This has come up a couple of times in the last few weeks so I thought I’d share.
The first time was listening to a friend work himself into a frenzied rage over Geoff Johns and DC comics properties. It was ostensibly about Doomsday Clock — which I admit sounds pretty awful — but really it was basically the same list of complaints I’ve been hearing for over a decade now.
You know the words, sing along! Geoff Johns is determined to move everything in the DC Universe back to the setting where it was when he was a kid. His writing is cliche’d fan fiction. He is obsessed with explaining EVERYTHING. (Of course, Barry Allen’s bow tie was invoked.) And so on.
Some of these criticisms have merit, some don’t. Personally, I quite liked the Johns version of the JSA. Mostly because it wasn’t really the JSA at all, it was basically the Thomas/Buscema Avengers in JSA drag.
His Green Lantern was okay up through the Sinestro Corps War. I really enjoyed his runs on Aquaman and Hawkman. His Avengers, on the other hand, was awful. His Superman run started strong and went off the rails with New Krypton. His Justice League run was not good. His Flash run I actively loathed. You know, some books I enjoyed, others I did not.
I try not to read or purchase comic books I feel sure I would not enjoy. Therefore I gave myself permission to jump ship. Even more, I gave myself permission to not care about what was going on without me.
So apart from a brief moment of WTF SERIOUSLY? when someone tried to tell me about the atrocities committed in Doomsday Clock …I really didn’t care.
The second time was when someone asked me about the current state of the Avengers in comics and I realized I had no goddam idea.
For the first time in decades. Always, before, even when I wasn’t reading the book I knew more or less what was going on in it. Granted, I’d felt a little twinge when my beloved comics retailer closed its doors after literally decades of me picking up my comics there once a week… but what I’ve discovered in the months since then is that I don’t miss keeping up with new stuff. It frees up cash for old stuff I enjoy more.
For those of you out there reading this that are long-time collectors… I’m not scolding you. I get it. I know how it sneaks up on you. The act of collecting ITSELF, the hunt for missing pieces of a complete run, can be very seductive.
…but once upon a time, it was also DOABLE. Today, such a quest takes on Sisyphean difficulties, even for the stuff I might like.
I can tell you how I got sucked in: Back in late 1972 or so when I was twelve, I had an epiphany. I realized that I could buy my own books with my lawn-mowing money. I didn’t have to depend on the library. I could build my own.
First were the Ian Fleming James Bond novels. There were fourteen. (I went for the Signet editions, mostly, because they were sixty cents each; the Bantam editions had MUCH cooler covers, but they were a staggering ninety-five cents apiece. There is such a thing as budget, people!)
I loved those books and still do; today I have them in varying editions in hardcover. But even at age twelve there was also the small but measurable pleasure in looking at that complete set, all lined up. I had done one a week or so, sometimes more if I could find any at the two bookstores I could walk to. I could have wiped out the whole set in a week if I’d been able to get to B. Dalton’s at the mall, but that took a car.
But the point is, my inner paperback collector had been awakened. I promptly set about acquiring the Planet of the Apes novels. There were eight; five from the movies and three from the TV show. I got four of them with a gift certificate my grandma gave me for my birthday– the others took a while longer. (For some reason David Gerrold’s Battle For The Planet of the Apes was ridiculously hard to track down.) But I got them.
And again there was that small, tight satisfaction at having the complete set. Later there were books tying in to the cartoon and I went after those too. The Marvel magazines were out of my reach–not available anywhere in my area, not even at the mall!– but I did collect the color comics reprinting them.
(Decades later, I discovered that there was a fourth in the TV series, Lord of the Apes, that goes for ridiculously high prices from dealers. I instantly had an irrational urge to own it, even though I had let go of the other paperbacks long ago. I knew buying it would lead to a quest to re-acquire all the other books, and then I’d go after the newer ones, and…. no. not going there.)
(Goddmamit I’M NOT! REALLY!)
This internal Maybe-I-will-no-I-shouldn’t is the constant burden of being half-fan, half-collector. That litany goes through my head every time I step into a bookstore or a thrift store or even just surfing Amazon.
Now, you have to remember that in the years I formed my habit– roughly 1973-79– that there was no such thing as home video at all. The only chance to see these stories again was syndicated reruns on the local station– which was seldom– or to read the books.
Sometimes the books were the only way I got to see this stuff at all. My mother forbade Kung Fu in our home (she had decreed that David Carradine was a “filthy hippie” after he showed up barefoot on The Mike Douglas Show) but I was able to read the books and that satisfied me.
Often I would find– like with James Bond, or Logan’s Run — that the books were better than the movies and that fed the fire, as well. But I have to be honest– the lure of a ‘complete set’ was never entirely absent. Even when it was clearly impossible, like with Doc Savage or Mack Bolan, I would daydream of one day owning a library where I had them ALL.
It only takes a couple of paragraphs to write this up but it was years developing. I got into the habit of finding a new series that I would collect each time I finished one, and by the time I was in high school I had several sets that I was not only collecting but updating. Star Trek, the Phantom, the Avenger, Conan the barbarian.
Comics, in those pre-specialty-shop days, had always been impossible for me to assemble any kind of complete set, or even unbroken runs… until I was in high school. Then the grocery store down the street changed owners, and magazine distributors, and suddenly comics were consistently available to me. I could follow continued stories — hell, I could follow crossovers. It was intoxicating.
Also during those years I learned how to take the bus into downtown Portland and find things that had been previously impossible to find– Marvel magazine back issues and old Man From UNCLE paperbacks, things like that.
These things all came together in high school to create in me a raging case of fannish OCD. By the time I left for college, I had amassed a pretty spectacular– if I do say so myself — collection of unbroken runs of this and that. Comics, paperbacks, and even a small number of old hardcover rarities. Because I had discovered the pleasures of antiquarian bookscouting by then as well. (That story is here.)
I won’t get into the whole sordid history of it– that’s not what this is about– but that collection slowly evaporated, unloaded for quick cash a little at a time, as my drug habit and drinking spiraled out of control. By 1983 it was all gone.
When I finally got clean in 1986, one of the hobbies I used to distract myself from the shame and difficulty of sobering up was deciding that, along with the ongoing process of rebuilding my life, I would also rebuild the collection.
That was thirty-two years ago. Since then, I’ve pretty much done that, and added a lot more… for one thing, home video is a thing now. The DVD collection alone is a wall of the front room. Books and comics are overflowing everywhere in our apartment.
But I discovered that it’s a trap, and here is where we circle around to the anecdote about my friend who is spurred into such a rage by Geoff Johns. The ‘complete set’ mentality is where that comes from.
When I was a kid it was possible to ‘keep up’ with, say, Star Trek. There were the Blish paperbacks adapting the original series episodes, the Alan Dean Foster paperbacks adapting the animated series, and a couple-three original novels and Making Of books. There were at most forty to fifty issues of the Gold Key comics and if you really were a completist, a couple of story-record sets from Power Records. It was a finite thing. Do-able.
When I embarked on my ‘rebuilding’ quest in the 1980s, there wasn’t that much extra. Some additional original novels from Pocket Books…. I had a pleasant few months tracking those down. Then came The Next Generation and those got paperbacks too. It was getting to be a hefty chunk of the wall of SF books in the back room, true… but still possible to keep up.
But today? Forget it.
I bailed in the 1990s, when I realized I wasn’t even READING the damn things any more, just adding them to the night-stand pile and then shelving them unread when I ran out of room.
So I had a purge.
Today it’s confined to the Gregg Press hardcovers, the Pocket hardcovers, a few authors I really enjoy like Diane Duane and Peter David and Diane Carey… and a few trade paperbacks of comics. That’s it. Even the DVDs we have on hand are largely confined to Julie’s and my personal Trek ‘greatest hits,’ not entire seasons or series. (The Fan Collective and Best Of sets are really all we need to have on hand, we’ve discovered. We probably are going to burn ourselves a set of Star Trek Continues one of these days, we love those, but there’s no hurry.)
This purge– almost a wall’s worth of books and VHS and stuff — was hugely freeing. With that realization, I started doing this with the other collections as well. Stripping out the deadwood, just keeping the things I genuinely like and will revisit.
Especially with comics, letting go of the monthly single issue habit and going only with trades and collected book editions has been wonderful… and something I noticed since my retailer closed? I don’t feel like there are things going on I need to know about any more. Batman getting married? Civil War II? Dark Nights: Metal? Whatever. Maybe in a few years I’ll get around to looking at a collected edition if I see one on sale at Half-Price Books or something. But the URGENCY that comes with the OCD collector habit is gone.
Even more, this pick-and-choose approach has changed my personal headcanon about what ‘counts’ and what doesn’t. Here’s a few mental edits that have given me great peace.
For us, The X-Files continuity ended with the release of the first movie. No Doggett, no revival series, we don’t worry about any of that. We do own the Lone Gunmen show and the episode of X-Files that wrapped it up, but that’s it for the later stuff.
In our household, Buffy The Vampire Slayer only ran three seasons, followed by its sequel, two seasons of Angel. The books we have on hand are the hardcovers, one or two of the Dark Horse comics collections, and anything from Christopher Golden or Nancy Holder. That is sufficient for our needs.
James Bond — no novels by anyone other than Ian Fleming, Raymond Benson, Kingsley Amis, and Anthony Horowitz. No Young James Bond except Charlie Higson. Movies, only the original Connery, Lazenby, Dalton, and the first two from Craig. Only two of the Roger Moores and no Never Say Never Again. No comics except Grell, Moench/Gulacy, and Don McGregor. The new ones, only Warren Ellis.
For us, the CW television universe of DC superheroes pretty much concluded with Crisis on Earth-X.
We haven’t felt the need to check in with those shows since then. Might get around to it, might not. We hear Black Lightning is good and we’ll probably find our way to that one eventually. No hurry.
I could go on. But the point I’m making is that when you pick and choose what you are going to read and collect instead of trying to get EVERYTHING, you can discard the stuff that annoys you not just in your library, but also in your headcanon.
It’s not even deliberate, it sort of just happens. My conception of Batman’s career, just to take one example, is basically Batman Year Two followed by Robin Year One and Batgirl Year One, then some Silver Age stuff/Batman 1966’s first season, then the Robbins/O’Neil/Adams era with the re-introduction of Two-Face, the origin of Man-Bat, and the first battles with Ra’s al Ghul; followed by Archie Goodwin’s Detective, Bat-Murderer, Englehart-Rogers, Moench/Colan/Newton up to Batman #400, the introduction of Tim Drake (the Starlin stuff with Jason Todd dying I sort of acknowledge but I don’t need to have it here), Knightfall, No Man’s Land, the Dixon run of Birds of Prey, Officer Down, Bruce Wayne Murderer and Bruce Wayne Fugitive, and Morrison up till Batman Inc. Sure, I own more than that (like Frank Miller’s first couple of Bat stories, but not the new stuff) but in my head it doesn’t really ‘count,’ and thus it never sends me into a spit-spraying rage like the one my Johns-hating friend must endure every time he walks into a comics shop.
Likewise, I never get upset about Star Trek Nemesis or Spectre or the current incarnation of the Justice League, because they aren’t part of the home library and my brain somehow equates this with “not existing at all.”
Do I still collect things? Of course I do. We’ll always have a home library and it will always be huge. But it doesn’t need to be complete any more.
That’s enough of a victory over my OCD tendencies. I’m taking the win and moving on. If things like Doomsday Clock or Civil War II or the DC cinematic universe are sending you into a fury, maybe you should consider doing the same.
Back next week with something cool.
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