A longtime Marvel enthusiast speaks on his decades of devotion!
Those of us who love comics know that the stories and characters can stick with us for a lifetime. The truth of this certainly wasn’t lost on Jim Morton, who wrote letters to Marvel as a teenager, decades ago. The editors responded to and published one of these letters in the back of an AVENGERS issue decades ago, only for today’s Marvel staff to find it and reprint it in the retro-themed pages of AVENGERS POINT ONE—much to Jim’s surprise, when he stumbled onto it in his local comic shop.
We caught up with Jim about his experience, and what has kept him interested in comics.
Marvel.com: What has made you a lifelong fan of Marvel comics?
Jim Morton: From the very beginning, it was the outpouring of creativity in art, story, drama, humor, family and team and social dynamics. I already loved super heroes, having grown up with DC, especially enjoying World’s Finest and Justice League of America because of the interplay of different types of characters. Marvel took those concepts and pumped them full of energy! I experienced that first with FANTASTIC FOUR. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN had down-to-earth situations amid all the spectacle and fantasy. I actually wrote a term paper in high school about the social implications of X-MEN and its portrayal of people ostracized from “normal” society. And yes, I got an A on it!
I also loved the months-long sagas, which were in essence graphic novels in serial form. [Stan] Lee and [Jack] Kirby’s FANTASTIC FOUR tales achieved wonders in this style.
The early portrayals of strong and proud female heroes such as Scarlet Witch, Invisible Woman, and Marvel Girl were exciting and inspiring, and in that same vein, groundbreaking stories of minority heroes such as Black Panther, I found powerful and thought-provoking.
Marvel still honors these traditions and artistic aspirations today, and the world of popular entertainment is all the better for that.
Marvel.com: Can you tell us about your experience with reading your letter years later? How has your perspective on comics changed? It’s so interesting, and often funny, to re-read things that we wrote as kids.
Jim Morton: It happened at my favorite comics and game shop, Dr. No’s in Marietta, Georgia, managed and owned by Cliff Biggers, who produces the wonderful “Comic Shop News.” I picked up the AVENGERS #3.1 comic and recognized it as a retelling of the story from half a century ago about the first shake-up in Avengers membership, and it intrigued me. When I saw the letters column in the back, the layout alone told me it was a reprint of an old letters page. A split second after I thought, “Maybe one of my old letters….” I saw it! Definitely a moment of nostalgic thrill, evoking memories of the great enjoyment I had as a kid reading these tales. I realized that I had imitated Marvel’s own “house style” in the letter I wrote, and that was pretty funny. And I had fun reading the response, too, which had a classic bit of Marvel humor.
Marvel.com: Comics have really evolved over the years—everything from artistic styles to subject matter. What changes have stood out most for you?
Jim Morton: I love today’s more prominent roles for Marvel’s heroines, with Captain Marvel as a great example. I see the introduction of religious minority heroes, especially Ms. Marvel, as a provocative innovation.
I’ve greatly enjoyed the cross-over sagas like Civil War and the infrequent but wonderful intercompany cross-overs such as AVENGERS/JLA. Experimental graphic novels like Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s 1602 bring joy and wonder. And I love the increased exposure of Marvel’s Universe through TV, film, and novels. I had wanted those movies to exist 50 years ago—and good things do sometimes come to those who wait.
Marvel.com: Whom did you consider your favorite Marvel characters as a kid/teenager? What about now?
Jim Morton: All of them, heroes, villains, supporting characters! The wonderfully wacky ones like Lockjaw, a giant dog with teleportation capabilities! Kid heroes, like Power Pack! Such unique concepts as the blind hero Daredevil. I’ve always loved Black Panther and his stories today are simply the best in the character’s history. What a coup Marvel achieved by getting Ta-Nehesi Coates to write these stories! I mean, a serious social commentator, a TV news analyst on the editorial board of “The Atlantic” whom Toni Morrison called the public intellectual most likely to carry on the legacy of James Baldwin! And he writes for Marvel!
Marvel.com: For someone just getting into Marvel comics, what books would you recommend they start with?
Jim Morton: In general, the graphic novel collections of classic stories are a great introduction, providing a complete reading experience in one volume. In particular, I’d ask a new reader what he or she has enjoyed in other media and let that guide my recommendations. One that ought to have broad appeal is the charming and hilarious MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR. But there’s something for every taste. The Marvel Universe is a big place. For fans of the recent Avengers films, I’d suggest the early Roy Thomas Ultron stories, especially the one ending with—spoiler alert!—the little boy finding Ultron’s head in a pile of debris, the panels brilliantly captioned with Shelly’s “Ozymandias.” Wow… “I am Ozymandias, king of kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Marvel.com: Would you like to mention anything else.
Jim Morton: I’ll give you an example of how great a tug these stories still have on me at age 68. In late April of 2012, I was in Paris. I only had a week there, and I wanted to see, do, and eat everything! I had no time to stop and see a movie. But everywhere I saw enormous, triple-wide billboards and other signage for the [“Marvel’s Avengers”]. I actually had to struggle to keep my concentration on the City of Lights rather than ducking into a movie theater. But I waited till I got back to Georgia, and saw it. To use Pauline Kael’s phrase about the cinematic experience, I was spellbound in darkness.
Pick up AVENGERS #4.1 by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, out this upcoming Wednesday, March 1, for more nostalgia-fueled action and letters from yesteryear!