by Robert Leichsenring
Welcome back, folks. Today we will dive deeper into the superheroes. I love superheroes. Really, really love them. So when I was a wee lad back in the good old grey East Germany, at one point I got my little dirty and sticky fingers on ... dundunduuuunnnn ...Spider-Man, of course. Ahhh, the mid-90s. What a time. And seeing my first superhuman swinging around this amazing city was enough to make me addicted for life (give or take a few years of rehab).
I spent my early years in the 90s with Spider-Man and had my first trade of the Avengers, published in Germany at this time mostly black and white in little books half size of a normal comic book. I loved the Clone Saga and Maximum Carnage. I fell in love with Hawkeye in a solo story and with Ultron as a villain. I even remember Rage (what a stupid character).
And then my mom happened. All my beloved comics just disappeared.
So I was forced into my first 2- or 3-year rehab. until I found this strange comic at the airport of Dresden saying DC VS MARVEL #1. I still hear my Granny asking me if I would like a comic book and I just said "No, I don't need one." Stupid me. One month later I bought #2 and collected the whole run. (I never managed to get a hold on #1 ... idiot, eh?)
From there, I had two choices at this time: do I follow DC or Marvel? As I didn´t like the way Marvel's comics were printed in Germany (the paper sucked, and it was all stupid covers and wahwahwah), I chose DC and picked up JLA #1 by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter.
Boy, that was awesome! I was like 12 years old, and for the first time in my life I thought I could watch real superheroes. The art was amazing, the stories were taking me on a rollercoaster ride from Starro to the New Gods, from the 5th Dimension to the 853rd century and to Heaven and Hell. What a run. Morrison really got me hooked with his take on Aquaman and Kyle Rayner. I loved the chemistry between Flash and Green Lantern. His Batman was cool and dark and awesome. And ultimately, he took me on long journeys through the universe, rooting sci-fi even deeper in my heart. I was enthralled, and thus started my second life in comics.
I started for the first time searching for back issues and extending my horizon. ZERO HOUR was my first event (it does not age very well), and I loved it. Then I went out to get more. In a matter of a years, I had a solid pull list of 5 to 6 titles. BATMAN: CONTAGION and NO MAN'S LAND were sinking their claws deep into my brain. TEEN TITANS, which I could view as backup stories for JLA, started okay and then just drifted into utter stupidity and too many characters (CM3? Really?). GREEN LANTERN was never as good as the JLA stuff. FLASH : CHAIN LIGHTNING (my first contact with Mark Waid) had a new/old Flash and a cool cast including Max Mercury, Jesse Quick, and the one-note-Flash, Impulse. YOUNG JUSTICE (hey, I was a little bugger, I can read those) was just teeny fun. And all the while, I was searching for back issues in between.
My idea of superheroes started to grow. But I was still green and had, honestly, no exposure to the good stuff, the groundbreaking area of the graphic novel.
So I spent maybe four years learning everything I could about the DC universe and superpowers and all this, and then Morrison's run ended. I could no longer afford most of the comics as Panini flooded the German market with DC books. (Marvel's publisher in Germany had hard times since the beginning of the 90s, and they had to switch multiple times until they ended up with Panini as well)
So I stopped reading comics. for maybe eight years — Eight years of rereading my old stuff. (except for Spider-Man. Thanks, Mom!). I watched the movies, of course. I still knew most stuff. But I was out of the game for a long time.
And when I was drafted into the military, a little miracle happened: in the newspaper section of a supermarket in Heide near Hamburg, where I served as an instructor, I saw this cover of Steve McNiven featuring a strange team of AVENGERS and the SENTRY (whom I didn´t recognize at this point) titled "SPIDER-MAN UND DIE NEUEN RÄCHER". The NEW AVENGERS. I looked at the price, €4, and said "Fuck it, I'm buying it."
The next day, I came back to the same store and bought all the comics I could find. Some X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN and went straight back to the barracks and started reading.
You know how you do not offer a drink to a recovering alcoholic? Same goes for comics. I was hooked again. It took me nearly 3 years to totally dive back into my superhero love and collect the needed back issues from Marvel. This time I ignored DC. Bendis' run on the NEW AVENGERS (from Finch to McNiven to Cho to Yu... and guests like Chaykin and Coipiel), Mike Carey's X-MEN (with the amazing Bachalo and Ramos), Joss Whedon's ASTONISHING X-MEN, Nicieza's CABLE & DEADPOOL
(for me still the best Marvel book of this decade, balancing the serious CABLE with the funny unstable DEADPOOL), JMS's SPIDER-MAN, Millar and Romita Jr.'s WOLVERINE - ENEMY OF THE STATE and AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. — Man, I got them all.
At this point it was only a matter of time before I picked up the Ultimate Marvel line. And I started with THE ULTIMATES. Millar and Hitch did a tour de force with some of the coolest ideas for superheroes around, and maybe one of the best-planned and finished runs on a superhero comic. A popcorn summer movie on paper. Only better.
At this point I learned to follow authors rather than fictional characters. So I picked up Brian Michael Bendis' POWERS, illustrated by the top-of-the-game Michael Oeming. And boy, did he push the limits of what I thought you could do with superheroes. Seriously, I read like the first 2 or 3 years (maybe more) in two nights and nothing was the same. The pure scope of the world and the powers at display was invigorating. Every move, every conversation meant something and had consequences for the later story and characters.
The logical conclusion for me was to search for more. More superhero stories, without the the burden of a decades-old continuity.
Enter STORMWATCH. A book that was never really special. The typical battle book of the 90s. Pouches, cybernetic implants and stuff going all over the bodies of the characters and silly names.
But then something magical happened: Warren Ellis and Tom Raney transformed it into a character-driven military espionage drama in a single issue, and the start of something glorious, featuring characters who do not fight for the status quo but to build "A Finer World" (the trade you should buy for the legendary first appearances of Apollo and The Midnighter). With the artistic change from Raney to Bryan Hitch, the series went on for an amazing second season and a breathtaking conclusion, leading to the birth of the superhero team of the new millenium: THE AUTHORITY, a team so fresh and new that every story is a first and everything is possible. Even a hostile takeover of the United States of America.
And so we come to a close, as I later found more stories to please my lust for a different kind of superhero. Stuff like Christos Gage's ABSOLUTION, the superhero trilogy of Warren Ellis, Mark Waid's IRREDEEMABLE and INCORRUPTIBLE, and many many more.
And now I'm a happy comic book reader who can go from the sometimes flat monthlies of the Big Two to the epic serial graphic novels and normal series of the indie labels.
There are superheroes out there for all of you. Dark and gritty. Funny and light. Funny and gritty. Dark and light (couldn´t resist). You just need to find them. I found mine and so will you.
Robert "Nemo" Leichsenring