Hard-Traveling Fanboys: Secret Origins (Part 5)

Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. But how did that passion for comics develop? Each week, Secret Origins will shed light on the personal journey Greg and Nick have each taken through the world of superheroes.

Greg: It’s that time once again, dear readers, when we bore you with the inconsequential details of our lives and the somewhat consequential details of the comic books we encountered along the way.

Nick: That’s right, it’s time for the latest edition of Secret Origins. When last we left you, we were discussing the disappointment that was Spider-Man 3. But as disappointing as it was, there were brighter days ahead for your authors, as we were about to discover our first true simultaneous comic book love.

In the summer of 2007, Greg, you had been reading Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run here and there, correct?

Green Lantern (Vol. 4) #1
Green Lantern (Vol. 4) #1

Greg: I’d been reading it mostly through trades (after getting all the single issues of “Rebirth”) since the run started. As soon as one was released, I made sure to buy and consume it quickly.

Nick: I was pretty much clueless as to what Green Lantern was all about or who Geoff Johns was, but that all changed when I left college to head home for my first summer break.

Greg:  DC Comics did a great job of releasing the hardcover GL collections in such a timely manner that I was able to catch up on the series heading into that summer’s big event: The Sinestro Corps War, an epic that had been built to since Johns’ series began in 2005.

Nick: One of my old high school friends let me flip through his stack of comics he had brought home from his first semester at school in Orlando, Fla., and right on top was a fairly thick issue that had a signature scrawled across the front. To be honest, it was the fact that he had met one of the creators (who I’d later find out was artist Ethan Van Sciver) that made me decide to read the issue. That issue was the one-shot that kicked off Johns’ Sinestro Corps War.

The issue that sparked Nick's love of Lanterns.
The issue that sparked Nick’s love of Lanterns.

Now, I had no clue who Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner or Sinestro were or what the hell a Parallax was, but damned if I wasn’t instantly hooked. Whether I knew what was going on or not, it was interesting as hell and I made note to ask about Green Lantern the next time I visited my comic shop. Upon doing so, the shop owner gladly filled me in on the concept and the story the books had been telling since relaunching, and that was that. Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps were added to my pull list just in time for the second installment of Sinestro Corps War.

You were caught up leading into the War, but were you able to grab those first few issues as they were released?

Greg: I was not, primarily because our campus bookstore no longer sold comics and I was unaware of a comic shop anywhere nearby. Little did I know, there was a shop in a town about 30 minutes outside our small college town. As fate would have it, I actually began reading the War by borrowing your issues as you got them.

Nick: Yep, once I returned to school for the fall semester, I started loaning you my singles so you could catch up. And, thus began our years-long journey with Geoff Johns and the Green Lantern Corps.

Greg: I think we should pause to explain just what a big deal it was that we were both reading and enjoying the same contemporary storyline. While we shared a lot in common, particularly our love of wrestling, our taste in comics seemed far apart. As we mentioned in the last column, you were a Marvel and I was a DC. Thus Green Lantern forged a weird addition to our friendship that was a lot of fun, as we were both on the same roller coaster, ready to head wherever the series took us.

Nick: Yeah, as we’ve said before, I was pretty vehement in my anti-DC stance. I would read Batman, and that was about it. And even that I wasn’t enjoying.

Greg: How far into Sinestro Corps War were you when you realized you were hooked?

Nick: After the one-shot, honestly. It was just such a great issue that it sold me on the concept and the characters completely. I think the biggest thing, as I’ve long said, is there is no character or comic that has more of an epic “Star Wars” feel to it than Green Lantern. That similarity instantly appealed to me, as I was and still am a huge fan of the Star Wars saga.

But, as the story continued, and we got characters like Superboy-Prime, Sodam Yat and the Anti-Monitor involved, what the story really did was kick open the door to the DC Universe for me.

But focusing on Sinestro Corps War for just a bit longer, what’s your favorite moment from that story?

Greg: There was so much to love about that one-shot. To this day, one of the biggest “Holy %^$*” moments I’ve ever experienced reading a comic was the final-page reveal of Sinestro’s heavy hitters — Superboy-Prime, Cyborg Superman and the friggin’ Anti-Monitor. It was fan service to the nth degree, and I loved Johns for it.

Oh snap.
Oh snap.

Other than that, I’d say my favorite part of the story was Coast City “lighting up” to show their support for Hal. It paid off so many emotional threads that had been running through the first two years of GL Vol. 4, and it was one of those fist-pumping moments that great event comics can deliver.

An honorable mention has to go to the Superboy-Prime vs. Sodam Yat fight, one of the best brawls in DC history.

Nick: For me, I always flash back to the story’s ending. Hal and Sinestro’s debate over who had truly won the conflict would sow the seeds for the next few years of storytelling, as it left it up to the readers to decide whether GLs being given the ability to kill was really Sinestro’s plan all along. Superboy-Prime promising his revenge was also a great image, even if it didn’t quite pan out the way I’d hoped down the road.

Greg: The event really captured what GL was throughout Johns’ run (and often in the past): Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings with elements of a police procedural. And at the time, the entire epic was contained in two monthly titles, which made it accessible from a financial standpoint.

Nick: Yeah, something I’d soon have to start considering, as my pull list began to spiral out of control with the addition of DC books. But, besides just GL, what else were you reading at the time? All DC stuff, correct?

Greg: Yep. I was strictly DC at the time, and I was also strictly trade waiting due to my limited access to single issues. I was getting the collections of Superman/Batman, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Nightwing as they were released. I would also occasionally pick up Batman and Detective Comics trades, and I found myself trying out books like Teen Titans and Justice League of America as well.

Your pull list, as you mentioned, was pretty big at the time. And with the addition of GL and GLC, it only grew. Along with our mutual wrestling addiction and the perils of college life, it made for a potent financial combination.

Nick: For me, as 2007 drew to a close and 2008 began, my comic buying habits began to take a major shift. I had grown weary of paying for every issue that Marvel slapped with a “The Initiative” tag in the wake of Civil War, so a lot of Marvel books went on the chopping blocks. I kept Mighty and New Avengers, as well as the severely underrated Thor run by J. Michael Straczynski. I also had the full list of Ultimate Marvel books, while DC had me hooked on both GL titles. Batman, meanwhile, was doing nothing but frustrating me with Grant Morrison’s run on the main title. Luckily, I discovered Paul Dini’s Detective Comics run, and I loved pretty much every word of that.

Dini gave Bruce and Selina a shot at love.
Dini gave Bruce and Selina a shot at love.

So, while it wasn’t quite an even split yet, I was certainly buying a lot more DC books than I ever had before. However, we still both showed our old biases in some ways, namely as we prepared for the release of one of 2008’s biggest successes at the box office — “Iron Man.”

I remember distinctly both of us following the development of that movie, and it seemed as if every bit of news or footage left us reacting in wildly opposite ways.

Greg: Ah, yes. My skepticism was high for that one. Let me just get this out of the way — I have always found Iron Man a boring, useless character in the comics. I never read any Avengers adventures growing up, but I did read the solo Iron Man book, mainly because I loved War Machine. Tony Stark was just like Bruce Wayne, except minus anything cool or interesting.

It wasn't as interesting as the cover promised.
It wasn’t as interesting as the cover promised.

Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of watching Tony Stark have boardroom meetings and run around in gaudy new metal suits for two hours. I also remember chuckling wildly at the name of Jeff Bridges’ character, Obadiah Stane. Yet I had no problem accepting Edward Nygma as a guy’s name.

Nick: It’s also important to point out that Greg is far more critical of the use of CGI in film than I am. I remember the Super Bowl ad that ran for the movie drew a lot of your ire.

Greg: Oh, the CGI in that trailer was atrocious. It made the movie look only slightly better than a PS2 game. I’m a strong proponent of using real effects when possible, and I had huge doubts about the studio’s ability to create the level of CGI needed to make Iron Man look anything but lame.

Nick: Meanwhile, I was all on board. I thought Robert Downey Jr. was about as perfect a casting choice as they could have made, and I thought the supporting cast looked pretty strong for a comic book movie. The CGI, while not outstanding, I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt and trust that the finished product would turn out better than the trailers.

Greg: Now I was (and am) a huge RDJ fan. I’d just seen him in the excellent film “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” but I couldn’t reconcile his humorous personality with the boring Tony Stark I’d read as a kid.

If you haven't seen this movie, what are you waiting for?
If you haven’t seen this movie, what are you waiting for?

Nick: So, when May 2008 arrived and we both got to see the movie, I think we were both blown away by what we got.

Greg: Absolutely. I was incredibly impressed by everything from the dreaded CGI to the pitch-perfect casting. But most of all, I was completely enamored with Downey’s interpretation of Stark. Here was a character I could get into! He was so refreshingly different from every other big-screen superhero — irreverent, snarky and completely self-absorbed.

And they managed to make Iron Man look cool, which I thought would be impossible in live action.

Nick: The movie turned out to be a nearly perfect balance of character development, humor, action and drama, a mix that, in my opinion, Marvel hasn’t reached since. The Avengers stands as the pinnacle of Marvel’s efforts, but I still have that first Iron Man movie as a clear-cut No. 2.

The most perfectly cast superhero in cinema.
The most perfectly cast superhero in cinema.

But, as any comic fan worth their salt knows, 2008 wasn’t all about Marvel and Iron Man. Eh, Greg?

Greg: Indeed not. I think most fanboys and fangirls would have been fine with “Iron Man” being the lone bright spot for us at the box office that year, but shortly thereafter, we got something even greater, in my humble opinion. And Nick and I got an early peek at a movie that affected us as much as the Green Lantern comic books did.

Nick: Indeed we did. We were the first of our friends to lay eyes on Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” It was an amazing experience, one we’ll detail in full next month!

But, be sure to come back next week for a new installment of Countdown, as we list our five favorite comic book writers. In the meantime, we’re always accepting feedback on Twitter at @nickduke87 and @gphillips8652 or via our PTB emails, NickD@placetobenation.com and GregP@placetobenation.com.

Greg: And to quote Nick’s favorite wrestling catchphrase: Ta-ta for now!

This was a thing.
This was a thing.