Whores of pop culture

Back in 1975, I bought my first X-men comic. I loved it. All these great superheroes I had never seen before: Nightcrawler–a blue demon who could teleport; Colossus–muscle guy made of steel; Storm– controlled the weather; Banshee–flew around with a sonic scream; Wolverine–claws coming out of his knuckles.  Cyclops was the leader  and he could shoot beams from this visor he wore. Phoenix–not sure what she could do (read minds), but she was one of my first crushes on a fictional character.

I followed X-men comics for a few years after buying that issue. The stories that Chris Claremont wrote and Dave Cockrum and John Byrne drew enticed this middle-school kid. The thing is, I had no one to talk to about the X-men. Everyone  else like The Hulk or Spiderman. Me, I enjoyed the complex interaction of a team of superheroes. But in an era before the internet, reading the X-men served as a lonely pasttime. I always wondered, “Doesn’t anyone else see how great these stories are? Am I the only one?”

Last week I saw the latest X-men movie. Never would I have thought that decades later the X-men would be a household name. When I read the comic as a kid, it was only on sale every other month. Every other month. Now twenty X-men related comics glut the market on a monthly basis–I’m not sure exactly how many because I haven’t bought an X-men comic since the early 80’s.

Even though I don’t read comics any more, I always considered the X-men “my own.” They belonged to me. Yes, I know its ridiculous to feel possessive about it, but when I see how unrecognizable the characters have become over the years, and especially in the movies, I shake my head. Something else of mine, a personal “friend” so to speak, has been whored out to make money.

The same thing happened to Dune, one of the first science fiction books I read–about the same time I was reading X-men comics. It’s still one of my favorite novels. Twice, however, the book has been interpreted on the screen–a 1984 movie and a 2000 mini-series. Naturally both had their strengths and weaknesses, but the personal bond I had with this story felt violated.

I experienced this same emotion when one of my favorite newspaper comics became famous. I still remember the first time I saw “The Far Side” on the comics page of the Courier Journal. A three-eyes monster poked his head into a university classroom and said, “Oops. Wrong room.” I know. Stupid. But the quirkiness of “The Far Side” stood out against the other comic strips. I “got” it and I guess that made me feel superior. My smugness disappeared over time when The Far Side’s wacky humor became popular along with other bizarre comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbs” and “Bloom County.”

I guess when something like The Lord of the Rings  or Harry Potter or the Time Traveler’s Wife becomes “common,” a sadness prevails. It’s like I lost a friend. I take comfort in knowing that I can always go back to the source and read a novel that’s turning tricks on the silver screen and picture the characters as I did before I ever saw them portrayed by actors.

Except for Sean Astin in Lord of the Rings. He’s a great Sam Gamgee.

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