Comic Quest: Old Heroes Still Rule
Tim Van Schmidt
Things are complicated there in the “multiverse” – and that’s exactly how the comic book world likes it.
At least it seemed so recent when I went on a “comic book quest”, visiting area stores to see what the current state of comics is like.
My quest was prompted by the announcement of the closure of a long-standing comic book store in Old Fort Collins, Halley’s Comics. I wasn’t a frequent customer there, but I have certainly visited many times throughout their long time downtown, usually doing exactly what I do in 2021 – buying current comics to see what was happening.
Halley’s closing made me wonder where you can find comics in the area. So I not only visited Halley’s on one of their last days, but I also visited two other Fort Collins comic book stores – Gryphon Games and Comics, located at 1119 W. Drake, and Beeda’s Thingamajigits, in the old town at 153 N. College.
What I found in my quest was a complicated web of legends and lore spread across a dizzying array of products.
Now, there isn’t just one world where superheroes fight evil, there is a lot. There are multiple universes, multiple versions of heroes fighting, multiple versions of villains, overlapping stories, a proliferation of specials and specials, new generations of past heroes, and numerous special guest appearances of “stars” comic book.
What were once more or less straightforward stories of superheroes and weird adventures, are now stories full of additional information. Between a lot of explosions and deadly combat scenes, there’s a lot of explanation of how it all fits into the larger concept – a “multiverse” focused on endless expansion.
All of these complications, however, may be part of the problem. I think comic book fans love their story – the more the better.
I’m a fan of old school comics, I grew up in what was considered the ‘silver age’ of comics. Comics were a big deal for me as a kid – almost as big as baseball cards. My two brothers and I have collected comics – we each had our favorites and read each other’s choices with relish.
We bought our comics from the old downtown newsstand in our hometown of Illinois. There was nothing more exciting than getting a handful of new comics – and back then, at 12 cents apiece, kids could afford it.
But we didn’t listen to our parents. They kept saying that if we didn’t keep our comics picked up, they would be thrown away. Guess where our Silver Age comic collection ended up?
Over the years, I’ve become interested in comics, especially during the great boom in independent comic book publishing in the 1980s and 1990s. But it’s been a while.
In 2021, I discovered that the “newsstands” I visited still sported a lot of the same old heroes – DC Comics still features Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash; Marvel Comics still features Spider-Man, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The X Men, and The Incredible Hulk. And these two companies still rule.
If any of the names above are currently familiar, I’m guessing it’s not because you’ve seen the comics all over the place. I think a lot of the popularity of favorite comics now has a lot more to do with the explosion of superhero movies and spinoff TV shows than with the pulp-colored pages they’ve sprung from.
No matter. The entire media “multiverse” of superhero lore is fueling fans at a voracious rate. Even though movies and videos come out regularly, I think the comics are now helping to fill in the gaps for fans – and then some.
At their best, contemporary comics are a leading outlet for very good works of art. More than that, editors have mastered the inking process to produce extremely vivid splashes of color, enhancing the already attractive images.
Comic book prices have also gotten better, costing $ 3.99, $ 4.99, and more all at once. And be careful – one of the current trends is to publish a comic with “variant” covers.
I found some remarkable new things in my comic book quest, like “Oblivion Song” from Image Comics, mixing cool, stylized illustrations with adventurous concepts. Also by Image: “Fear Agent”. Other indie movies I’ve tried include “Scout’s Honor” by Aftershock Comics and “Blade Runner 2029” by Titan Comics, continuing the tradition of one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, “Blade Runner “.
But I found the really good magazines to be the ones featuring the old best cartoon dogs. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and The Fantastic Four still rate top-notch management in today’s comic book industry. The coloring is brilliant and the creativity of some of the splash panels is very impressive.
What also remains the same is my own desire to suspend the world around me for the one unfolding page after page in front of me. I loved reading contemporary comics even though it was a bit like starting a TV series in the middle of a season. I discovered that I had been carried away by several of the stories – just like in the Silver Age, when I was a child, but much, much more complicated.
Tim Van Schmidt is a Fort Collins-based writer and photographer. See his YouTube channel on “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt”.