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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Batman and My Introduction to Superheroes

For GeekRex's Batman Month, I decided to put together some of my thoughts on my history with superhero comics and how Batman played a key role!

I had what some might consider an odd journey to my current comic-collecting habit.  I love stories of fans' first comics--many have very specific issues that recall childhood memories, an issue of Spider-Man or Detective Comics that was read and reread on a family road trip until it was in tatters.  Those stories are fascinating and fun, but for the life of me I can't figure out when, why, or how I started reading comics.  As a kid all the way through high school, I was an avid reader, and sometimes those were comics.  I didn't see much of a difference in terms of quality, and thoroughly enjoyed both.  My Dad had an interest in the comix of R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar, and suggested I read Maus by Art Spiegelman.  As far as I can tell, this was the main catalyst into graphic novels.  I was so obsessed with Maus that I read it over and over until the pages literally fell out, and even convinced my 8th grade literature teacher to let me do a book report on it.

That somehow lead into lots of independent graphic novels, things like Blankets, Sin City, and V for Vendetta.  A brief phase of reading true crime novels (thanks to the movie Capote leading me to In Cold Blood) got me interested in crime comics: Goldfish, Torso, Stray Bullets, and A History of Violence.  Somewhere along the way I tried out some Vertigo stuff like 100 Bullets and Sandman.  The pieces were in place, but I still wasn't sold on the idea of the superhero.  

Despite the Bat-fan and superhero comics aficionado that I am now, there was a time when I had only a passing interest in the Caped Crusader.  I saw Batman Begins in theater only because a girl I liked was going too, and while a friend of mine leaned over and whispered, "Dude! It's Ra's Al Ghul!" I could only muster a befuddled nod akin to what I do when a coworker starts talking sports.

The comic that made the difference was Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween.

Again, it came from my Dad, who was (and still is) fond of going to Atlanta's Oxford Comics and picking up a comic essentially at random with obviously varying results.  I was bored one night and saw it sitting on the shelf, and started reading.  I knew almost nothing about Two-Face, and only a bit of know-how about Gotham in general from Batman Begins and some of Batman: The Animated Series I had seen as a kid.  But it fit my interests at the time absolutely perfectly: crime comics, film noir movies, and a budding interest in superheroics thanks to brief appearances in Sandman.  The mob aspect, borrowed from Miller's Year One, and the dramatic noir visual style had me hooked, and I read the trade in one sitting, staying up late into the night like a kid up past his bedtime, hiding under his blanket with a flashlight.

Something clicked, and I wondered if there were other Batman and superhero books that could hold a candle to supposedly more literary graphic works.  Right around this time I went to college and moved into a dorm, and I spent large portions of my textbook allowance exploring the Georgia State bookstore's small comics section (sorry Mom!).  I worked my way through The Dark Knight Returns (and Strikes Back), Year One, Arkham Asylum, Hush, and more.  Then I branched out to Animal Man and Swamp Thing, Watchmen, etc., etc..  From there I decided to try out Superman and Justice League...and the rest is history.

Something about Batman and his ability to live with one foot in the real, gritty, crime-based world of Gotham and the other foot in the costumed world of the Joker and the JLA made him the perfect bridge for my situation.  While I kept an interest in independent comics, I greedily read as many Batman comics as I could afford, making use of more than a few coupons and discount sales at bookstores around town. 

Somewhere along the way that morphed into a strategy to discover the history of the DC Universe, one that eventually lead me to where I am now, picking up way too many comics on a weekly basis...but that's perhaps a story for another day.

So that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  What was your first comic?  Did you start with superheroes and then delve more into the independent stuff, or did you come around from the indie side like I did?  We'd love to hear your stories!  Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and share your tale! 
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