A Mutant at the Edge of the Apocalypse
by Rachel Helie
In 1992, an unfeminine twelve-year-old girl, the sole set of ovaries in a family of men, sat on the ledge of the bottom row magazine rack in an Ingle’s grocery store. She flipped through a Fangoria magazine she had obscured behind a stack of Magic Crochet two weeks before (the churches made it a point to buy them out and burn them in barrels behind their buildings, along with whatever porn they could get their hands on). She looked at the pictures of latex gore and corn syrup blood for the millionth time. She wondered how many different ways you could find to make a throat look “tendon-y”. Long story short, the gore wasn’t doing it anymore. Horror movies had lost their allure and danger. The stories had started to bleed together.
She looked up from her perch and spotted a spinner rack, leaning crooked against the wall. Color splashed images of men with rippling muscles, gorgeous women with blue skin and hair flying; it captivated her. She sat staring like that for several minutes, each cover taking her to the edge of another world. Which one belonged to her?
During that muggy summer night in Georgia I found what I was looking for. I found that women could be heroes. Women could be powerful villains. They could be in love and be unable to do anything about it. I found X-Men, before the Age of Apocalypse.
That was my moment. We all have them. The moment when a story or a plot pulls us in, entrances us and defines our experience and expectations of the work and those fictional worlds. I am sure that any comic book enthusiast has a story not too unlike my own. Those first sparks of interest grow into what becomes a consuming need to follow the stories beyond years, beyond the boundaries of the tales that ensnare us. Comic books, like life, cast their stories outside of the lines. Within books, or even books series, we find a story contained by those specific pages. It is a comfort to know that the story will always be housed where we can find it, to be sure, but with comic books we are tossed about on the currents and undertows of interpretation. Human beings, artists and writers, each with an independent vision of their heroes, adapt and retell, creating new experiences of the work.
Unlike books and their A-Z narratives, comics overlap and evolve over decades and it is impossible to predict their outcome. I follow my favorites, knowing that the characters will behave in audacious ways, do things I would beg them not to. They could very well end up in places far beyond their pages, in a whole other series with its own mythology and character dynamics. I follow them, I implore them to return (or not) but I diligently trace the breadcrumbs that may or may not lead them home.
I love the adventure, the quest, the journey; whatever you prefer to call it, these slender words bound in color-splashed pages draw you in and reflect the human condition as it is when at their best; full of uncertainties, doubt, misunderstandings, and hardship, but beautiful and adaptable when willed into life by a steady hand, a sense of humor, and keen curiosity.