Catching Up with Old Friends
I’ve used this analogy before: reading comics can be like catching up with old friends. My favorite comic book characters have been part of my life since I was 10 or 12 years old. That’s longer- way longer- than anybody else in my life, except for my immediate family. The familiarity of these characters is part of their appeal. It’s the gentle joy and comfort of nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong. I like reading about new characters too- as much as I like meeting and making new friends- but they can never match the deep-seated affection I have for the characters I grew up reading.
This is one of the reasons why I enjoy re-reading old comics. I feel the same way about re-watching favorite movies or re-reading cherished novels. I like to spend time with these “old friends.” I enjoy revisiting these familiar haunts- these places and worlds that are not my own yet mean so much to me. So, yeah, I’ll pull my old Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans comics out of the longbox. I’ll slip Firefly into the DVD player (an adult discovery, yet an old friend nonetheless). And, yes, I’ll go back and re-read War & Peace or The Stand for the 10th or 12th time.
However, there’s another side to catching up with old friends. Have you ever arranged to meet for coffee with an old friend only to discover that you don’t have as much in common as you used to? After the visit, you tell each other that “We have to do this more often”- knowing full well that you won’t. Comic book collecting can be like that too.
Except for the most compulsive completists, we’ve all dropped a comic book when it went off the rails or simply no longer held our interest. I would guess that most of us have tried to return to that same title years later, perhaps with a new creative team or periodic re-launch. That can be a wonderful blessing. You rediscover why you appreciated the character, team or concept in the first place and resume collecting the title. But it can also be disorienting. The title kept going in the years you weren’t paying attention. Characters and relationships changed. It’s not the same.
I’ve seen some fans blame the title or the publisher for that disorienting feeling- as if the comic book and its characters were supposed to hang in stasis until the reader was ready to come back to them. It’s an unreasonable expectation. Characters, like old friends, grow and change when you’re not there. Sometimes, we grow along parallel paths. We find that our childhood friends still know us best or that our favorite childhood heroes still engage and inspire us. More often, we realize that we’ve become disconnected and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s simply the passage of time.
I’ve thought about this a fair amount over the summer and into the fall as both Marvel and DC embarked on nostalgic crossovers before launching into new volumes of longstanding titles. Neither Convergence nor Secret Wars held much interest for me. Sure, I love the old Infinity Inc. or Age of Apocalypse but if I want to spend time with those characters I’ll pull my original issues out of the longbox. I don’t want to read about watered-down versions that aren’t quite the real thing. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t upset about the summer crossovers. I simply skipped them and saved my money to buy trade paperbacks and back issues.
However, I’ve been intrigued by some of the new relaunches. I’ve sampled a few new DC titles and plan to try a bunch of Marvel books as well. In some cases, the titles have moved on without me and I no longer feel much of a connection to the characters. Yet, in other cases, the characters are surprisingly different, while simultaneously and refreshingly familiar. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far of Conner and Palmiotti’s Starfire and Walker and Reis’s Cyborg. These aren’t the same characters I grew up with while reading Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans. But they’ve changed in interesting and delightful ways and I like spending time with them again.
I expect that I’ll always read a blend of old and new comics. I enjoy finding and discovering new titles- whether that’s Jay Faerber’s Copperhead or Rick Remender’s Deadly Class. But I’ll always have a place in my heart for the favorite characters of my youth and I’ll likely check in with for time to time. Maybe only for a cup of coffee and an insincere promise to “do this more often.” But maybe we’ll reconnect in ways that are enjoyably exciting yet comfortably familiar. After all, they’re some of my oldest friends.