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A two-page spread from Defenders #50 by Keith Giffen. Inks by Mike Royer. Characters ™ and © Marvel Characters, Inc.
As a young child, I was not a reader. I was a forest kid. We lived in an area with a lot of untouched woods, or at least it seemed that way to me. I loved being in the woods and learned much from them. But my father despaired.
For years, he deposited a steady stream of children’s books in my room, which I read quickly and ignored. I had the technical skills of a reader, but not the interest. Then one day, he bought me a comic book and I was fascinated.
Comics became my gateway to more and wider reading. I quickly began reading novels far beyond my age, but the comics never left me. One day, I found Keith Giffen’s run of Legion of Super Heroes. I knew of the title and had read earlier issues. By now I was a little older, maybe a preteen, and my interest in the vapid superheroes introduced in Superboy comics, of all forsaken things, was long gone.
Now, I found I was interested in social commentary in comics using characters as metaphors. I was interested in mature things with the seriousness that only children and adults with a stick up their asses can have. And this one…
I opened it and the art was like a slap. Style, it had style. Was it good? I didn’t know. And the writing? Polar Boy, one-time member of the satirical Legion of Substitute Heroes, was now a Legionnaire and manned their control center. Talking to the AI, he expressed his doubts about himself and his friends, and how they were being torn apart.
He talked like a real human who just happened to have superpowers. The storyline that unfolded was tragic, almost Shakespearean, with a reversal at the end so dramatic, it was almost like the writer was winking at the reader, “My editors wouldn’t let the real ending stick but we know, don’t we?”
I was hooked. Throughout his career, Giffen wandered between commercial works. He was a brilliant comic writer. Fun and satirical with very human characters. He wrote superheroes, but he was subversive while a populist, a cultural anarchist writing comics for kids and sliding things in. But he was an artist too with a great, low-key style using lots of shadows.
I never met Giffen, but he was one of the writers who taught me that if you sympathize with a character the setting doesn’t matter. The premise doesn’t matter. Character matters.
Keith Giffen died earlier this month. He will be missed.
ABOUT LETO ARMITAGE
Leto Armitage was born in America under a set of circumstances that prophesied that he would one day unite the lost tribes and return the Ever Summer. Somewhere around twelve, he realized he had been left unsupervised and binged too many Arthurian movies in his formative years and that he was just another kid who accidentally got an education while reading above his age level.
By the time he turned old enough to get a passport, he started finding excuses to travel determined to find out what culture, food and women there were to experience. After learning to grill in Oaxaca, do kinbaku in Japan, and being banned from several former Soviet block countries, he returned home to settle down and see what damage he could do locally.
After working jobs including being a short order cook, bodyguarding strippers and professionally doing reader’s advisory for erotica he realized the most reasonable path forward was to become a writer. Today he lives with cats, dogs, and humans who seem to like him despite actually knowing him. He prefers to sit on his back deck, listening to the birds and Barry the Bumblebear bee, while he writes cozy, uplit romance and raunchy erotica.
BOOKS BY LETO ARMITAGE
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