The end is where we start from

I think maybe I'm not very good at understanding superhero comics.


I was reading Michael Chabon's essay, "Secret Skin: An Essay in Unitard Theory," the other day, and was completely flummoxed by his assertion that it was the origin stories of costumed superheros that most fascinated people. The fact that there was a supporting footnote, citing the disproportionately large prices paid for Issue #1s among collectors to back up this assertion did nothing to unflummox me. Because for me, origin stories are the least interesting part.


Maybe this failing of mine comes about because the first comic I read wasn't a superhero comic, it was Sandman. And I like "Sleep of the Just." I'd even pick up a single issue copy of it, not because it's one of my favorite issues of the run, but because I enjoy the fact that the day that Dream breaks free from his prison happens to be my birthday, September 14. But I didn't really begin to love Sandman until after the origin story has been told: after Dream is free, after he's completed his plot coupon adventure, and successfully reclaimed the instruments of his power. No, my love for Sandman - the reason that the collected run would be my desert island book, the reason this is the text that I'll be writing my first post-dissertation academic book on - begins in "The Sound of Her Wings," when Dream, suffering from post-adventure ennui, is given a serious set to by his older sister. I love Sandman because of what Dream becomes after he has his power back, because of the heartbreak and grace of his story's unfolding, and its end. In fact, the one single issue that I have bought is the final issue, #75, "The Tempest."


Even in superhero storylines, the part I care about isn't the beginning. Anyone can be bitten by a radioactive spider. Anyone can be born with amazing genetic gifts. (And don't even get me started on the heroes whose origin story involves a refrigeratored girlfriend.) What makes the story interesting - to me, anyway - is the what happens next. What happens after you discover you have superpowers? What kind of person do you decide to become?