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When a graphic novel is just a comic book

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Let me pre-emptively say how well I know that comic books aren’t just for kids. I worked at one of the country’s best comic stores in its founding days, and it’s almost reflexive for me to sound that clichéd warning: Graphic novels are legitimate forms of literature!

I’ve been reading Alan Moore since his days at Warrior. I own some of the original Raw magazines that serialized Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

But none of that was on my mind recently, as I was trying to distract my grumpy 6-year-old, and somehow began telling him the glorious fable of a man who had been exposed to cosmic rays until he could stretch his limbs like rubber, and how that man, “Mr. Fantastic,” battled evil aided by his fiancé, who could turn herself invisible, and her kid brother, a human torch, and their friend Ben Grimm, an orange, rocky “Thing.”

“I want to read that,” my boy said. A thick bound volume reprinting the original Fantastic Four comics of the 1960s immediately went on my library list.

My son and I are up now to Fantastic Four #5 in our bedtime readings, working through the heroic battles against The Mole Man, The Skrulls From Outer Space, The Sub-Mariner, Doctor Doom. I loved these reprinted comics as a child, burying myself in the early Marvel universe where good conquered evil, and characters used phrases like “my young, fiery friend” and “You’re safe now, lad.”

Reading with an adult’s eyes now, the stories are so unsophisticated, so much simpler than I remembered. I try not to snicker over the nuance-free plots. I cringe every time Sue Storm, “The Invisible Girl,” is captured as a hostage or quarreled over as a love interest.


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