Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Books in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about the five stages of grief for the way superhero comics used to be:


So as I wrote last week I ordered the very expensive oversized, hardcover, slipcased two-volume set of JLA/Avengers:  The Collector's Edition, partially out of nostalgia and at least partially because I couldn't find the copy of #3 missing from my collection.  Which was kind of odd seeing as how I wasn't all that impressed with the series at the time.


But I am nothing if not scrupulously fair to serialized comics, routinely giving them a second chance when they're collected in hopes they'll read better in one sitting.  And while I definitely liked it better the second time around, even by hardcore nerd standards it's intensely dense.  I mean, even with the help of the oversized pages, it's own extensive supplementary material and a trip to Wikipedia I couldn't identify all of the background characters.  Moon Maiden?  Mystek?  Here I thought it was only large chunks of Marvel comics from the 90s whose existence I had to take on faith (oh, wait, Faith was yet another incredibly short-term JLA member).


It really is a shame Marvel or DC doesn't seem all that interested in making a less expensive edition of this available because it's a wonderful distillation of what superhero comic books used to be like: how the characters spoke and acted, what the stories were like and how they were told.  Because though it was only printed a couple of years ago, comics like Civil War and Countdown have rendered it as antique as a volume of DC Archives.


Like in the comics of my youth, JLA/Avengers is very much a 'cozy' cosmic epic; sure the every existence of the universe may hang in the balance but mostly it's an opportunity for two teams of superheroes to visit exotic locales and compete for magical doodads.  There's an automatic assumption all will be well for our heroes as they go through the same motions they've gone through before in every previous cosmic epic they've been involved in because while billions may perish it's not like our heroes have anything personally at stake.


That is until we reach the final chapter when they're shown The Ghosts of Comics Yet To Come: all the deaths and degradation ahead of them, what they'll do to each other, what they'll become, and what will become of them (even the most terrible specter of them all: teen Tony Stark).  It's made clear they're fighting for a reality which will have no place for them...and they keep on fighting.


I know it makes me a big girl's blouse but that's what makes this the perfect coda to the way things were.  It's how I want to remember the characters I grew up with, not shouting over each other down like so many guests on The O'Reilly Factor.  And it really doesn't matter what fresh new hells publishers find for them (kill Bruce Wayne and make him a New God so he can fight Darkseid; ooh I can hardly wait).  The ones I care about will be waiting for me back in the past where they belong.


I realize I've spent a lot of columns grumbling over the current state of superhero comics but now realize I've just been going through The Five Stages of Grief over superhero comics; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  I realize that because I've finally reached acceptance, when it's suddenly occurred to me that we're not waiting for some new superhero paradigm, it's here.


It's been hard for me to accept because unlike in the old days when the superhero genre was actually allowed to rest, every other generation or so they've been reinvented right in front of my eyes.  The whole post-Civil War/Countdown take is the new standard, and if the circulation notices that are starting to appear in Marvel comics is any judge it's working.  This new direction plus the never ending series of 'events' has managed to keep most titles hovering a little over a hundred thousand copies--no mean feat in today's market.


Now that I've accepted this I really do feel a whole lot better.  Or it might be because I've finally stopped even trying to read Countdown and its affiliated titles.  If anything actually happens somebody let me know, OK?


Just as I was about to finish this I read that Marvel has finally come up with a plan to utilize their huge backlist of comics on the Internet.  I have no idea if it's a good idea exactly; ordinarily I'd look askance at any plan to make people pay for the Internet, but as we know that the biggest thing stopping kids from reading comics is their lack of money.  At Dark Star I regularly see parents with a pre-teen who's getting into comics.  If I could tell Mom or Dad that for $60 their kid could read thousands of comics all year long, well, that's not an outrageous price to pay for a birthday or Christmas present.


* Although I know it wouldn't exactly be good for their licensing revenues but now that all the properties are in the same publishers' basket who else would like to see DC/Wildstorm do a Superman vs. Freddy / Batman vs. Jason mini-series?


The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of