Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Stepping into the same river twice: rereading my comics

Rereading comic books has effects I never expected. The past few years I’ve read so many Bronze Age comics with the P.A.C.K. toyline ad (Professional Agents/Crime Killers!) I think I have the text memorized.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot more stuff than just Bronze Age in my collection. But when I reread a series I start with the earliest issues I have (or with reprints or TPBs). That often means beginning in the Silver Age and running into the current century. By some random fluke I wound up going through the 1970s on several series (Flash, LSH, Brave and the Bold) around the same time, searing Big Jim and his deadly crew into my memory.

The most surprising thing about rereading (other than wondering why Michael Bay hasn’t made a P.A.C.K. movie yet) is that I rank most books pretty much where I’d have ranked them years ago. My reaction to individual issues is often different; if nothing else, the fact I’m not paying 12 cents or 25 cents or $2.99 makes me less disappointed if an issue sucks (and I’m not as over the moon if it’s really good). But the series and runs that I remember with affection usually work for me just as well on rereading, even if I’m more conscious of the flaws. The books I thought of as “meh” or the runs that sucked (“But if I stop buying until it gets good again, I’ll have a gap in my collection!”) haven’t improved any.

Exceptions include Gerry Conway’s run on the World War II retcon Wonder Woman; it’s much better than I remembered it. Rereading American Flagg disappointed me so much, I stopped. I’m hoping I was just out of sorts and I’ll like it better if I try again (I would really hate it if I no longer like American Flagg).

My appreciation for comics art, however, has changed a lot.  As a kid, art was just a tool to deliver the story, the same way the lettering delivered dialog. I sometimes hated bad art, but art would never be a deciding factor in picking up a book.

I notice art more now. I’ve also come to realize my youthful concept of bad art was, at times, inaccurate. When Neal Adams took over the Silver Age Spectre, I was horrified. Adams’ art was weird and crude and ugly, why did DC replace a good artist (Murphy Anderson) with someone so bad? I reread Adams’ issues a few years ago and it turns out the problem was me.

Knowing how things are going to turn out makes a difference too. Not that I always remember (“They resolved that plotline? I thought it was still hanging when they canceled the book!”), but knowing roughly how a plot or a story arc is going to pay off makes a big difference to how I read the earlier issues.

I don’t remember thinking much of Azrael when he appeared in Teen Titans, for example, but I thought even less of him on rereading. Instead of being a mysterious alien whose story was presumably going somewhere, I knew after he got roped into the Church of Blood he just faded away (even Wolfman doesn’t remember his original concept). Every panel Azrael is in feels like wasted space.

Or consider Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. I dropped it when I realized that despite all the mythology adds and the multiple big events, there’d never been a payoff. Sinestro sneers and kicks ass, the Guardians are jerks, Hal looks confused, rinse and repeat ad infinitum. When I got around to rereading Johns’ run, that became obvious much earlier. Starting with his retelling of Hal’s origin, none of Johns’ individual issues have a payoff because they’re part of a bigger arc. None of the arcs pay off because they’re part of the overall Epic Saga. I’m amazed I stuck it out so long.

Heck, watching Big Jim, Dr. Steel, Warpath and the Whip get their own book would have been more fun than rereading the Blackest Night/Brightest Day era. Because nothing can stop the smashing assault of Big Jim’s P.A.C.K.!

#SFWApro. Art by Rich Buckler, Neal Adams and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez in descending order.


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Well, Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. (Professional Agents/Crime Killers) did have their own book – a promotional book, to be sure, that came with the dolls/action figures when you bought them. I had a copy – it came with my Warpath doll. I enjoyed it well enough back then; it was put together by Marvel, with John Buscema doing the art. To be quite honest, I think a monthly P.A.C.K. comic series, licensed to Marvel back then, wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing – as long as John or Sal Buscema handled the art, and Bill Mantlo wrote the scripts…

    As to your larger point, most of the stuff from my initial comics-reading heyday (basically 1975ish to about 1984/5) that I’ve gone back and re-read hasn’t disappointed me. I obviously had a different perspective, and I wasn’t as blown away by some things as I was as a kid, but still, at worst, I found them solid and readable, and, at best, I saw aspects of the stories, plots or art that I didn’t appreciate before.

    1. Buscema/Mantlo would have gotten me to flip through it in the stores for sure, maybe not buy it.
      I didn’t know about the Big Jim book, though I’m not surprised—I know lots of other action figures came with mini-comics.

  2. Le Messor

    I have a slightly different perspective to both you and Edo. I have the same one, too – when I go back and re-read a series I loved from the Bronze Age, I find I still love it now, *cough*Byrne’sAlphaFlight*cough*.

    It’s that, sometimes, these days, I fear disillusionment. I read modern comics, and while they can be good / fine / enjoyable, they just don’t have ‘it’ (there are exceptions, of course). Then I begin to worry I’ve outgrown comics; it’s me, the hobby just isn’t for me anymore.

    Then I go back and read something from the Bronze Age that I’ve never read before – and there it is. The love is back. 😀

    A lot of that is Teen Titans, but outside of the Pérez issues (in three omnibi), my collecting has been sporadic. I’ve always blamed that on why Azrael means so little to me. (I think there are only four issues I’m missing now, though. If I ever get my hands on them, I want to reread from beginning to end.)

    1. There’s something really fun about going through a series start to finish, even if it means going through the troughs along with the highs.
      Like you, I find less and less modern stuff (well DC and Marvel) that works for me. Though as long as Durham’s library keeps getting it in, I’ll be reading some of it (some writers I just can’t get into even free).

  3. dbutler69

    Most of my comics are also from the Bronze Age and, like you, the runs I enjoyed as a kid I still enjoyed as an adult though of course, I too was more aware of the flaws.

    I wondered where the P.A.C.K. comic was as a youngster. And I also shared your opinion on the value of the creators in that I was more interested in the writing and the art wasn’t as important as long as it wasn’t so bad as to ruin my enjoyment of the stories. At least consciously. To some extent, I still feel that way, but I think my opinion of the stories has always been subconsciously affected by the art. Still, I was a huge Neal Adams fan from the get-go. I’m not sure how someone couldn’t have liked him. My first Neal Adams experience was in X-Men back issues and I was mesmerized.

    Yes, knowing how an arc plays out will affect one’s opinion of it. The Great Darkness Saga is awesome no matter what, but it’s just a little bit cooler if, during the buildup, you don’t know it’s Darkseid and his minions.

    And as far as Azrael, I’m reading through my New Teen Titans right now, and I think he’s just about the worst, most annoying character in comicdom. Rick Jones, you’re off the hook. Azrael’s main purpose (at least up to where I am now) is to whine and moan about how in love he is with some girl he barely knows (Lilith) and how much he misses her. Then get duped by Brother Blood’s people.

    Finally, I read a bunch of the Geoff Johns Green Lantern stuff, and while it wasn’t necessarily bad, it did leave me wondering what all the fuss is about.

    1. I recently finished rewatching the first season of ST: OS and “Errand of Mercy” is one where knowing the big reveal improved it. Watching with the knowledge the Organians are cosmically powerful entities makes Kirk’s efforts to protect them and Kor’s efforts to intimidate them extremely funny.
      I do wonder if Wolfman’s original Azrael concept would have made the character worthwhile but I sure wouldn’t bet money on it.

      1. dbutler69

        I’m also betting money thay Wolfman’s original Azrael concept wouldn’t have made the character worthwhile. I couldn’t see a glimmer of worth in what I’ve read.

        1. Probably not.
          I’m much more curious about Gerry Conway’s original idea for his Firestorm villain the Hyena. When she first appears she’s wearing a costume and uses artificial talons, but when we get her origin some time later, she’s actually a were-hyena. I asked Conway on Twitter and he has no clue what he’d originally planned or why he changed it.

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