Of course I’m a comic book junkie. High fantasy doesn’t get any higher than superheroes vs. super villains, and aliens vs. other aliens. I started seriously collecting comics when I was about 12 years old, around the time when The Uncanny X-Men was blowin’ up for Marvel, and The New Teen Titans was blowin’ up for DC, and I was on board for both. Any time I could convince my mom to give me some money for being such a nice kid, I was off to the comic shop to get my fix. $10 went a very long way back in those days.
Naturally, it was the artwork, that drew me in (pun totally not intended). Anything that was penciled by George Pérez or John Byrne was a must-have for me. The stories were always secondary, because they generally revolved around the same formula: Bad guys do something bad, good guys come and kick their butts. So, I didn’t pay too much attention to who was writing what back in my early days.
Until 1983. That was when I decided to pick the first issue of the Hawkeye limited series. I liked Hawkeye from the Avengers series, so when a solo book came out, I had to check it out. There was no artwork from Pérez or Byrne in this one, though. It was drawn by, and written by, Mark Gruenwald. For the first time, I paid attention to what was being said, and not just the cool pictures. I guess the word that comes to mind when describing Mark’s writing is “accessible.” His dialogue, whether it was between two characters, or an inner dialogue of one character’s own thoughts, was very matter-of-fact and, well, normal-sounding. It wasn’t overloaded with “Great Scott!” and “There’s not a moment to lose!”-type stuff. His characters thought and talked like normal people. They even had thoughts that weren’t so nice, but they felt real.
A few years later, Mark and a bunch of other Marvel greats, such as Archie Goodwin and Tom DeFalco, collaborated on an offshoot of sorts for Marvel, and created the New Universe. It was essentially an alternate earth, where Spidey, Captain America, and the X-Men didn’t exist, and people with extraordinary abilities weren’t called mutants, or supers, they were known as paranormals. At least they were, in the one New U comic I collected: D.P.7. D.P.7 was created and written by Mark Gruenwald. I loved me some D.P.7.
The “D.P.” stood for “Displaced Paranormals.” The comic was, at its start, focused on seven individuals whose lives were turned upside-down as a result of something called the “White Event.” These were all real people, with real problems coping with their new powers, and Mark presented them in a very real way. He didn’t shy away from tackling issues like race relations, domestic abuse, and even suicide, during the book’s 32-issue run. Mark let us in on all the main characters’ innermost thoughts, and even random thoughts from random nameless characters.
Being the comic junkie I was, I also wrote and drew my very own “homemade” comic books. The stories and characters were often derivative, and even downright plagiaristic, but I just did it for fun, not profit. For a brief time during my teens, I wanted to be a comic book artist. Mark is the writer who made me want to tell stories, too. And as I got older, I realized that I liked the writing more than drawing. My drawing skills pretty much stalled out by the time I reached my thirties, anyway.
Mr. Gruenwald passed away from a heart attack in 1996, at the too-young age of 43. The many things he accomplished during his career in comics has served as a great source of inspiration for me, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.