, of course.
What does any of this have to do with comic books?
Lately, I feel like we’ve started to (or maybe we already have) reached a kind of golden age for the love of comics. When I was a child, you watched the cartoons on Saturday morning, or after school, or you were more of a grownup and you bought the comic books. (Some kids were allowed to have the comic books, but I was not one of those because I loved to color…on everything.) Now, however, comic books and graphic novels are, literally, everywhere: they’re studied in college classrooms, they’re on multiple television networks in multiple interpretations (Disney now *owns* Marvel, the CW has the market for more “adult” superhero shows, and the other networks are starting to get the memo that this is a thing—Supergirl premiered on the 26th!), they’ve been overwhelmingly successful on the big screen, and, of course, Marvel just rebooted most of their titles under the All-New All-Different moniker and DC had their reboot a in 2011 under the New 52 label.
So, what does this do for us as comic book fans?
I think it’s safe to say that there have been a lot of different reactions to the surge of comics’ presence in the popular culture mainstream arena.
And, it hasn’t all been pretty.
The summer of 2014 saw my personal return into the comic book fold and I was very overwhelmed. My kneejerk reaction was to ask my local comic book shop-employed expert what was going on with my most beloved character, Jean Grey. Jean Grey was now part of a squad of All-New X-Men and I was lucky because the story wasn’t too hard to pick up, but that wasn’t the case for some other heroes and if you chose to get back into comics just before the Axis Event, or after DC’s Convergence, then your footing was swampy, at best. But, it was okay, because I had been into comic books and manga before, so I was used to the discomfort that accompanies jumping into a series midway and not having any idea which way is forward, who the bad guys are, what the good guys are doing, or who is lurking in those dangerous shades of grey.
My experience with comic books, I found, was not the same experience as friends who were dipping into television shows and movies with no previous knowledge of how the characters “should be.” This was a foreign concept to me because Batman needing a Robin was common knowledge and Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix, and then Dark Phoenix were unavoidable—at least, as far as I was concerned. And, of course, Green Arrow would be similar to Batman, because they were from the same universe. But, conversations with good friends of mine who only knew DC and Marvel through their MCUs and the television shows didn’t come to the screen with any kind of previous knowledge or expectations as far as what had to be included. Of course, they recognized that Phoenix’s treatment in X3: The Last Stand was wrong, and this is why I’m still okay with going to see movies with them every month. But those early conversations—I have to say that I did not approach them as someone who was open to the new perspective that the television shows and the movies were now offering. This didn’t even account for what was happening with comic books on television.
The last time I turned on my television to see something comic book related was in sixth, maybe seventh, grade when the CW was taking a leap of faith and starting Smallville. Of course, there were other television shows, like The Adventures of Lois and Clark *cringe*, but attempts had been made to bring comic books from animated shows into pinky flesh reality—and while they couldn’t all be Smallville, the attempts weren’t all (Birds of Prey, anyone?) that bad. Translating a comic book into an enjoyable, real-life-not-animated form was a challenge that the industry wasn’t up for, overall. That didn’t stop networks like Cartoon Network from continuing to fill their timeslots with the animated wonderfulness.
That tradition continues still, with Guardians of the Galaxy taking up a timeslot on Disney XD, following the widely successful and beloved version of the same characters on the big screen. But, with the mention of movies, I have to talk about the moment that, in my opinion, brought comic books back into the center stage of pop culture and laid the foundation for what we have today.
Iron Man was released on May 2, 2008—and received a 7.5/10 from IMDb. That 7.5/10 echoed—and still echoes—and created new interest in comic movies. Why? Because Iron Man was snarky, Iron Man was an arms dealer, Iron Man had explosions, Iron Man had a soundtrack supported by AC/DC, Iron Man had Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow—the better question is: what did Iron Man not have? Iron Man did not have an audience that it did not reach because even jaded comic book fans (like myself, but I missed this one) had ears perked in interest to see what the next attempt at bringing comic books to the big screen was going to look like. Iron Man also set the stage of DC’s cinema return as heralded by Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, and The Dark Knight.
So, today, I have to yell at my friend who doesn’t read the comics to keep her from spoiling The Flash, or Arrow, or Gotham, because this is my last semester and I just don’t have time to keep up on my shows (32 more days!). But, now that I have gotten over my own prejudice, I can talk to that same friend about how frustrated I am that Pamela Isley will always be a “B” character, but I have her perfectly preserved in the awesome that was Gotham City Sirens—and! And! I get to be excited when that same friend asks if she can borrow my trades to read this wonderful series, because she didn’t even know it existed. After my group of friends has devoured the latest film Marvel has produced, we can sit around a Waffle House at 12:30am, and we can talk about how much it sucked that [spoilers!] Quicksilver died in Age of Ultron and we can argue about a Romanogers ship in Civil War (I ship it, I ship the hell out of it)—because we make the effort to come together as a group of people engaging this genre, these stories, this cornerstone of pop culture at different levels and we don’t look down at each other.
Is it really that hard of a thing to do? Lately, I feel like it is. And that makes me sad. | Catherine Bathe

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