Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pile of Crazy Old Comics

So: I'm planning for the first few weeks of this semester's course on the graphic novel now. I'm changing the course slightly, asking the students to write a few short essays for me instead of only taking exams, because I want to get them thinking critically about their reading from the very beginning of the class.

The first of these essays is going to be a very brief paper contrasting A Contract with God (which is their first assigned reading) with a mainstream comic book published around the same time. Long-time Satisfactory Comics supporter Joe Stinson, the owner of Alternate Universe (the comics shop nearest to Yale campus), very graciously sold me a pile of old comics from the 1970s and early '80s that are, well, not all in very good shape. And some of them are not very good at all. But he sold me the whole stack for a dollar, and I think they're going to work very well for this assignment.

Before I hand them over to my students, though, I'm going to skim them and scan a few pages, to offer a few points of my own about the differences between comics then and now.

For example, here's World's Finest #237, which is dated April 1976. (I was buying and reading comics by this point, but I don't remember this comic or its selection of ads.)

Notice the speech balloon on the cover. You don't see that very much any more. And notice the recurring theme of Superman threatening his friends or ranking their safety below that of a stranger. Also notice the red bulbs at the end of the tails of those Giant Metal-Eating Space Locusts. They become important later...

...When Superman is explaining why his father Jor-El sent this weird Giant Space Bird-Mantis-Dragon to Earth (without a rocket, just in a big irregular hunk of metal), and why Superman's powers aren't any good against the locusts.

The lesson we may learn from this issue: weird stuff used to happen in superhero comics, and it happened for some weird reasons. By the way: the author of this particular opus? Bob Haney.

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