I’m Terribly Sorry – By Ben Clemmer.
The first season of Storytelling Breakdown focused heavily on comic book based topics. We were already heading that direction when Denny O’Neil passed away. A remembrance for him was easy to write. We know how much his legacy means to Batman fans as well as fans of the entire medium. What was originally going to be a five episode season with three comics related episodes, became four out of six. For the most part, we will move away from comic book based topics for our second season. Before we take a break from them, I want to look back and tell you about my own connection to comic books as they are an essential part of my own story.
I met Ty Templeton at Indiana Comic Con a couple of years ago. He was one of several artists, writers, and voice actors that I was excited to meet if I got the chance. He signed my copy of Batman: Gotham Adventures, a trade paperback based off of The New Batman Adventures animated series.
That trade paperback and me have a history. It was the first comic book that I would regularly checkout at the library when I was a kid that wasn’t based on the Peanuts. I checked out the library’s copy constantly, renewing it as much as I could even though I’d already read the six stories within it over a hundred times. It was the gateway to checking out more superhero comics, still really just Batman at that point, and I look back on it now as the gateway that led me into the world of comics.
That’s why when I met Ty Templeton and told him a shorter version of that story, he sketched a quick picture of the animated version of Batman, signed the book’s inside cover and wrote, “I’m terribly sorry.”
While it was barely brighter than candlelight, the fire of my interest in comic books had begun to burn. I checked out Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight from the library. In its pages, I discovered how much bigger the world of Batman was. The movies and television shows had only scratched the surface compared to what was at that time nearly seventy years of content on the page. I checked out more stories, like the volumes of Batman: No Man’s Land, from the library, but comics weren’t yet an interest I was investing money in as well as time.
That changed at a single garage sale. I still remember what issues I bought that day, because it was the first time I paid money for individual comic book issues. One was a one-shot based on The Batman, the animated series that debuted in 2004. I bought issues #8 and #11 from the Hush storyline (technically issues #615 and #618). Young me wasn’t overly concerned that I had only found these two random parts in a twelve issue story. No comic book collector starts out as a completionist. The majority of my new books did make up a complete story. I bought all six issues of Batman: The Mad Monk. The story, written and drawn by Matt Wagner, used a Golden Age Batman villain called the Monk. The modern reinterpretation significantly upgraded this costumed evildoer. The Monk was now a literal bloodthirsty cult leader. He came from privilege, manipulated his followers, and preyed on the vulnerable. The book also featured a relationship for Bruce Wayne coming apart at the seams and showed how Gotham City is controlled by corrupt officials, hired muscle, and gangsters who call the shots. There was even an issue where Batman fought wolves. I was hooked. I wanted to find more comics with even more captivating stories and I was about to meet my primary enabler.
Loyal Vandenburg entered my life and found the perfect way to get off on the right foot with his tweenage eventual brother-in-law. He drove me to a comic shop for the first time. He also survived a battle with Nerf guns, but let’s focus on the comics connection. Discount Comic Book Service, starting at their location on Washington Center and then eventually when they moved out to Dupont Road, doubled the size of my comic book collection multiple times. I was able to get myself driven to the comic shop at least once a month and eventually went weekly when I reached high school.
My interests in superhero comics took off in three directions almost simultaneously. I was trying to keep up with the current continuity of Batman comics. I was discovering just how vast the DC universe is and began to expand my focus to cover other heroes and full continuity spanning books, and I was on the non-stop hunt for back issues of Batman going back as far as the eighties.
What surprised me early in my comic book buying was that Bruce Wayne was actually dead (or as dead as characters are in comics). This wasn’t long after The Dark Knight came out and as I was one of probably many new Batman readers trying to find my gateway into the stories at the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) Batman had died fighting a villain called Darkseid in a story called Final Crisis. This meant that Dick Grayson was now in the cape and cowl and Bruce’s son Damien was now Robin. Sure, Dick Grayson had always been Bruce’s right hand man, and the stories from Grant Morrison were excellent, but it was still a weird time to try to stay current.
Going backwards was more enjoyable. I tried to pick up on many stories that didn’t feature Batman as the main character, even if he still appeared. Gotham Central was one of my favorites and followed the cases solved by the GCPD. Others spanned worlds, shook up the continuity, and had the word “crisis” in the title. This led me to encountering Geoff Johns, a writer whose fingerprints are all over the modern comic book versions of characters like Green Lantern and the Flash, and recent DC films like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam!
For as much as comic books are a visual medium, what pulled me in was almost always the writing. Writers like Johns, Morrison, Wagner, and O’Neil were joined by Doug Moench, James Robinson, Archie Goodwin, Brad Meltzer, Gail Simone, Frank Miller (to a point), Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Darwyn Cooke, Jeph Loeb, Alan Moore, Kevin Smith (yes, I just listed those two side by side), Marc Andreyko, Brian Azzarello, Jim Starlin, Scott Snyder, Dwayne McDuffie, and Paul Dini.
Going back further, I discovered two series that began to turn me into a completionist. One was Legends of the Dark Knight, which Caleb and I discussed in our fifth podcast episode. The early stories in the title are some of the best Batman books I’ve read. The other was The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell. His take on Green Arrow is some of the best real world superhero writing I’ve ever consumed, dropping Oliver Queen into the city of Seattle as he experiences a midlife crisis and tries to maintain his relationship with his partner and battle everything from the Yakuza to the CIA.
Regularly visiting the comic shop also led to me exploring some titles mostly outside of the world of superheroes. I read the series Locke & Key at the recommendation of a core team member from my high school youth group. The series was written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, and I could not recommend it more if I tried. I know it’s cliche to say the book is better, but the Netflix series adaptation of the graphic novels fell well short of the amazing six part series that is some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced in any genre.
Loyal also helped get me into Brian K. Vaughan. I only recently went back and read his series Y The Last Man. It’s phenomenal. Reading post-apocalyptic literature feels a little strange right now, but I enjoyed it tremendously. The first full series from Vaughan I read was Ex Machina, which tells the story of a former superhero who becomes the mayor of New York City. (SPOILER ALERT) I’m going to spoil the end of the first issue because it set up the world of the story so well. One of the main character’s friends from his time as a superhero strongly believes he should return to that life. He believes politics is a waste of the mayor’s natural talents and metahuman abilities. In response to being told, “you were a real hero,” the mayor responds.
“If I were a real hero, I would have stopped the first plane,” and we see in the final page of the first issue that the South Tower of the World Trade Center is still standing.
Again, I was hooked.
All of the stories I’ve mentioned here resonated with me as I was growing up. The mysteries, battles, arguments, and intrigue were layered on top of really well developed characters and worlds that despite their fantastic natures, often didn’t feel separated from our own. I still go back to the books in my collection and remember the impact they made on me like it was yesterday.
When I started college, comics were largely replaced by tabletop games. I wanted a hobby I could more easily share with a group of friends and experience with them. The comic shop was out of my way. My schedule was jam packed and I was trying to stay alive and on a budget. I still occasionally buy new comics, again when I know the writer, and comic books will likely remain near the center of so many of my close relationships with friends and family.
The pattern I’m falling into with these blog posts, as unevenly spaced as they are, is one of starting a post with one topic in mind. You’d think that would be enough, but then I end up combining the original topic with another before I’ve finished writing. Hopefully this entry didn’t feel like a Frankenstein monster in the end.
As we look forward to the next season of Storytelling Breakdown, what comes next? We will be producing more content to act as a bridge between seasons. Let’s just say we’re taking a cue from comic books and their epic crossover events. I can’t give away everything now. I do have a pretty good idea what we’ll be discussing for the first episode of season two of Storytelling Breakdown.
But you’re going to have to wait for it.
I hid ten Easter eggs in this blog post that could give you a clue as to what we’ll be discussing at the start of season two. If you think you found them, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org