Secret Wars and The New Gods: How Comics Shaped (My) Universe

How comics expanded my worldview at a young age.

Though I don’t collect them anymore, I’m still a gigantic comics fan. These days I read collected volumes and exchange them for others at used book stores, occasionally buying and reading more recent issues on my tablet via an app. Years ago, however, I would hit flea markets, comic shops, and trading fairs to supplement my collection.

Comics as an escape.

It was tolerated at first as one of those unavoidable phases of adolescent fixation, the cataloging and precise care of the magazines a possible effort to control my own tiny universe. It became a growing concern with my parents that I was using the magazines as a means of escape from reality, a correct assumption if there ever was one. I wanted no part of the bleak landscape that public school offered, especially when pitted against the backdrop of the worlds created by talented writers and artists.

“The comic book, true believers, was my cultural Rosetta stone.”

Voracious reading, the thirst for good music, and a healthy skepticism toward convention allowed something that was a rare commodity in the provincial community I was growing up in. Namely, a unique identity that refused to absorb the tripe that weak minds with no defense kit couldn’t deny. Add to the mix a healthy dose of Doctor Who, art supplies, and a guitar, and you might get a better picture.

I should point out, by the way, that I’m still on the fence about whether growing up before the modern gaming and the current version of the Internet was a plus or minus in my cultural development. It may very well have expanded my worldview. My 1980’s psyche might have coped quite well. Then again, I might have developed a leisure addiction that would frighten Harry Knowles. And that dude owns alien snuff porn[1].

Comics’ cultural impact.

But I digress. My point is that those pursuits were all attempts to lift the veil, so to speak… to find out what else was going on. Sure, I would eventually be exposed to recurring motifs of hero iconography throughout recorded historical myth. In due time, I would even hear the concept that this universe is not a formless juggernaut, but one instead of finite capacity born from the death of a predecessor. Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Sagan, and Joseph Campbell combined would have no affect on me, were it not for one thing[2].

The work of artists such as Jack Kirby, Bob Layton, and John Byrne were my introduction to topics and visuals that, considering my surroundings, I may not have been exposed to otherwise. The comic book, true believers, was my cultural Rosetta stone.

Marvel and DC Comics

I found in those days that I preferred the Marvel Universe to D.C. canon. The dialogue was no less earnest, but the plot contrivances were just more believable in the Marvel books. Having Sue and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four lament a miscarriage as a galactic threat to reality lurked behind the moon was much more engrossing than Superman trying to dupe a space genie into saying his name backwards. What nonsense. I refused to be pandered to, even at the age of thirteen.

The New 52

These days, however, I find myself drawn to the recently-rebooted DC Universe, specifically the re-launched Batman line. The first 12 issues feature Batman’s battle against The Court of Owls, a secret society that has covertly run Gotham for over a century. I found the Court’s use of the seemingly immortal Talons to be simultaneously spooky and dynamic. A great detail.

As my interest grew in what became known as the Marvel Universe, I delved into back issues of one title to the next and I realized that I was not witnessing disparate tales of good and evil. All of these characters lived on the same planet. In the same universe. At the same time. Many of them knew each other. That blew my mind. Top that with the writer’s tenacious adherence to a title’s established history issue after issue, and you had not several stories, my friends. You had one, and it was gigantic.

Before long, I was consulting reference materials to look up the concepts that I ran across in Marvel’s lexicon, mostly of a scientific nature. When an open-minded kid reads dialogue between Galactus and The Watcher concerning the nature of reality as perceived by mere Mortals, and how that perception in turn shapes the reality those Mortals experience, then that kid does one of two things: jump off the hay ride entirely, or hits the gas. Guess which one I did.

At any rate, it was much more satisfying than school assemblies that attempted to turn your losing football team into local heroes or trying to finish all fifty problems of your Algebra homework, whatever the hell that was supposed to teach anyone[3].

For better or worse, I chose to spend much of my free time happily submersed in a fantastic world that reflected the brightest colors I could imagine, populated with heroes that fought to save the weak, and didn’t give a flying rat’s ass about what music I listened to or what clothing I wore[4].

Oh sure, girls entered the picture, are you kidding? My hormones almost robbed a bank one night. But I couldn’t do much about it until I sawed through my shackles and escaped the clutches of my captors. Or I joined the Air Force. Whichever reads better.

[1] I have no proof of this whatsoever.
[2] Like most pseudo-intellectuals, I read exactly four and a half pages of Nietzsche in college.
[3] Well, scientists and engineers, but c’mon.
[4] I’m naked as I write this.

Brian Edward Smith is founder and editor of


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