Saturday, June 07, 2008
Comic Books Part Deux
Once more I ventured into a comic book store. This makes the third time in a month and I’m amazed at myself. I bought Planet Hulk, which collects a dozen or so Hulk issues under one cover. I bought it because of a sword & planet connection. All these issues take place on a planet called Sakaar, where the Hulk is exiled, and it has quite a bit of the old sword & planet feel. Sakaar is ruled largely by a group of red-skinned humanoids who remind one of the red-skinned people of ERB’s Barsoom, but there are also many other races that have been brought there by what is essentially a wormhole.
The Hulk is weakened by passing through the wormhole and is captured, through the use of an “obedience disk,” and sent to a gladiator training school. He makes friends there and ends up fighting first in the arena, and then at the head of a rag-tag army to overthrow an evil emperor known as the Red King. From there the story takes the usual sword & planet route.
There are some good and bad things about the book. First, since it collects a bunch of issues it is a satisfying chunk of reading material. I hate sitting down for a read and finishing in three minutes, and this actually took me a while to get through. Second, the writer(s) also have a pretty good handle on the basic sword & planet concept and created some interesting background characters and an interesting world. Unfortunately, the weakest part of the story was pretty much the Hulk himself. I really liked the first part of the book where a weakened Hulk is, while still formidable, actually challenged by some of the characters he meets and fights. Later, as the Hulk grows stronger and stronger and stronger I just lost interest. When the continental plates are ruptured, the Hulk leaps down into the boiling magma and…restores them. Later, he goes into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit, and then returns to the planet by meteoring into the ground. There’s no challenge to the Hulk left. That means no conflict, only some pretty images. But pretty images do not a story make. As a result, while I enjoyed Planet Hulk at one level, it didn’t scratch my itch for some good old fashioned swashbuckling.
There is one thing I’ve noticed, however, in my few recent trips to the comic stores. And that is the absolute excitement of many comic book fans for these characters and stories. Each time I’ve gone there have been several other folks in the store, all young men (mostly in their twenties), who are talking excitedly and animatedly about this comic story or that. And by “excitedly” I mean with voices raised in passion. There has been no mean-spiritedness to it, only joyous and wild discussion. I thought to myself, it’s not true that men aren’t reading, only that men aren’t reading regular books. And then I thought, what is it that attracts them to comics instead?
The standard views on males and females are that males are more excited by visual stimuli than women, and I have to suspect that this is part of the attraction for young males to the comics. However, I’m wondering why they need to have these visuals ‘given’ to them? When I read a regular novel I’m seeing all kinds of things visually. They’re just in my head.
I also wish I could find a better way, or some way, to connect to these readers. It seems to me that the Taleran books have much in them that a reader of something like Planet Hulk could enjoy. But why aren’t they discovering this? Where is the disconnect? What can I do to bridge the gap? I don’t know.