Ask Chris #157: Temporary Misinformation
Q: Is there a creator or character you initially disliked before later becoming a fan? If so, what turned it around? — @MASolko
A: If you’ve read this column before — or, let’s be honest here, if you’ve even just kind of glanced at it before clicking on something else — you’re probably already aware that I’m a person with some pretty strong opinions that I form quickly and then stand by against all arguments to the contrary. This is obviously the best way to have feelings, but I’ll admit that my rush to judgment has occasionally led me to be…
The biggest one, at least where creators are concerned, is easily Jack Kirby. I wrote a little bit last week about how my first reaction on reading one of his mid-’70s Captain America comics was somewhere between revulsion and outright fear, but that wasn’t the only time I had a negative reaction to his work. Like a lot of people my age, I got really into the X-Men in the early ’90s, and Marvel was more than willing to supply us with as many comics as our allowances could buy.
Even back then I was kind of obsessive in that way that kids — and dudes who read comics and complain about continuity for a living — tend to be, and I wanted to get as much out of that ongoing saga as I could. As a result, I gravitated towards reprint books like a paperback I got a book fair that had the Claremont/Byrne story from X-Men #123 and 124 where the X-Men were trapped in Murderworld. That thing was great. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite comics, and is probably half the reason that I’m still obsessed with elaborate deathtraps as a plot device to this day.
But I also made sure to pick up copies of X-Men: The Early Years, the book that was reprinting the original Lee/Kirby issues from the ’60s, and those… those, I absolutely hated.
To be fair to my 12 year-old self, X-Men isn’t exactly Lee and Kirby’s best work. It’s okay, and it definitely lays the foundation for stuff that people would later turn into the company’s most unstoppable, all-consuming franchise, but it’s pretty clear when you look at other stuff coming out that the stuff they really cared about was elsewhere. If I’d gotten into, say, Fantastic Four when I was a kid instead of waiting to read the Lee/Kirby run when I was like 28, I probably would’ve come around a lot sooner. That said, there’s really no getting around the fact that what turned me off the most was Kirby’s art. The big, blocky hands, the weird, frumpy costumes, the weird angular faces — I’d gotten into comics with stuff from Jim Aparo, Mark Bright and Mike Parobeck on Batman, and was just starting to get into new guys like Todd McFarlane and the Rob. Kirby’s art just looked weird and old.
The weirdest thing about it is that my dad loved Kirby’s work. He’d grown up reading Thor in the ’60s and once told me about The New Gods, not the story in the comic, but the actual story of Jack Kirby leaving Marvel and Thor to go create something that was his own, as a bedtime story. No joke. But it didn’t really stick, and because the only other Marvel characters I got into as a teenager were the ones Kirby never really worked on — Spider-Man and Daredevil — I never really had the chance to change my opinion. The closest I got was really liking Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s run on Captain America, but that never led to any back issue hunting. I knew who he was, I knew he’d co-created the Marvel Universe, and I’d long since gotten over thinking his art was ugly, but I didn’t really get it.
It honestly wasn’t until I started working at a comic book store and one of my friends said “hey, have you ever read OMAC?” that it clicked. He popped open the first issue, showed me this…
…and I was pretty much hooked. From there, I got into all the other ’70s Kirby stuff like Devil Dinosaur, The Demon, The New Gods, Captain America, Black Panther, and loved them. I was late to the party, but believe me, I make up for it with my enthusiasm now.
There’s another one that comes to mind, too, and this one I can’t blame on being twelve years old: I used to think Greg Pak was terrible, for basically no reason at all.
I think this one had its roots less in Pak himself and more in my distaste for Greg Land, with whom he collaborated on X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong. That book and Marvel Nemesis: The Imperfects — a tie-in to a video game that nobody remembers about a bunch of forgettable characters killing your favorite Marvel heroes — were my introduction to Pak, and while friend of ComicsAlliance Gavin Jasper swears that the Marvel Nemesis miniseries was actually pretty good, I rolled my eyes at those things without even reading them. Seriously, if you think I’m a snobby elitist now, you should’ve seen me when I was scowling my way through the world of retail.
I softened a little bit when I read (and friggin’ loved) the Amadeus Cho story a year later in Amazing Fantasy, but when Planet Hulk was announced, I was the biggest jerk about it that you were likely to find behind the counter at a comic shop, which is saying something. I smirked and talked about how it was just a rehash of Jarella’s World, and since the book consistently sold out, I never actually had to read it.
Until, that is, a slow day where I was going through an overdue subscription folder that someone canceled, which had the first four months’ worth. It was a slow day, so curiosity got the best of me, and I ended up reading them, and thought they were fantastic. But, rather than admit that I was wr… wr… mistaken in my assessment of quality, I decided that the best thing would do — and again, this is something I did as a legal adult, someone who was trusted to both drive a car and vote for elected officials — was to just not tell anybody that I was reading it so that I wouldn’t have to admit my mistake.
I lasted like two days, because that was the week where the Hulk fought the Silver Savage, and I ended up breaking down on the way to lunch and confessing that I read Planet Hulk and thought it was great to a coworker, who responded by revealing that he had also been secretly reading it after bashing it before it came out and thought it was great too. We had a good laugh.
Now, of course, Pak’s not just one of my favorite writers in comics, he’s also someone that I talk to on a pretty regular basis for my job, and know full well is an incredibly sharp, amazingly talented writer, even if he doesn’t know who Terra-Man is. It’s seriously a nigh-constant reminder that I was an idiot to be so eager to write him off, and what makes it worse is that he’s so nice that he once sent my mom an autographed copy of Magneto: Testament to use in her classroom when she teaches about the Holocaust. Seriously, Greg Pak is way better than 2005 Chris Sims.
As for characters that I’ve come around on, the one that comes to mind is Marvel’s Hercules. I had a completely irrational hatred of the character for years and I have no idea why, which is especially weird since I usually really like it when classical mythology is dropped into a superhero story. I don’t think I’d ever quite forgiven him for getting soused and then getting run over by a truck in “Under Siege” — the Avengers story, not the Steven Segal film. And of course, the thing that turned me around on him was Incredible Hercules, a book that I absolutely loved. It’s thrilling, funny, adventurous, smart, heartfelt… It’s pretty much everything I want in a superhero comic.
A book by, among others, Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Khary Randolph… and Greg Pak.
Q: What are JMS’s positive contributions to comics? — @bradthebrown