Jersey Reflections: Pop Culture (vis-a-vis Comics)

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By: Vince Farinaccio

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Comic book superheroes have flourished decades longer than anyone could have expected.

Pop culture is a curious thing. It became associated in mid-19th century England with the type of entertainment the poorly educated lower classes preferred in contrast to the high culture of the schooled upper class. As it evolved and migrated over the next century, its trending components were expected to conform to the role of impermanence and the rule of planned obsolescence while businesses maintained a close watch on fickle tastes and short attention spans. 

But pop culture could also be stubborn in following rules. Rock ’n’ roll should have become extinct somewhere in the 1960s but instead became a huge industry that thrived with a faithful following. The same is true of comic books, which earned a new popularity 50 years ago in what has become known as the Silver Age of their existence, largely due to the sudden success of Marvel Comics. 

Unfortunately, pop culture, usually aimed at younger people, comes with a caveat, an expectation that adolescents will eventually outgrow their interest in youthful trends. When it came to the hula hoop or poodle skirts, teenagers complied. Comic books, however, were a different story. Over the next 50 years, fans remained loyal as their superheroes flourished, surviving decades longer than anyone could have expected.

Today, comic book heroes are not only available in their traditional print form but also in the series of Warner Brothers film adaptations of DC characters and in the larger, more ubiquitous Marvel Cinematic Universe. Last month’s record-breaking release of Avengers: Endgame, the MCU’s culmination of 10-plus years during which a fictional cinematic universe was created, has drawn an all-ages audience intently following characters who had been born in the panels of Marvel comic books dating back to the early years of the 1960s. 

In that era, comic book stores didn’t exist. Tales of the superhero had to be purchased at locations that chose to carry them. For Vinelanders, that meant local pharmacies and Procaccino’s, a family-owned convenience store on East Avenue near Chestnut Avenue, which had the best selection of comics for young area residents who spent their allowance on monthly releases by Marvel and DC, the leading publishers of the superhero craze. The Landis Avenue retail chain John’s Bargain Stores carried a voluminous stock of Classics Illustrated that offered comic adaptations of literary works like Moby Dick, The Iliad and Jane Eyre, but the local businesses had the superheroes: Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America, Batman, Thor and Fantastic Four. 

It was common for readers to keep pace with the new releases and to trade with friends and acquaintances any unwanted comics for earlier issues that had been somehow overlooked. An early and primitive form of networking, this has grown technologically into today’s global fan-base that facilitates the surge of information accompanying releases like Endgame. But just so we don’t forget the aforementioned pop-culture caveat, there is also a legion of movie critics to assure that even if we haven’t complied with those required restrictions, they certainly have. 

A recent evaluation in the New Yorker, representative of the initial spate of reviews by similar publications upon the film’s release, advises that you can miss the middle hour of Endgame’s three-hour runtime, “do some shopping, and slip back into your seat for the climax. You won’t have missed a thing.” For anyone uninterested in some of the most crucial moments in Endgame’s plot or the pinnacle of the MCU’s all-encompassing theme of parental relationships or the abundance of Easter Eggs that pay tribute to many of the studio’s 21 previous films then, yes, you can “duck out” for the second hour of the film. 

Local fans may not want to miss the middle of the movie because of the third appearance in the MCU of the military base in Wheaton, New Jersey, the fictional Garden State location that has a conspicuous connection with a Millville industry and Army air field. 

Maybe some critics have never encountered Bob Dylan’s line “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Or maybe they simply resent the success of a comic book franchise that turned into a successful film series. As the character, Tony Stark says in Endgame, “Resentment is corrosive.” How true.



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