The home for unwanted X-Men

by SJ Griffin

I’ve always had a vague kind of an interest in comics. Obviously there was Tank Girl, Watchmen, a passing nod to Judge Dredd. But in the past few months I’ve decided that I really need more than a curiosity, I need a working knowledge.  But after no time at all, I ran headlong into the first obstacle. Where to start?

Forbidden Planet. It’s probably as accessible a comic shop as you can find. They sell Angry Birds merchandise. And Doctor Who paraphernalia. But go downstairs and you will find my first problem. Choice. Overwhelming choice. Marvel or DC? Justice League or X-Men? X-treme X-men or X-Men: Legacy? Pre-Watchmen Watchmen? Ozymandias or Night Owl? Start at the beginning of a reboot? Land right in the middle of an arc and hope I pick it up? And what if there’s been a movie franchise, is that cheating, somehow shameful?  And this is just the popular end of Western comics, let’s not even look at the Manga section, which is enormous. Although, is that Ghost in the Shell? No wonder people end up with an Angry Birds plush and a dalek keyring. I get the copy of X-Men where Northstar marries his civilian boyfriend to commemorate this milestone in comics and admit defeat. I can’t even remember the issue number – this is how bad at comic culture I am.

I decided that if the comic world is one of impenetrable urban jungles where I don’t even understand the alphabet, never mind speak the language, then I would need a guide. A friendly individual that wouldn’t think I was stupid, or a latecomer, and would recommend some accessible titles. I find one, then another joins in. I am lent From Hell (dark), Doom Patrol (insane) and Tony Millionaire’s Sock Money (more insane). The titles come thick and fast. I start having conversations about the narrative structure of graphic novels compared to vanilla novels.  I fill my amazon wishlist with all of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books. And then I march back to Forbidden Planet, not feeling quite ready for the comic shop in Soho another friend has recommended. Another friend into comics – why do these people keep it a secret?

This time there is no wandering around aimlessly, I stroll straight downstairs full of confidence. And then, and then the wandering starts again. Apparently, it doesn’t matter so much which issue you start with in a long running comic like Spiderman because they reboot them so many times you’ll probably end up meeting yourself coming back and besides, you can look stuff upon the internet to catch up with the bits you’ve missed. That’s all well can good, but the volume, the overwhelming choice, the sheer diversity of subject matter.  I gravitated to the sale section. Partly because it’s empty and I’m starting to feel intimidating by a young man who hates people who read the books Alan Moore has disavowed. I will have to ask someone what this means. He really hates them though. He’s passionate about it. I develop a zen-like calm about my status as a beginner. A newbie, I think I’m called. On the top shelf of the sale section are a collection of Uncanny X-Men pocket books. There are six of them. I pick the one with the cover I like best. Rogue Storm. I like Storm because I’m English and she has the power to control the weather.  She has a girlfriend. They’re good at gay people the X-Men folk. Ambiguous villains too.  These things I like. Also, they’re on special offer. No one wants them. I offer one a home. It’s a small act of charity and it was, like many decisions made at random and in desperation, the perfect choice.