Meet JL Franke

It was this comic.  A reprint of an issue published well before my birth, it was far from the first I'd held in my hands.  My parents had given me comics since I was in the crib, the brightly colored panels entrancing me.  After a time, I could start to use the pictures to piece together the story they enacted.  Comics became a constant companion throughout my childhood.  But this one was special.

I was never a fan of nap time, but I was allowed to have some comics with me, so I made the most of the forced inactivity.  It was during one of these "naps" that I decided to make it story time and read "The Coming of the Kangaroo" to my teddy bear.  I was midway through when the realization finally hit me: those little squiggles on the page were actually making sense to me.  I could read!

This discovery had me jumping out of bed, running to the kitchen, and screaming, "Mom! I can read!" My mother, ever the wet blanket, replied, "So?  You've been reading for months.  Now get back to bed!" From then on, nap time became reading hour.  That continues to this day, when lazy weekend afternoons and late evenings usually see me with an open book.  It also cemented my love of comics, which continues to this day.  I was four.

It was this cover.  As my love of comics grew, my parents expanded the range of titles they picked up for me.  I had a particular fondness for tabloid editions, their outsized nature somehow making the stories they contained grander to my young mind.  One in particular, a Justice League tabloid, captivated me.  Or, to be precise, the back cover did.

I recognized Batman and Superman, of course, though their logos looked a little off on closer inspection.  Wonder Woman was there, but I hadn't recalled her wearing a skirt.  That looked like Hawkman, but what was up with that mask?  And who were those other guys?  They weren't in the Justice League.  And when were they called the Justice Society?

I would find out who the Justice Society was, thanks to their guest appearances in Justice League, Flash, and Wonder Woman comics, and I became obsessed.  With alternate worlds.  With the Golden Age.  And especially with the JSA.

You want to win me over?  Throw me a little parallel universe action.  Bring back a character from the 40s.  Or best of all, guest-star Jay Garrick or Alan Scott or Charles McNider.  A lifetime of passion triggered by a single comic book cover.  I was five.

It was this book.  Aside from comics, my love of reading primarily focused on histories and detective fiction, with old legends like King Arthur and Robin Hood mixed in.  I'd tried a few science fiction tales for kids and found them wanting, particularly the unstructured use of science as magic.  As someone who loves learning, a premise built on "it's alien -- it just works!" leaves a lot to be desired.  It's cheating, and I didn't care for it.

But then I found a copy of Clarke's classic, and I discovered what science fiction could be.  Sci-fi stories can explain the principles behind their ideas.  They can build and maintain an internal logic.  They can define the rules and then play by them.  This was something I could get behind.

I read as much of Clarke's work as I could find.  And he led me to other masters of the genre like Asimov and Philip K. Dick.  They led me to later authors like Niven and Vinge.  Eventually I'd discover favorite authors of my own generation, like Scalzi, Stephenson, Weir, Cline, and Corey.

It's amazing what a single book can do to turn around your view of an entire genre and create a lifelong love.  I was eleven.

It was this series.  While I'd embraced science fiction, I still looked down on fantasy.  I'd sampled fantasy writings in the past, including a couple forays into Doctor Strange.  What I found was a logical badlands where characters could do anything convenient to the story and far too many tales resolved through Deus ex machina, sometimes literally.

But then a relative gave me a copy of Secret of the Sixth Magic, a fantasy novel written by an aerospace engineer.  I'd discover it was actually the middle volume of a trilogy. Together, those books painted a world of magic that actually obeyed the rules: in fact, the rules were largely what the books were about and often drove the plot.

The discovery of fantasy that follows the same rules as good science fiction reinvigorated the genre for me.  Over time I'd fall in love with series like The Black Company, The Book of Swords, and A Song of Ice and Fire.  It led me to Neil Gaiman's writings and, back in the comics world, to Sandman.  It led me to give Tolkien another try and realize I liked it much more than I'd originally thought.

The right book(s) can help you weed through all the parts of a genre that's not to your taste to get to the parts that are right to you.  Lyndon Hardy's trilogy did that for me.  I was thirteen.

Every issue or book or movie or series episode is someone's introduction to a set of works.  It's one of the goals of The Fifth World to write about and discuss works of geek culture that either expose the reader to a work that's new to them or makes them think about it in a new way.  If we can present a new favorite work or provide a perspective on a familiar one that you've not considered before, we've done our jobs.  Because that's how lifelong passions begin.

As for me?  I continue to be a fan.  I participated online.  I was a supervillain for a time.  I coined a term that fandom embraced.  I helped out a writer or two.  I started a blog for long form discussion of pop culture, where I'm most active around Oscar time.  I became a scientist and engineer, working to make some of those formerly fantastic things a reality.

You'll find me here posting about comics titles I'm enamored with.  Reviews of genre literature and entertainment.  Responses to the adaptation of comics and genre literature to screens large and small.  And perspectives on genre literature from both a historical and technical position.

Hopefully one of those articles will lead you to a new passion yourself.  It just takes one...

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog,  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

Meet JL Franke Meet JL Franke Reviewed by JL Franke on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.