Friday, July 28, 2006

My First Year of Comics

A while back, 2 Guys Buying Comics started this "First Comic Week", creating a nice blog meme asking folks to talk about their very first comic. I wrote on it over on my other blog, but think it fits in much more nicely here at Earth K.

The biggest problem with the idea of a "first comic" is that I honestly have no clue what the first comic book that ever caught my interest was; as mentioned previously, I got hooked on my uncle's comic book collection before I can remember, so it's highly possible that my first comic was Nova #1 which I don't recall ever seeing at the time, but which my uncle says my young toddler hands destroyed. However, while narrowing down whether I was first entranced by Avengers #147 and the appearance of the Squadron Supreme or by my cousin's issue of Showcase #100 which featured practically every character to ever appear in that book is next to impossible, thanks to the beauty of the Grand Comics Database I was able to narrow down the list of suspects for the first comics I ever purchased myself. Being the sort to go overboard in all things (and, being totally overwhelmed by nostalgia by the whole process), I've decided to not just focus on my first comic, but on my first year of comic purchasing which, if my calculations are correct, began with the cover date of February, 1979. And what would that first crucial title be? Click here to find out.

Super Friends #17 Feb. 1979. Honestly, I feel embarrassed that this is the first comic book I ever purchased. Not because it was Super Friends; well, not just because it was Super Friends. No, I'm embarrassed because there's absolutely nothing about this cover that I find appealing today. Which bring up an interesting point; not a single one of my well-worn issues of Super Friends still has a cover; heck I'm not sure any of them still have all of their pages. In fact, it's been so long since I've seen any of the covers that I had to double-check that this #17 was even the issue I thought it was, since the cover left me so under-whelmed. Even the story inside isn't all that great, all things considered; the Super Friends have been separated and tossed through time and space and have to find a way to survive. Of course, this issue did serve to instruct me in a few of the basic rules of the pre-Crisis DC universe, like the idea that the whole red/yellow sun thing wasn't just a Kryptonian thing, so that if a sun suddenly turned blue or white normal humans would suddenly become like Superman.

But while this issue doesn't hold up as well under my present-day scrutiny, I'm much more forgiving of the other issues of the series I purchased. For example, there's #23, which featured the Wonder Twins squaring off against the Mirror Master; #24, featuring the Wonder Twins evil twins; the Halloween themed #28 featuring Felix Faust and faux versions of Swamp Thing, Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, and The Demon (and which is one of the earliest memories I have of buying a book solely because of the cool cover); and my favorite of my Year One purchases, #25, where the mind controlled Super Friends try to take over the world and are stopped by a wide range of international heroes including future Justice League members Green Fury (who would later become Fire) and Tasmanian Devil, as well as Wonder Woman's African counterpart, Nubia. That's right, Nubia.

Man, sometimes I miss the 70s.

Seriously, how cool would that cover be to a four year old?

One month after picking up my first issue of Super Friends I moved on to the series it was descended from with Justice League of America #164 (March, 1979). Again, the cover doesn't strike the 30-year old me as anything that would catch my eye, but the story inside had more than enough off the wall goodness to keep my young mind entertained. While the cover focuses entirely on Zatanna's search for her mother, the first half of the book is actually concerned with the League's battle with Anton Allegro and his magic synthesizer. There's a great scene where Zatanna uses her backwards spell casting to give all of her teammates magic earmuffs to block out Allegro's attack; again, I really miss the 70s. I only bought one other issue of JLA during that first year, but it was a doozy: #171 (Oct. 1979), featuring not only a JLA/JSA team-up, which helped to fuel my love for all things Earth-2 already kindled by a few of my uncle's comics, but also the death of a hero. True, it was Mr. Terrific, someone I'd never heard of before, but still a pretty significant event. Unfortunately, it would be many, many years before I would be able to track down #172 and finally find out who the culprit was.

The next month I branched out to my first solo title with The Flash #272 (April 1979). Now, as goofy as the cover might seem (homicidal clown using a super-calliope to paralyze The Flash), I can see why it would have appealed to almost-4-year-old Cap'n Neurotic. Like a lot of titles at the time, the cover story only took up the first part of the book, while the second half set up a couple of mysteries which would consume the next several months of the series, primarily the creation of a character who I'm sure almost nobody else remembers, but who holds a special place in my comic geek heart: Clive Yorkin, crazed emotional vampire who for a time was the primary suspect in the death of The Flash's wife. Yorkin would play a big part of the next issue I bought, #278 (Oct. 1979), which also introduced me to perennial Flash villains Captain Boomerang and Heatwave; the scene where Flash kicks Boomer's butt was one of my favorite sequences of any book back then. It was rivaled only by the fight with Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash, a few issues later in #281 (Jan. 1980). Surprisingly enough, the Zoom-splits-in-half thing promised by that eye-catching cover actually happens in the book itself.

That same month I picked up my first Flash I also picked up the Superman team-up title DC Comics Presents #8 (April 1979). Again, not sure exactly what possessed young Cap'n N. to pick this title up, although I have a vague thought that this one was purchased for me, not necessarily by me; I could be wrong. Anyway, the comic itself is filled with all sorts of freaky scenes, like Swamp Thing having his arm ripped off and then slowly growing a new one, or him accidentally creating an army of Solomon Grundys, all of which probably added to the appeal. This is also the first comic I have a really strong recollection of making my dad sit down and listen to me read out loud. I also picked up #16 (Dec. 1979( guest-starring Black Lightning; this issue confused the heck out of me at the time, as it featured a character who jumped all over the evolutionary ladder, a concept that I wasn't quite up to speed with at the time. Plus, the whole "Black Lightning puts on an afro wig as part of his costume" thing didn't quite make sense to me at the time.

The next month I continued my exploration of the DC universe with Green Lantern/Green Arrow #116 (May 1979). This is another case of "I don't remember ever seeing that cover before in my life!" Also, this issue features an obscure villain that always springs to my mind when I think of GL, but which probably only a handful of other comic geeks know exists: The Crumbler. I always liked the visual effects of his power, for some reason, which is probably one of the reasons he's stuck out in my mind for so long. For once, I actually bought the subsequent issue, #117 (June, 1979) which featured the first time Guy Gardner donned the power ring; I just re-read this last night, and it's really odd to see a hesitant, unsure Guy, as opposed to the loony toons versions of Guy which would dominate during Giffen's run on the Justice League titles in the 90s.

My next new title to purchase was Superman #337 (July 1979). I've never been a big Superman fan, and would buy very few issues of this series over the years; in fact, the next issue I wound up buying years later was a direct result of my early love of this issue. The premise of the issue is that Superman is having a horrible day, as he's attacked by one super-villain after another, from the well-known (Brainiac, Bizarro), to the moderately well-known (Metallo, Toy Man), to the "who the heck is that cowboy, and why does his horse have wings?" (Terra Man). This issue would color my perceptions of each of these villains for years, even though they all turned out to be imposters . . . but perhaps I've said too much. Anyway, the character of Terra Man was just oddball enough for me to pick up any other book I saw with him on the cover, hence the later issues purchased.

Look, an actual Marvel title! Will wonders never cease? That's right, it took me around 8 months to finally join the ranks of Marvel consumers with my purchase of The Invaders #41 (Sept 1979). Another book whose cover has been gone forever, but as soon as I saw the scan on GCD I thought "that's it!" From what I can tell, this was actually the last issue of the series, and it’s pretty much non-stop action. Don't know for sure when I figured out that the series was set during WWII; I do know that the character of U-Man was directly responsible for me learning what a U-boat was.

Once the Marvel floodgates were open, they just didn't stop: next up was Micronauts #9 (Sept 1979). I had already been exposed to the Micronauts thanks to my cousin having a couple of issues, but this was a world of difference. His issues were set on Earth, where the heroes were the size of toys; this issue was set in the Microverse (yes, the Microverse) and introduced the warrior world of Sparta (a name which meant nothing to me at the time, but which now makes me roll my eyes). Even though I had a great love for the Micronauts at the time, the series was hard to find in my neck of the woods, and it would be many years before I would be able to expand my collection.

Next up I made a return to DC with the anthology title Adventure Comics #465 (Sept/Oct 1979) which featured four different stories: a Flash story where he talks to dolphins; an Aquaman story where he deals with underwater villains in Arctic waters; a Deadman story which boggled my young mind because I didn't realize that the reason nobody was reacting to his speeches was that nobody could see Boston at all; and, last but definitely not least, a Justice Society of America story which introduced me to The Huntress and prepared me for the JLA/JSA team-up that was to come out a month later.

Finally, we finish up my first year of comic buying with the reprint series Marvel Super Action #15 (Jan 1980), which featured an early adventure of the Avengers where they traveled back in time and witnessed the death of Captain America's sidekick, Bucky, a pretty pivotal event in the Marvel Universe. My grasp of the Avengers was pretty weird at this point in time, since I had gorged myself on all of my uncle's Avengers comics, which spanned a huge amount of time, from the first line-up, to the first big line-up change, to the days of the Serpent Crown saga. I had no clue how it all fit together chronologically, and yet it didn't matter; all that mattered was that they were all really, really cool, and I couldn't wait to read more.

And thus ends a brief (well, briefer than it could have been) run-down of my first year of comic buying as best as I can recollect; if I were to extend it just a mere two months, you would get to hear about the first issue of Uncanny X-men I ever got, smack dab in the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga, but that's a story for another time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Golden Age of Comics

A while back Scott Tipton of Comics 101 wrote a column based on an old Roy Thomas quote he remembered: "The Golden Age of Comics is five." Of course, while trying to track down the source of the quote, I came across examples of the Golden Age being cited as both 8 and 12 (and Dox knows what other ages might be floating around out there as well) but whatever age you plug in, it all boils down to the same idea: everyone's "Golden Age" is determined by the age they first discovered comics books. So, for me, the Golden Age of comics is around 3.

I was introduced to the world of comics by my uncle who was only ten years older and thus in his early teens (prime comic buying time in a young boy's life) during my formative years. Any time we went to visit my grandparents back then, pretty much my first stop was his bed room closet and the metal box full of comics located there, which I would poor over while sitting under his FOOM* poster.

I've written before about my first year of buying comics (and will probably post that here sometime next week), but it was my uncle's collection that started it all off, and impacted the way I'll think about comics forever. So, I can firmly state that all of the following are totally my Uncle's fault.

Click here to find out how my uncle twisted me forever.

1. My love of the Vision and Scarlet Witch: The bulk of my uncle's books were Spider-Man titles, but he also had his fair share of Avengers, which exerted a much stronger pull on me than ol' Web-head for some reason. A good portion of his Avengers issues had a strong Vision/Wanda** focus, from Wanda's training with Agatha Harkness to the quest for the Celestial Madonna to the battle for the Serpent Crown to that wacky issue where Viz takes a fantastic voyage inside an overgrown and comatose Yellowjacket.

To top it all off, he also had the four-part Marvel Team-Up story which found Spidey, Wanda,


Dr. Doom (!) ,

and everyone's favorite baldheaded egomaniacal telepath***, Moondragon,

all traveling back in time to the Salem Witch Trials to battle the evil Dark Rider and his sycophantic servant, the nearly rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth Cotton Mather.**** All of which combine to explain why the two of them are part of my quintessential Avengers line-up.

2. My fascinations with alternate Earths: My uncle's collection also included some early issues of What If? with its regular dose of alternate realities. I was particularly enamored of the different powered F.F. and the Iron Avengers stories; something about the variation in powers and abilities grabbed my interest.

But in addition to the What If?s, there were some other factors in my burgeoning interest in alternate Earths. The first was the Serpent Crown Saga issues of Avengers featuring everyone's favorite Justice League analogues, the Squadron Supreme.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I read those issues, even before my young mind made the JLA connection; by the time the expanded line-up appeared in The Defenders I was gung-ho to figure out which new members corresponded to what League.

The other factor came from some of the few DC comics in his collection*****. Out of a total of 4 Justice League of America issues, three featured alternate Earths stories, two of which were JLA/JSA team-ups, including "Crisis on Earth-X" which introduced me to The Freedom Fighters

and that strange cross-over where comic-writer Cary Bates is written into the story as the villain

Which also, if you'll notice the lower left-hand corner of the cover, features the ugliest variation of the Robin costume ever.

My uncle also had one issue of the clunkily titled The Justice Society in All Star Comics with The Super Squad which would introduce me to even more wonders of Earth-2.

I can honestly say that this is the book that cemented my love of Dr. Fate, Alan Scott, and Dr. Mid-nite, helped along quite a bit by the pencils of a young Keith Giffen. Plus, when Vulcan showed up years later in All-Star Squadron, I actually knew who he was, and how many 8 year olds in 1983 could have said that?

Man, do I miss Earth-2.

3. The fact that I will always think of Mirage, Will o' the Wisp, and the Kangaroo as "classic" Spider-Man villains: While my uncle's books featured their fair share of big league Spidey-foes (Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman), there were also quite a few issues featuring villains who pretty much faded into obscurity after those initial appearances, a fact that I didn't realize for many, many years; for the longest time I just thought that Mirage would frequently fade in and out as an antagonist for the Wall-Crawler,

that the Kangaroo bounded into the webslinger's path on a regular basis

and I was sure that Will o' the Wisp had lit up the series more than once.

Alas, they were all, if not one-hit-wonders, than at least not likely to threepeat.

His collection also gave me an appreciation for ol' quilt-head himself, The Shocker

for which I'll always be grateful. However, even at the time, I could tell that this dude

was a total loser through-and-through.

4. My love for "lower-tier" characters: 1990 was a good year for me because it saw the return of two character concepts that had captured my imagination as a toddler. First of all there were the Guardians of the Galaxy, who had been granted their own series, and who I had been fascinated with ever since I first saw them in a couple of my uncle's issues of The Defenders, first traveling back in time to help everyone's favorite non-team fight off a giant humanoid telepathic electric eel with the incredibly creative name of "Eelar"

and then bringing Doc and co. to the 31st century to help fight off the Badoon

This brief glimpse at the Guardians would whet my appetite for more, especially the enigmatic Starhawk. These issues (along with the "Valkyrie in jail" story) would also fuel my fascination with The Defenders, which I would collect sporadically over the next several years, only to complete my collection with one of my first big Ebay purchases.

The other returning character in 1990 was the man called Nova, who got another chance at comic book life thanks to The New Warriors.****** My uncle had quite a few issues of The Man Called Nova, which was cemented in my heart thanks to Rich's costume and his wild cast of villains like The Sphinx who spent most of the series searching for the mind that held the Anti-Life Equation . . . er, I mean . . .

And then there was the highly confused Blackout who later became a pivotal villain as Moonstone and Zemo's pawn in The Avengers

And of course, who could forget the awesomely bizarre Megaman.

Hard to believe he never caught on as a recurring foe, huh?

Those weren't the only random characters imprinted on my young mind. My uncle's collection also introduced me to Adam Warlock, The Gardener, and The Stranger (as well as Woodgod, even if only in a couple of panels) in an issue of Marvel-Team-up

And then of course there was Black Goliath

Who would then help ol' Luke fight the ultimate in z-grade villains
The Circus of Crime!

I could go on and on, but instead I shall leave you with this:


*Friends Of Ol' Marvel; yes, my uncle was a Marvel zombie
**Yes, I'm one of those who tends to refer to certain characters by their civilian name rather than their nom de guerre.
***without a Y chromosome, at least (sorry, Prof. X)
****an image that was difficult to dispel later on in life when I had to read some of Mather's writing in one or two classes. So, I guess you can blame that on my uncle too.
*****Marvel zombie, remember?
******which, incidentally, also featured the Earth-616 Vance Astrovik, who I had first seen in the Eelar issue of Defenders