I’ve read comic books for as long as I can remember. I like the ready ability to escape into a world where the good guys usually win, or at least where costumed characters are smashing stuff.
But my interest is rooted in more than just escapism: Volumes of honest-to-god scholarship have been written about comics (or “graphic novels” if you want to sound all hoity-toity). Comic book storylines reflect changes in culture over time, and you can learn a lot about the character traits a society prizes by who its preferred superheroes are. It’s like the original Nite Owl says in “Watchmen” No. 1: “The world of Doc Savage and the Shadow was one of absolute values, where what was good was never in the slightest doubt, and where what was evil suffered some kind of fitting punishment.” The decidedly different world of The Watchmen, The Punisher, and an alcoholic, street-brawling Batman reflected the grittier, more complicated reality of Reagan-era America.
One of my longtime favorite villains from the Marvel universe is Cain Marko, better known as the Juggernaut. Marko starts out as a kid who is abused by his scientist dad. He accidentally kills his parents in a laboratory fire. Then he’s drafted and sent to North Korea, where he steals an ancient ruby that turns him into an unstoppable powerhouse. None of this backstory matters much. All you need to know is that he’s big, he wears armor that makes him look like a Cadbury egg, and he smashes things. Mostly by running through them.Read More ›