40 Favorites: #1-3

For my 40th birthday I thought I’d share a few musings on favorite things.

Not wanting to get mired in a swampland of categories or graphics nor too much internal debate, I settled on a casual catch-all catalog of whatever popped into my head. The items have been jotted down and put in rough order; now they’re being written up in varying levels of detail as time permits.

Of course such “things” as my nieces and nephews are indescribably precious to me,
but while I share the occasional story about them here I wanted to keep these posts focused on pop-cultural diversions.

The list will probably run in a series of alphanumeric installments. Comments are even more encouraged than usual, although this list is in no way entirely representative of my Absolutely Most Favorite books, music, films, shows, food, etc.; I stopped when I hit forty, made sure that there was reasonable distribution among various categories of stuff, and didn’t obsess over whether I should perhaps swap out this for that. What you won’t find is mention of any online pursuits, a whole realm of activity that didn’t come to mind.

1. 1980s superhero-team comics

I opted to abstract this one since it seemed like overkill to include separate entries for classic “New” X-Men and New Teen Titans. As I was discussing on a chat list recently, however, the experimentation with form and content of the comics medium in the ’80s was notable partly for the way it fed and was fed by engaging social drama even within highly mainstream DC and Marvel titles; my four-color fantasy matured just when I did, or so it felt.

Cover of The New Teen Titans #28 with Terra battling the team

Superhero groups have always been cool by their very nature, but Chris Claremont,
who quickly succeeded co-creator/editor Len Wein as writer of Marvel’s X-Men revival in 1975, ushered in a new era of deep characterization and cosmic adventure that influenced generations of readers. His collaborations with Dave Cockrum, then co-plotter/penciler John Byrne, then Cockrum again, and finally Paul Smith kept the first decade of the revamped X-Men some of the best-looking and most thrilling soap opera around.

Cover of The Uncanny X-Men #167 with scene of Cyclops holding Professor X pieta-style outside as team looks on

No sooner had the epic Dark Phoenix Saga ended in 1980 than Marvel’s crosstown
rival DC launched The New Teen Titans, also edited by Wein, introducing the indelible storytelling tandem of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. I could rattle off a dozen memorable single issues from those titles alone and easily fill all forty slots on this list by including such other ’80s ensemble efforts as Byrne’s stint writing and drawing Fantastic Four; Mike W. Barr’s work with co-creator Jim Aparo and then Alan Davis on Batman and The Outsiders; the clash of old-school and modern sensibilities (with bonus continuity-geek delights) in Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc., both wildly uneven in the art department but drawn most definitively by the great Jerry Ordway; Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire’s bold reinvention of a DC flagship with Justice League International; or Giffen’s tenures with and without Paul Levitz on Legion of Super-Heroes. I’d even add to that litany the original West Coast Avengers miniseries, written by Roger Stern and penciled by Bob Hall. The rubric of “superhero-team comics” must surely extend as well to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ brilliant Watchmen, if we include deconstruction of a genre as part of that genre.

2. Airplane!

I’m more than a little surprised that Young Frankenstein didn’t make the cut as the neurons fired away, yet as much as I love that movie for its mix of sophistication and sophomoric humor Airplane! has it beat on pure deadpan silliness.

Photo from Airplane showing characters playing jazz instruments in cockpit

The percentage of references that my generation makes at gatherings from that film
is large — heck, if it weren’t for Airplane!, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, and Monty Python, we’d practically be mute. It’s been too long since I’ve seen many of those classics, in fact, but laughter being such good medicine I aim to rectify that. Roger? I am serious...

3. annotations

I’ve written before here of my affection for The Annotated ‘Alice’, first encountered in high school. The fact that it was a text commenting on a text, not in another book or via forewords or afterwords but right alongside the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, page by page, appealed to me in concept and presentation as much as did the commentary itself.

Cover of The Annotated Hobbit with dragon lying on mound of gold and gems

Film and literary criticism in general fascinate me, despite inevitable instances of
eye-rolling interpretation here or overly arid explication there, with the sorts of specific insights found in oral histories and close annotations of particular interest. You might think that that’s a pleasure peculiar to English majors, cinephiles, and other types of scholarly wonks, although it really isn’t when you consider Rolling Stone’s special issues on the backgrounds of the 500 greatest songs or albums of all time, the nitpick- and theory-filled episode guides to the likes of Lost, and the popularity of DVD extras.

Annotations don’t have to appear in footnotes or on facing pages, of course, and in comics rather than prose it’s actually preferred if they’re in another volume entirely so as to preserve the integrity of the original piece, but there’s something about a Rosetta Stone sharing space with the very composition that it illuminates that’s both elegant and mind-blowing. The first issue of my magazine Comicology was devoted in large part to annotations of Kingdom Come, a miniseries turned graphic novel (whose collected edition is essential for its delightful epilogue) illustrated by Alex Ross and written by Mark Waid based on concepts that Ross had been mulling for years; it drew on the Christian Book of Revelation, decades of comics, and pretty much anything that came to Ross’s mind to tell a story that grows richer the more you unlock its imagery.

Readers, viewers, and listeners should absolutely let texts stand on their own upon
first experience, just as they should let themselves bring whatever they bring to a text, be it personal baggage, understanding, or ignorance. I don’t believe it’s at all wrong to consult outside sources during further encounters, however, and the kinds of annotations that I’m specifically referring to don’t simply tell you what a certain piece means but provide cultural and historical context, interpretations that may be at odds with the obvious or even with one another, and suggestions for further exploration among works that influenced the text at hand or texts influenced by it.

Cover of The Annotated Wizard of Oz with familiar Dorothy and friends in various ornamental sections

I did not expect to be writing that much per entry, and you don’t want to know the literally hours of struggle I’ve spent on this post over the past couple days as Blogger has proceeded to Murphy’s Law the Dickens out of it, concluding with a refusal to do anything with the post up to and including saving it due to an errant “span” tag that only became a problem because I had to fiddle with the HTML when random paragraphs decided to change font size – which, incidentally, between the time I proofread this and went to publish it, but couldn’t thanks to Blogger deciding that a certain word in this post was an illegally open tag, happened again. Since there’s other stuff lined up to run, I’ll continue the list soon although not tomorrow; meanwhile, I shall continue to mentally consign Blogger to the same circle of Hell as Comcast each time I have reason to dwell on what else I could’ve been doing instead of monkeying with this sucker.

Airplane! poster and still © 1980 Paramount. Images of The Annotated ‘Hobbit’, More
Annotated ‘Alice’
, and The Annotated ‘Wizard of Oz’ © year of production the respective
authors or publishers. Cover to digital edition of The New Teen Titans #28 © 1983 DC.
Cover to digital edition of The Uncanny X-Men #167 © 1983 Marvel. Cover to Marvel and DC
Present Featuring the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans
© 1982 DC and Marvel.

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  1. 1. Well, you know all too well my shared affinity for superhero team comics of the 80s. Let's just say, as excited as am I to have finally reached the Thomas/Adams X-Men stuff on my blog, I cannot wait to hit the Claremont stuff.

    2. Much to the chagrin of my wife and peers, I have never seen Airplane.

    I know, I know. Just missed it somewhere along the way, though much of its most famous bits have become part of the pop culture zeitgeist and thus wormed their way into my personal lexicon despite having never seen the film itself.

    3. I'm an English major, so of course I love annotations (and episode guides, etc.).

    What I really want to get my hands on is that multi-volume collection of Sherlock Holmes annotations.

  2. 1. Comics are for kids.
    2. Movies about Airplanes are not funny.
    3. I want to read, not do homework.


    1. Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
    2. Surely, you can't be serious.
    3. Elvis Presley as Captain Marvel Jr.


  3. Let's just say, as excited as am I to have finally reached the Thomas/Adams X-Men stuff on my blog, I cannot wait to hit the Claremont stuff.

    Oh, I hope I finally have the time and the stable Internet connection to follow along with that. I keep falling behind on my favorite blogs and my friends' endeavors — you-guys-above's stuff falling into both categories.

    Much to the chagrin of my wife and peers, I have never seen Airplane.


    Surely, you can't be serious. (I don't think it would've been legal of me not to say that...!)

    What I really want to get my hands on is that multi-volume collection of Sherlock Holmes annotations.

    Oddly enough, I covet those myself even though I'm not exactly a Sherlock Holmes fan. That's probably just because I just haven't read much of it, though, and the annotations would be an excuse to jump into the whole oeuvre; I know I paged through my mom's copy of The Hobbit as a kid, but I'm not sure I ever even read it all the way through until I picked up an annotated edition in high school. And that's not to say that annotations are best read concurrently with a text the first time you sit down with it, which most of the time they're not, but it's akin to looking forward to a movie you've heard is awesome even more when you have a DVD loaded with commentaries and extras to indulge in after the first viewing, or to devouring a TV series in full when you have a complete set of the show and some awesome episode guides. The forces of geek and gentlemen of leisure are like that.


  4. 1. Professor Xavier is a Jerk!

    OMG... Stefan, I just flashed that image, and it warmed my heart.


  5. 3. Elvis Presley as Captain Marvel Jr.

    And that was the least of it, the window dressing that confounded Harlan Ellison, but I spent so much time with my head in that book I'm not sure what was obvious, dense, hackneyed, cool, accidental, or intended any more.

    One of these days I or some anonymous friend will get those annotations up in their own little corner of the Interwebs, but until then I occasionally have to politely tell some dude on EBay selling electronic versions of them, "Nope." (The actual printed version is there more often, although not at the ridiculous prices it once commanded, which is amusing, entirely legal, and only a bit rueful.)