Comic Book Quest: Old Heroes Still Rule

Comic books 2021 (Design by Tim Van Schmidt)

Tim Van Schmidt

 

Things are complicated out there in the “multi-verse” — and that’s just the way the comic book world likes it.

At least it seemed so recently when I went on a “comic book quest”, visiting shops in the area to see what the current state of comicdom was.

My quest was prompted by the news that a longtime Old Town Fort Collins comic book shop — Halley’s Comics — was closing. I wasn’t a frequent customer there but certainly visited numerous times throughout their long run downtown, usually doing just what I’m doing in 2021 — buying up some current comics to see what was going on.

Goodbye to Halley’s Comics Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

That Halley’s was closing prompted me to question where else you can find comic books in the area. So I not only visited Halley’s on one of their last days, but I also visited two other Fort Collins comic shops — Gryphon Games and Comics, located at 1119 W. Drake, and Beeda’s Thingamajigits, in Old Town at 153 N. College.

Beeda’s Thingamajigits has comics too (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)
Gryphon Games & Comics (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)
Comic books fill the shelves at Gryphon Games & Comics (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

What I found on my quest was a complicated web of legends and lore spread out over a dizzying number of products.

Now, there isn’t just one world that superheroes battle evil in, there are many. There are multiple universes, multiple versions of the heroes battling multiple versions of the villains, stories overlapping, a proliferation of special issues and special series, new generations of the old heroes, and lots of special guest appearances by comic book “stars”.

What once were more or less uncomplicated tales of superheroes and strange adventures, now are stories fraught with extra information. In between a lot of explosions and scenes of mortal combat, there’s a lot of explaining going on about how all this fits into the bigger concept — a “multi-verse” bent on endless expansion.

All of those complications, though, are perhaps part of the point. I think comic book fans love their lore — the more the better.

I’m very much an old school fan of comic books, growing up in what was considered the “Silver Age” of comics. Comic books were a pretty big deal for me when I was a kid — almost as big as baseball cards. Both of my brothers and I collected comics — we each had our favorites and we read each other’s picks with relish.

We bought our comics at the old newsstand in the downtown of our small hometown in Illinois. There was hardly anything more exciting than getting a fistful of new comics — and at that time, at 12 cents apiece, kids could afford it.

But we didn’t listen to our parents. They kept saying if we didn’t keep our comic books picked up, they would get thrown out. Guess where our collection of Silver Age comics ended up?

Over the years, I’ve checked in on comics, especially during the big boom in independent comic publishing in the 1980s and 90s. But it has been quite a while.

In 2021, I found the “newsstands” I visited still sported a lot of the same old heroes — DC Comics still features Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash; Marvel Comics still features Spider-Man, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The X Men and The Incredible Hulk. And those two companies still rule.

If any of the above names are currently familiar, however, I’d guess that’s not because you’ve been seeing the comic books everywhere. I think a lot of the popularity of comic book favorites now has a lot more to do with the explosion of superhero movies and spin-off TV shows than with the colorful pulp pages they leapt off of.

Whatever. The whole media “multi-verse” of superhero lore is feeding the fans at a voracious rate. Even though the movies and videos are coming out on a regular basis, I think comic books now help fill in the gaps for the fans — and then some.

At their best, contemporary comic books are a leading outlet for some pretty great artwork. More than that, publishers have mastered the inking process to produce some extremely vibrant splashes of color, enhancing the already engaging images.

The prices of comic books have also been enhanced, costing $3.99, $4.99, and more at a pop. And be careful — one of the current trends is putting out one comic book with “variant” covers.

I found some noteworthy new stuff on my comic book quest, like Image Comics’ “Oblivion Song”, mixing cool, stylized artwork with adventurous concepts. Also by Image: “Fear Agent”. Other independents I tried included “Scout’s Honor” from Aftershock Comics and Titan Comics’ “Blade Runner 2029”, continuing on the lore of one of the finest science fiction movies ever made, “Blade Runner”.

But I found that the really quality mags were the ones featuring the old top dogs of comic books. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four all still rate top-notch handling in today’s comic book industry. The coloring is brilliant and the creativity of some of the splash panels is very impressive.

What also remains the same is my own willingness to suspend the world around me for the one unfolding on page after page in front of me. I enjoyed reading the contemporary comics even though it was a little bit like starting a TV series right in the middle of a season. I found that I did get swept away by several of the stories — just like way back in the Silver Age, when I was a kid, but much, much more complicated.

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

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