I’ve been working on the podcast pretty much nonstop lately, which has been a huge delight, and since the biggest task apart from scripting and recording new episodes is that of securing guests, all of whom are authors, the “work” has mostly been reading their books. I’m hoping to have Jonathan Alter on the show next week, so I’m reading his terrific biography of President Jimmy Carter, as well as his keyhole history into Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office, plus the work of five other authors whose names I’m reluctant to drop in the event an interview doesn’t come to pass.
The reading has all been great but I’m noticing that, at around 8 or 9 p.m., I’m not really processing the material anymore. My eyes are moving across the page and I’m decoding the words and I know what everything means…but I’m not retaining things.
And my remedy, the past few nights, is to close whatever I’m reading, turn of the light, spark a candle at my desk, recline my chair and read comic books from either the Marvel Unlimited app or DC Universe.
I subscribed to both services at roughly the same time, and I spoke about my touchy engagement with Marvel here, but my relationship has evolved.
- At first, I was reading these comics because I wanted to be familiar with the mythology of what seems now to be the most sensational cultural narrative. And I was enjoying it!
- After that, I subscribed to The Miami Herald and The New York Times, and I thought it would round me out, creatively, if after miring myself in a dense morning of news (as is my Sunday routine) I would spend a dense afternoon or evening reading comic books.
- Then, to be honest, I was just anxious about spending money on these services and not actually using them–BUT, at the same time, recognizing their utility. So I started dragging myself through random issues, two or three at a time. But I didn’t have to drag for long, cuz they’re basically all very charming and fun. Except for DOOM PATROL–I read the first issue of DOOM PATROL and kinda hated it, although it’s probably unfair to judge a comic on its first issue. Probably its whole first run is just a matter of the writers figuring things out. Same as you’re apparently not supposed to go to a restaurant on its first day? Not sure if that’s a standard idea, but I’ve heard it a couple times.
- Finally I’ve settled into a groove with em. The comics play a role in my routine. Now that the podcast has more stakes, I feel like I need to constantly be reading, putting material into my head that I can then write and talk about, and the comics help to sate that anxious need while simultaneously winding me down from an otherwise feverish reading regimen.
This week I read Neil Gaiman’s nine-issue run for The Eternals (2007), in part because I’ve never read anything by Gaiman (though I’ve seen that documentary about his insane public events, where he has to dip his elbow into an ice bath after seven hours of signing autographs), but mainly because the movie’s coming out soon and, while I haven’t watched a Marvel production since Avengers: Endgame, I’d like to at least be familiar with the premise, with the characters, so that–as with Rise of Skywalker–I won’t have to watch it, but I’ll be able to follow along with the cultural conversation.
And the comic was good! A nice introduction to at least the premise of the series–although, for the first half of the run, the Eternals aren’t really in their Eternal form. They’ve been brainwashed into thinking that they’re civilians. Then, bit by bit, they’re made aware of their past. It’s probably more novel for people familiar with the comic to go through those early issues and see these superheroes working as a doctor, as a party planner, but for me, not knowing anything about anything, it was kinda like, “Look at this doctor, look at this party planner.”
There wasn’t much magic to it.
But there’s a feeling, from the get-go, that you’re in the hands of a good storyteller, that this is going someplace, so I was comfortable in my confusion. Confident that things would make sense by the end–and they did!, albeit with tons of exposition, especially in the penultimate issue, where heroes are gathered at the “bedside,” so to speak, of a Celestial, which looks basically like a Transformer, except it’s ten times taller, and if the Celestial wakes up from its rest (it’s been dozing for millennia, which seems nice), it’ll destroy the planet. Maybe the universe. As with other cosmic villains in the Marvel Universe, the authors basically communicate that, if this guy prevails, we’re fucked. Don’t worry about the details.
It’s spiked my interest in a forthcoming book by Douglas Wolk, author of How to Read Comics. Wolk is a professor, he lives in Portland, and he recently read all 27,000 issues of Marvel comics and wrote a book about it, called All the Marvels, which comes out in October. I’ve got an early copy, but I wanna do a certain amount of Marvel reading before I get to it.
I’m thining maybe a comic run of its major characters.
Read an entire Hulk run, a Spidey, an Iron Man, a Thor….
I’ll figure something out and get back to you.