40 Favorites: #1-3
For my 40th birthday I thought I'd share some thoughts on favorite things. Not wanting to get labor-intensive with too many categories, too many graphics, or too much in the way of internal debate, I decided on one casual catch-all catalog of whatever popped into my head while reclining in a comfy chair. The items have been jotted down, ordered, and written up in varying levels of detail as time permits.
Of course "things" like my nieces and nephews are indescribably precious to me, but while I share stories about them and other personal anecdotes on occasion I wanted to keep these posts focused on pop-cultural diversions.
The list is being run in a series of alphanumeric installments to keep it from getting too long and because Blogger is stingy with the character count on labels. Comments are even more encouraged than usual, although this list is in no way exhaustive or even representative of my Absolutely Most Favorite artists, books, music, films, shows, food, etc. ever; I stopped when I hit forty, made sure that there was reasonable distribution among various categories of stuff, and didn't obsess over whether I should swap out one thing for another. The absence that strikes me as most interesting is the lack of websites, an entire realm of activity that didn't even come to mind.
1. 1980s superhero-team comics
I had to abstract this one, since it seemed like overkill to include both classic "New" X-Men and New Teen Titans as separate entries. As I was discussing on a chat list recently, however, the experimentation with both form and content of the comics medium in the '80s was notable partly for how it both fed and was fed by engaging social drama even within the most mainstream of DC and Marvel team titles; my four-color fantasy matured just when I did, or so it felt.
Superhero groups have always been awesome by their very nature, but with Marvel's X-Men revival in 1975 writer Chris Claremont, who quickly succeeded co-creator/editor Len Wein, ushered in a new era of cosmic adventure and characterization that influenced generations of readers. His collaborations with Dave Cockrum, then co-plotter/penciler John Byrne, then Cockrum again, and finally Paul Smith made the first decade of the revamped X-Men great-looking, thought-provoking, and just plain thrilling.
No sooner had the epic Dark Phoenix Saga ended in 1980 than Marvel's crosstown rival DC launched The New Teen Titans, also edited by Wein, introducing the indelible storytelling tandem of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. I could rattle off a dozen memorable single issues from those series alone and easily fill all forty slots on this list by including such other '80s ensemble efforts as Byrne's stint writing and drawing Fantastic Four; Mike W. Barr's work with co-creator Jim Aparo and then Alan Davis on Batman and The Outsiders; the clash of old-school and modern sensibilities (with bonus continuity-geek delights) in Roy Thomas's All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc., both wildly uneven in the art department but never drawn better than by Jerry Ordway; Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire's bold reinvention of a DC flagship with Justice League International; or Giffen's tenure with and without Paul Levitz on Legion of Super-Heroes. I'd even add the original West Coast Avengers miniseries, written by Roger Stern and penciled by Bob Hall, to that litany, along with Byrne's late-'80s run on its ongoing spinoff. The rubric of "superhero-team comics" surely extends as well to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' genius Watchmen, if we include deconstruction of a genre as part of that genre.
When I heard that the woman who portrayed June Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley, passed away yesterday, four words came to mind: "Stewardess... I speak jive."
I'm a bit surprised that Young Frankenstein didn't make the cut as the neurons fired away, yet as much as I love that movie for its mix of sophistication and sophomoric humor Airplane! has it beat on pure, gleeful silliness. A large percentage of the references that my generation makes at gatherings comes from that film — heck, if it weren't for Airplane!, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, and Monty Python, we'd practically be mute. It's been too long since I've seen some of those classics, in fact, but laughter being such good medicine I aim to rectify that. Roger? I am serious...
I've written before here of my affection for The Annotated 'Alice', first encountered in high school. The fact that it was a text commenting on a text, not in another book or via forewords and afterwords but actually alongside the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, page by page, appealed to me in concept and presentation as much as did the commentary itself. And there was a bit of a cumulative effect on the "m e t a" front too, as the film version of The Princess Bride (also on this list as well as mentioned above; while I didn't plan it that way, you'll notice lots of such linkage) came out around the same time and I soon discovered that the film's playful self-awareness was carried over from William Goldman's original novel.
Film and literary criticism in general are fascinating to me, despite inevitable instances of eye-rolling interpretation or overly arid explication, with the kinds of specific insights found in oral histories and close annotations of particular interest. You may think that that's a pleasure peculiar to English majors, cinephiles, and other types of scholarly wonks, but it really isn't when you consider Rolling Stone's special issues on the stories behind the 500 greatest songs or albums of all time, the nitpick- and theory-filled episode guides to the likes of Lost, and the popularity of DVD extras.
Annotations don't have to appear in footnotes or on facing pages, of course, and in comics rather than prose it's actually preferred if they're in another volume entirely so as to preserve the integrity of the original work, although there's something about a Rosetta Stone sharing space with the very composition that it illuminates that's both elegant and mind-blowing. The first issue of my magazine Comicology was devoted in large part to annotations of Kingdom Come, a miniseries turned graphic novel (whose collected edition is essential for its delightful epilogue) illustrated by Alex Ross and written by Mark Waid based on concepts that Ross had been mulling for years; it drew on the Christian Book of Revelation, DC Comics history, and pretty much anything that came to Ross's mind to tell a story that grows richer the more you unlock its imagery.
Texts should absolutely be able to stand on their own. Readers, viewers, and listeners should let texts stand on their own upon first experience, too, just as they should let themselves bring whatever they bring to a text, be it personal baggage, understanding, or ignorance, but there's nothing wrong with consulting outside sources for further encounters. The kinds of annotations that I'm specifically referring to don't simply tell you what a story means; they provide cultural and historical context, interpretations that may be at odds with the obvious or even with one another, possible explanations drawn out of other works or even the authors' own mouths, and suggestions for further exploration among not only what influenced the text at hand but other texts influenced by it.
Whew... I really didn't expect to be writing that much per entry, and you don't want to know the literally hours of struggle I've spent on this post over the past couple days as Blogger has proceeded to Murphy's Law the Dickens out of it (if that isn't a conflict of surname), concluding with a refusal to do anything with the post up to and including saving it because of some errant "span" tag that only became a problem because I had to fiddle with the HTML after random paragraphs decided to change font size – which, incidentally, between the time I proofread this and went to publish it, but couldn't because Blogger decided that the word "m e t a" (without the spaces, of course) was an illegally open tag, happened again. Since there's other stuff lined up to publish, the list will continue soon but probably not tomorrow; I, however, will steadily continue to mentally consign Blogger to the same circle of Hell as Comcast every time I have reason to dwell on the other stuff I could've been doing instead of monkeying with this sucker.
Artwork, logos, other text, design, and characters are the intellectual property of their respective trademark and copyright holders. My apologies, but if I have to mess with itemizing it all right now this computer will explode and I'll wish I went with it; no infringement is intended or implied. Comics scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database.