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.
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