In his play, Music from a Sparkling Planet, Douglas Carter Beane wrote a line that I think sums up a lot of my childhood, and the nature of nostalgia: There's nothing so reassuring as the past's view of the future. As a sci-fi kid, I basically spent three-quarters of my childhood in the future or at least somewhere far, far away from where I was. When I look back on it, from the actual future dates, the future I imagined seems so small and simple. That's what makes it attractive. And still comforting.
Reading KP&W again has been the mother of all nostalgia trips. Not so much because I remember reading it when I was eleven, but because...well, it's such a comic book. An old-school, serial, sent-through-the-mail or picked up at the candy store comic book. I've remained into comics and graphic novels my entire life and my taste in them has certainly grown. I'm now more likely to reach for an Adrian Tomine or a Craig Thompson book than the latest X-men adventure. I don't even know who's on the team these days (though I basically assume it's all the same folks, a little older). When I read serialized comics, I read them in collections and, more often than not, it seems like they were written for that form: long, multi-issue story arcs, with a beginning, middle and end, even in an ongoing series, neatly bound together. At the front of the collection, there's a little summary of what you need to know, if that. (One series that I'm flirting with, an apocalyptic zombie comic The Walking Dead, doesn't even do that. Seriously. No preamble, no introduction. Just open up the collections and start reading.)
It's like they're saying, "If you're reading this, you know who these people are, you know what's going on. If you don't, figure it out as we go."
KP&W is not like that. It's not adult, smooth or slick, really. The art is chunky, clunky and kind of ugly. On the first or second page of every issue, one of the character recaps the story so far, sometimes to someone else, sometimes to themselves, as if they forgot what they were doing in the middle of a cliffhanger. All of the various points and symbolisms and metaphors are clearly explicated and driven home. Numerous bits of backstory and whatnot are either breezed over or left out altogether (Um. Kitty's father is a felon. There's talk of clearing his name, but really, he broke the law. And why is Ogun immortal? And apparently not that immortal, since, you know, he dies. Sorry, I meant to say "spoiler alert." And what's up with him and Wolverine and training, which was never mentioned before and never comes up again?) You get the sense in some sections that Chris Claremont is saying, "Nothing to see here! Keep it moving! Look, Wolvie's got claws!"
It's almost like...it's meant for kids. Oh. Right.
That's the thing that tugged at my soul when I was re-reading this: I'm not young enough to breeze past this stuff anymore. I know that the world is more complicated than this. That a person who's undergone some pretty radical torture, humiliation and reconstructed her personality, like Kitty Pryde does, would have deep, deep scars. I know that there's an uncomfortable flavor of racism underneath the proceedings. I know that your father getting "mixed up" with Japanese gangsters, well, A) is pretty unlikely but B) if it did happen, it wouldn't end so neatly. And I know that comic books can do more than this. Like going back to your old room, or your old town, it all seems a little smaller than you remember it.
That's not to say it's not worth something. It's worth a lot, rediscovering that world, that place. That time when I thought a couple of rocky afternoons and BAM! I'm grown-up. And that being grown-up wouldn't mean anything was really different. I'd just get a new costume and some neat kung-fu skills and a new codename. Knowing how to be mentor or father figure was hardwired or something. Some tough words, a little withholding and the kid grew up. The phrase "a simpler time" has gone pretty battered out there in the world, but that's really what this comic is for me now. A reminder of a simpler person.
I'm pretty sure I still had my original copies of these comics until recently. I moved around a bit until college and had stuff stored in various places. A big trunk full of my old comic books wound up in the basement of my grandfather's house in Brooklyn. My grandfather got sick, and eventually passed away, and the house stood empty for a while. It was broken into once, and after that, my mother and I went to go out there and check on it. I really wanted to check on my comic books. I loved them and feared that the damp basement was rotting them. While my mother and I were walking to the house, a crackhead passed us on the street. This was the early '90s and crackheads were everywhere in Bushwick. He was easy to spot: burnt-looking lips, ratty clothes, skinny, malnourished, desperate. He gave us a weird fish-eye look and kept on. We went to my grandfather's house. I made a beeline for the basement door and my precious comics. Then someone kicked in the back door. I looked and it was the same crackhead we'd just passed. He saw us and ran away. I pulled my mom out of the house. She was screaming "I know you! I know you!" at the guy. And right then and there, I grew up. I decided I didn't need those comics, not so much. When I did finally get them back, I sold 'em.
My coming of age story doesn't need with a huge ice cream sundae...but then again, neither did Kitty's. Not really.
Back to you, Isaac.