I often miss childhood. It might be because I had less of one than most people. To me childhood is just a dim recollection of a time when I didn’t realize I was going to die, buried so far in my past that I have already begun to forget how limitless the world seemed back then.
My father died when I was eleven and in that moment I knew that I would one day join him, my mother would join him, my friends would join him, eventually everyone I ever met would join him (Death is sad that way). It was also at this time that I began working in a comic store, so it shouldn’t be surprising that this experience informed my taste in comics. No funny books here, no rascally orphan boys playing tricks on seemingly incompetent adults, no talking animals and sure as hell no flying god covered in red and blue swooping in to save the day at the last minute (sorry Supes, but like I just said, everybody dies, even in comics).
On the pages of Marvel comic books I found kindred spirits. People who, like myself, knew that the world was a dark place and no matter how good you were, you wouldn’t be able to save everybody. Spider-Man can swing through the skies of New York, fighting the Green Goblin and still have enough time to crack a few jokes, but he can’t change the laws of physics and when a girl falls far enough, fast enough, even Spidey’s efforts to save her will snap her neck (Gwen Stacy we still miss you).
As I grew into my teenage years (that awful period we all must suffer through. When we are confused about almost everything, the only thing we know for sure is that no one, anywhere, understands us.) Marvel had just given us The Fall of the Mutants and I spent those painful years struggling with Wolverine as he walked stoically by himself through the pages of Uncanny X-Men (at least he was alone until he picked up that annoying Jubilee girl in that mall). When I felt like the world was against me and that everyone hated me, I only had to open the pages of that comic to see Wolverine pursued by Mutant Hunters or see him crucified on the cover of #251 to know that the world wasn’t a nice place (I love that cover). From Wolverine I learned that bad things happen to heroes, what makes them heroes is that they keep going.
As I grew to adulthood my tastes changed in many respects, but not in comic books. Though my adolescent crush on Jubilee would turn to hatred (obviously) Uncanny would remain my favorite book and I would spend years suffering through their adventures. Sometimes suffering because the adventures hurt my heart so much, as my mutant family experienced the same kind of woes and heartbreak I found in my own life, and sometimes just because the writing was so poor. Reading Marvel Comics is hard and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let the DC fans keep their silly colored god, they can keep on diving into an escapist fantasy to avoid thinking about how hard life is. I’m a Marvel Comics fan and I have been all my life.
Marvel Comics has spent almost sixty years building a world, but it’s not the one that everybody seems to think it is. I love the X-Men. I love the Avengers. I tolerate the Defenders. But the world of these superheroes is not really that important, it is a world of stories written quickly and sometimes artfully on a deadline, printed on the cheapest paper available and it was never meant to last for sixty years. The world that Marvel Comics built is a world populated by our memories of reading those pulp paper adventures, how they touched us, how they moved us and how they gave us solace and support on the bad days. The Marvel Comic Universe has been with me for twenty seven years (for some of you it has been part of your world for far longer). It is my oldest friend.
And now whether we like it or not, that world is gone.
That can sadden us, but we must not lament the passing of the MCU for this new story Secret Wars is still the Marvel way. The writers of this series have shown us the tombstone of dear departed friend to remind us that the choices that writers make in the Marvel Universe matter. I don’t know what awaits us beyond the horizon of Secret Wars but I have faith in the Marvel way, time has brought us to this moment of sadness and now like Wolverine we must keep going.
[Editor’s Note: Follow Desmond Hassing on twitter @dhassing, and listen to him on Slackademia, or the Musings of a Geek podcast, both available from iTunes & Stitcher]