Monday, May 21, 2007

In Review of: Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!

In the growing number of volumes that exist on my bookshelf about comics, about the history of comics, and the importance that they play or don't play in our lives, I have an odd place in my heart for some of the essays gathered in the rather unwieldily titled Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!

One in particular that I wanted to discuss is the essay Oui, Je Regrette Presque Tout by Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil. A personal experience of longing and occasional self loathing, of missing the chance to acquire some original art, wrapped up in a quick overview of Starlin's Warlock takes less than 20 pages, but what a great 18 pages it is.

"You have the fever," a friend once told him, as he once again mentally cataloged his own art collection, as well as that of his friends. And you know what? I know that fever, I haven't had a day without it for a couple decades. I just hope that I'm past the self loathing.

While Starlin's run ended with issue #15 in print, the real ending of the story takes place issues earlier, as the current, in time, Adam Warlock goes ahead in time to his future self and sees what a disaster his life has become. "My life has been a failure, I welcome its end," opines the future Adam, and the current steals his soul, setting up a circular loop of causality that will boggle the mind as many of Starlin's metaphysical questions tend to do.

As a teenager, filled with the hormonal angst, that a nameless longing that can only strike those who have finally glimpsed a bigger world, only to be denied it by dint of age or ability, I read those panels and felt each and every word that came from Adam's gritted teeth. At some point or another, most teens have probably felt that, have thought of death and all its drama... and either decide to do something about it or not. The adult Starlin adroitly found the drama of Warlock's life and reduced it, no matter what, to an unhappy ending that anyone who has felt the sting of failure can respond to, something rather unheard of in comics at the time. While most people point to The Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel as sticking in their minds, Adam Warlock's death is far better realized.

The highlight of Gold's essay is his own story of collecting fever, and the role that it plays it played in his (and oh so many of ours) life. A chance encounter with a closed shop and a treasure trove of original art and a reclusive owner... its practically an origin story in and of itself.

He finishes with a thought:
there is a strange twilight awaiting collectors. Your moment passes and what you are left with is stacks of whatever monstroous accumulations you so desired. And you fade by some mechanical, spiritless process, like that little blue dot at the center of a screen in the days of solid state television.
Does that fate await us all, surriounded by endless "kipple" (to quote Phil Dick) that we once were sure that we needed? I ask myself that with each piece that I pick up, that little internal question that can start to discern, "why am I buying this piece of art?" there has to be a good answer along the way or the art goes back to the pile. And yet, it took dedicating a room of the house to show off the pages, making a wall and a half of the TV room the gallery to finally cement the fact that I was collecting this stuff because I liked to look at it. Just buying them and keeping them in a portfolio was an idiotic exercise. I didn't want to have them to have them, I wanted to look at them.

I have settled enough in middle age to deal with my failures and my successes, in my own sense, enough that I can function as a human being. I still recall Warlock's despair, honestly, but its a bit more at an arm's length these days. I still have the fever, but can take pills for that. And I'm glad that I have Gold's essay as a reminder that, when things could get bad, that there are brother's under the skin out there, who know it and felt it just like I did/do.

More thoughts on the essays in Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers! later.

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