Sunday, March 13, 2011

Support your local characters: real people in Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes' Marvel comics



I love Ruth Hart's run in the early stories of the Man-Thing comic book series, precisely because she opts on her own to participate, and decides on her own to move on. She is the protagonistic opposite number to the Man-Thing, who relies utterly upon the emotions of others for his motivation. Ruth's source is herself. That is how she walks away from both the man she rode into town with (who set her up as double-crosser of the whole cycle gang he's double crossing) and even the cooler, trustworthy misfit guy Richard Rory, who helps her break free, on account of the bizarre weirdness that is relentlessly Rich's Citrusville companion.

They'd both just stumbled into this life where he's taken residence, if not shelter; but much as she likes him, she decides maybe she's never done anything real after all. Her plans for leaving town would not involve stopping to load a muck monster into a van to visit Atlanta. But that's Rich for you. Why not throw in a runaway seventeen year old, too? As usual, long, totally weird story, that you'd understand, if you just understood, really.

I love that she returns as a supporting character in the book where I met her, Omega the Unknown, an intriguing cult classic written with a streetwise respect for the intelligence of its readers of all ages, co-created and structured with writer Mary Skrenes.



She is not affiliated actively with the silent, humanoid alien, odd-job working outsider super hero figure of that comic. Rather, she believes she is helping a sensitive, intelligent, seemingly withdrawn young boy---some troubled spirit; that is enough---survive and recover and grow up, dealing with Hell's Kitchen. This is where James Michael Starling lives with her, discharged to her care by the clinic where she works as a nurse, to continue his contact with the same doctor and keep the kid situated. He doesn't always appreciate it, but, long after her days as a biker chick and much crazier things, she provides normalcy. best she can.

Then there's Ruth's roommate.

Amber Grant? I'm going to just have to write about Omega the Unknown. She is the realest character in the Marvel Universe, and no one writes about her anymore. That's in part because she seemed very much the kind of character who could live without being in a comic book story, and just as she did in the pages of the short-lived Omega series, that's what I imagine she did, to this day.

Marvel's New York City is just a great place to break out her camera and make some freelance bucks to go have fun and pay some bills, too. She has this whole life outside of her appearances on panel I would consider really fun and interesting in precisely uncomic book geeky ways, yet open minded enough to try most anything once, the kind of girl who makes you catch your breath, life full of what she really feels like doing. That is my kind of power. That is the kind of hero I want to pretend to be. Wish fulfillment: to be an adult, and like it.

(I want to point out here that both Amber and Dian, as well as Beverly Switzer, were created by Mary Skrenes to go with Steve's work. She deserves the credit.)

Her moments mentoring James Michael show her to be caring but not coddling, a respecter of everyone's boundaries. The Adventures of Amber Grant. That is the series for me.

Only Dian, James Michael's best friend at school, might know for sure what happened to the boy. He hardly understood any of his own secrets that she didn't understand, too. In a "daily minefield" of a school filled with street culture, Dian is far more than another set of eyes; she understands survival here, as well as how one might dream to be more, without having one's starry eyes blackened.


Where they went when they ran away together, starting with a bus and a cross country-style hike to the house where he remembers growing up, only one person really knows. She disappears with him into the margins of his own world...and then there are no more stories.

Richard Rory gets to come back in Roger Stern's guest-written #8 story, by the way. His spirit is still free. I so wonder where the writers were going next. That would make a cool dream. Some Saturday morning, then, I hope to awaken from it with atmosphere enough to write about it for an hour or two! But there's so many stories of my own to tell...the more I learn, the more I want to try, and it's coming from a place I trust implicitly, which is why I never hesitate when I'm able to save time, in a way, in order to share it so many times more later in the form of my little art gifts I spread around a little.



I like Rory a lot, because he'd have so many great rock and roll stories to dazzle me with, the legends of it. You wish characters you like have enough depth for you to find a place in common. Richard Rory, you stumble through these stories with the bad luck to end up with a wingman who burns fear with his touch, and with no powers, you keep trying the right thing. That inspires me. He seems to really 'get' women, like equals, and to 'get' people, even an Unman...he sees himself as just another guy, and tries to stop things beyond anyone's control from at least being so bad. Like my favorite of many summers Doctor Strange, Richard Rory has no powers, just some understandings, but lucky him, also, his old enemy, his Fate, to remain in over his head, where, of course, you sometimes find others drowning...what can the strength of one person do, then?


On the strength of maybe three appearances, I think Trish Starr, too, bears mentioning. She did more in her brief appearances than anything else, to make me think about her boyfriend Kyle Richmond and his life as though it's all happening to a real human being. Her aims and ambitions were outside the world of superheroes, and only her worst experience ever brought her into that world.


But this is not just the Death of Gwen Stacy in redux. She lives thru her trauma. She goes on to do something that sounds deeply interesting and true to her intelligent, free-spirited self, and re-appears in the world of the Defenders on Steve's last issue as writer, #41.


Whoever called that issue uneventful is missing a lot in characterization. The biggest nothing is, when Trish's life returned to, well, no longer requiring intervention from Drs. Strange and behemoths emerald, she and Kyle take a walk to talk. And their relationship, under other writers, is never heard from again. But that's hardly surprising. Being able to experiment, bring completely new stories, means each writer should feel free to add to the toybox, if they are truly giving something of themselves.

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