On Ducks and BatmanSeptember 29, 2014
I am old enough to remember reading Superman in the newspaper. I’m old enough to have seen the Super Friends on television. I grew up with re-runs of Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk and Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman. And yet, I owe my passion for comics to a man who drew ducks.
It was the middle 1980’s, and I was a lower middle-class white kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We didn’t have cable TV, and we didn’t have a VCR; however, every afternoon after school, I had Ducktales. Somewhere in the place were UHF met VHF, and before or after Heathcliff and Inspector Gadget, I had the chance to tune into the adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his great-nephews. It was the perfect stuff for a preteen action, adventure, magic, mythology–all wrapped up into tasty half-hour segments with decent voice acting.
Flash-forward a couple of years, and me and my family had left the Big City and the South behind, moving into the semi-rural high plains of Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. Here we had three channels, and none of them showed Ducktales. I was distraught. So, imagine my elation when, walking through the local supermarket, I spied, amongst all the other magazines, a comic book of Uncle Scrooge Adventures. It was the same ducks that I had grown to love in the same crazy hijinks. Now what 10-year-old me didn’t understand was that these weren’t new things designed to cash in on some new, fancy TV show; but rather, they were actually reprints of old Carl Barks comics from way-back-when–long before I was born. Carl Barks was the guy that CREATED Scrooge McDuck, and Flintheart Glomgold, and the Junior Woodchucks, and all things that made Ducktales amazing–and almost 50 years before I’d ever heard of them. Well, that is what got me to the ‘Rack’, and it was not long before my childhood memories of superheroes sparked curiosity within me.
The first superhero comic I bought was Now Comics‘ Green Hornet, volume 1 issue 13. The action, the gadgets, and the sense of history and legacy hooked me, and I’ll bet I read it 12 times that first week. It was a couple of weeks later that I picked up issue 3 of Dave Gibbons World’s Finest prestige format miniseries, and it blew me away. Heck, I even liked Jimmy Olsen in that one! Now, I was 11 or 12, and money was hard to come by, so it wasn’t until the next February (about 2 months later) that I bought my first monthly Batman comic, #459, with a story by Alan Grant highlighted by the emotive shadows of Norm Breyfogle. The story took place on the anniversary of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death, as Zorro once again played in Gotham. In the closer, Commissioner Gordon had a heart attack on the last page, and it was like a gateway drug. I had to know what happened next. Then, while waiting for the next issue, I saw there was a new Robin. My mind was blown, and I was in comics for the long haul.
You see, for me, comics are not about the villains, or the plots, or saving the world. Comics are about the people that do these things. The people that sacrifice–the people that overcome. They are hero’s tales, and it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you’re mighty or weak, if you’re in shape or a little soft about the middle–these very human characters act as inspiration and as water-marks of the dreams we humans shoot for. To see Batman struggle with the memories of his own trauma from loss, to see Commissioner Gordon strive to grasp his second chance, or to see Tim Drake try to become something more than a nerd –that’s why I tuned in then, and that’s why I tune in now.
I have written a little about writing before. My writing starts with a desire to give to everyone out there the thrill and the passion I felt sitting on the floor of the grocery store, or by the spinner-rack in the bookstore in my little town in Western Nebraska–that connection to ideas beyond our place, and maybe even beyond time. Ideas that really meant something to me. I hope they mean something to you as well.