Monday, April 10, 2006

My first comics!

I have a lot on my mind, in case you haven't noticed. I've also been brainwashed by 2 Guys Buying Comics (even though there are three of them) into linking to them a lot. Like Chris's post from last week, in which he gets far too verbose about Batman's duds. He challenges anyone reading the post to write about their first comic, which was something I had been thinking about anyway, so I am going to take him up on his challenge! Won't this be groovy?

I have mentioned before that I didn't buy my first true-blue comic book until I was 17. I may have purchased some Archie digests prior to that - my sister was big into Archie, and I enjoyed them to a certain extent, so we probably bought them in the early 1980s. However, it wasn't until September 1988 that I bought my first floppy pamphlet - and a gold star goes to whoever remembers what it is!

Okay, only hardcore and possibly stalker readers ought to remember that it was Batman #426 - the opening chapter of the event that changed Batman's life forever: the death of Jason Todd!!!! The story of my purchase goes something like this:

My best friend Ken (who reads this blog occasionally - hi Ken!) and I were strolling through Willow Grove Park Mall one fine autumn afternoon in 1988 (it may have been Montgomery Mall, but I'm almost positive it was Willow Grove). We stopped outside a Walden Bookstore and were looking at the spinner racks of comics. Ken had been a comic collector for years (something he had picked up from his brother - ah, the chain of pushing becomes clear!) and he was just flipping through some of the titles that were on the rack. I gravitated toward Batman #426. I'm not sure why - the art didn't really do it for me, because I didn't realize that Mignola is freakin' excellent, and it's not like it's all that bold and dynamic a cover design even if I had realized that Mignola is freakin' excellent. I didn't have a lot of exposure to Batman, but I always liked him. Maybe it was just the character and the synergy of looking at a comic book while my evil Faustian friend happened to be there to tell me all about it.

Now, I wasn't the kind of person whose only experience with Batman was the television show or even that show and the Superfriends. I knew all about his "dark" roots in the 1930s and early '40s, and thanks to my local library, I had read his origin and the first Joker story in the early 1980s. My library didn't have comic books, but it did have a section devoted to graphic art, and in that section was a hardcover book with all the origins of the Golden Age DC heroes - so I knew all about Green Lantern and Flash and Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman, even though I didn't collect comics. Libraries are cool. Patronize one today!

So when I flipped through Batman #426, I wasn't shocked to see how "dark" it was. Sure, I remembered the TV show with fondness (who doesn't?) but it didn't bother me that this comic was significantly different in tone than it was. I was wondering whether I should buy it, but then Ken uttered those magic words about them killing Robin. I was totally hooked. I bought those four issues, did not vote either for or against killing Jason, and they became my gateway drug into the glorious world of comic books.

I'm not sure why, though. I mean, they're not that good, are they? Starlin's story is kind of crappy, and the hook of having the bloodthirsty fans kill off Jason didn't really sit well with me. I know Aparo is God among some, but he's never been my favorite, so the art didn't blow me away. It was perfectly adequate (which is how I describe all of Aparo's art, frankly - it gets the job done), but nothing that made me shiver. I really can't say what it was that hooked me. Maybe the fact that the Ayatollah Khomeini was in it - what a weird decision on Starlin's part! Maybe the fact that the Joker was just so evil. Maybe because Batman can't touch his nemesis because of his diplomatic immunity. Looking back on it, it's just not that good a story, but for some reason, I was hooked.

I quickly moved on to other titles. First, Ken introduced me to the real star of the Batman universe at that time: Detective Comics. Alan Grant, John Wagner, and Norm Breyfogle were right at that moment in the middle of a mind-blowing run on the title, and Ken let me read a few (I'm not sure why he bought them, because he's not a big fan of Breyfogle's art - yes, he is a Commie - but it might have had something to do with the fact that comics were 75 cents and you could afford to buy things you didn't absolutely love - I know he liked the stories, so maybe he liked the art enough to continue with it). I'm not sure which one was the first I saw, but it was either issue #590, 591, or 592. Three better covers you'd be hard-pressed to find, and the stories (well, not the first one, which is a simplistic morality tale about evil Muslims and the evil American government) are unbelievably good. That last one features the first appearance of Cornelius Stirk, and I'm pretty sure it was the first issue of Detective I bought. What a freakin' masterpiece. It was my first exposure to what comics with a good story and great art could do, and how the medium could be used to tell gripping tales. Breyfogle's fluid style and wonderful depiction of Batman has stayed with me, and for some unknown reason, when most people talk about the greatest Batman artists, they omit Breyfogle. It's a damned shame.

Obviously, my addiction had flared into full-fledged obsession, and it wasn't long before I began to branch out into other titles. For a long while I stayed with the classics - Batman and, from Marvel, Spider-Man. Soon after I started buying both Batman titles, I saw the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #312 and fell in love with everyone's favorite whipping boy, Todd McFarlane.

I must beg your forgiveness for that. You see, I didn't realize McFarlane sucked and was responsible for all the evil in the history of comic books. I just thought his Spider-Man looked cool - very arachnid-like and almost creepy, and his Mary Jane was hot! Okay, she had too much hair, but I remembered Mary Jane from the early-1970s cartoon, and she was a plain Jane. I also remember her from the newspaper strips and reprints of ASM I had glanced at over the years, and no one ever made her look like McFarlane. Yowza! I had no idea what was going on in the comic, having no idea who the Hobgoblin was and why he was fighting the Green Goblin, but Michelinie's story was intriguing enough, and soon I was collecting Amazing Spider-Man, something I stuck with for well over 100 issues, even after they really started to suck. I also found and bought all the issues back to #238, the first appearance of the Hobgoblin. Issues #238-289 form one of the epic stories in comic book history, even though later writers dropped the ball with the Hobgoblin.

It wasn't long before I became entangled in Marvel's mutant books. I suppose anyone who has ever bought comics gets entangled in Marvel's mutant mess at one point or another. Ken let me read the Dark Phoenix saga and most of the issues since, but for a while I felt no need to go out and start buying them myself. In the summer of 1989 we got Uncanny X-Men #251, with that iconic cover of Wolverine nailed to the cross. I love that cover, and bought the issue. This time I knew what was going on, having read the previous issues even though I didn't own them, and that issue, with Logan's fever dream and his epiphany concerning the fate of the X-Men and Pierce nailing him to the cross and Jubilee eventually rescuing him made me an X-Men fanatic. Many people (Our Lord and Master included) have indicated their scorn of the post-Paul Smith X-Men (from #176 on), but despite a slight drop in quality, the hundred issues post-Smith are very good and very interesting reading. These issues in the 250s are really good, too - Wolverine trying to escape the Outback and the Reavers slaughtering the mutants on Muir Island, and of course, the Jim Lee Psylocke issues. Of course I was hooked, and Psylocke and Dazzler (who starred in issue #260) quickly became my favorite X-Men.

It's interesting looking back on the patterns I established with my purchases back in late 1988 and through 1989. Comics were cheaper, so I was much more able to be a "completist" - I'm glad I was with the X-Men, but I rarely re-read the Amazing Spider-Mans I own after sometime in the #330s, because their quality is just not that good. I also didn't necessarily need to buy Batman and Detective all the time, but I did. I dug through the back issue boxes of the local comic stores - there was one across the street from Willow Grove and one near the mall in Montgomeryville - to find the answers to questions I had about the characters - there was no recourse to the Internet, obviously, and I don't even think Wizard existed. Ken was my resource - he let me read some of his back issues, and if I liked them, I went and found them myself. He also let me read a lot of comics that I don't own, some - the Gruenwald Captain Americas - that I wish I did, and some - the Jim Lee Punishers - that I don't really care that I don't. But I gradually branched out into more underground stuff, and gradually discovered that comics could do a lot more than tell superhero stories. I always have a soft spot in my heart, though, for Batman and Spider-Man. They were the first.

This is the reason why I don't worship Kirby and Ditko as much as some people. By the time I got into comics their day had passed, and I never went back and got all the back issues that they created. This is why I don't have fond memories of the Crisis on Infinite Earths - I certainly own it, but it didn't have any world-altering effect on me because I wasn't reading comics at the time. I don't care about 1970s comics as much as others because, although I was prime comic-book reading impressionable age in the '70s (I was born in 1971), I simply didn't buy them. Therefore, a lot of my knowledge about pre-1988 comics comes second-hand, through the eyes and mind of a teenager or adult. It's strange reading about some in the comics blogaxy waxing poetic about Ditko's Shade, the Changing Man or Gerber's Howard the Duck, because I've never read them and I have no childhood nostalgia factor working for me with regard to them. I'm trapped in a late 1980s universe, which also means by the time Image rolled around, I was a little more able to resist its charms. Comics certainly weren't perfect in the late 1980s, but it was still a good time to get into them.

I hope others let us all know about their first comics, either in the comments or on their own blogs. It's kind of cool to read about the first experiences of people who are now hopelessly addicted. Can't we all share?

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Blogger T. said...

I was a Spider-Man freak since before I could even read. I love love looooved Spider-Man. But I hated every issue written by Michilinie. Awful. He couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag. First time I was ever driven off a Spider-Man title.

Oh and Mary Jane never appeared in a Spider-Man cartoon until the 90s

4/10/2006 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly couldn't tell ya. My older brother was always picking 'em up.

The earliest stuff I can recall- two or three issues of THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS including the finale, the last part of Marvel's adaptation of PLANET OF THE APES, and issue #6 of the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE.

4/11/2006 01:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was getting comics for as long as I can remember, well before I could actually read them. Usually my dad, who was into comics up through his stint in the Navy (and who will tell anyone who asks that Ultra the Multi-Alien was one of his favorite characters), or some other relative would pick them up or hand them over to me. More often than not they tended to be from yard sales, 3 packs, bookstores, or personal collections so they were rarely current issues save for a few exceptions (Amazing Spider-Man 255 because dad was certain that Spidey's new costume would be worth something down the line). I was mostly a casual fan at that point up until finding Amazing Spider-Man 316 on my birthday one year. And at that point I became hooked on buying current issues on a consistant monthly basis.

Standouts in my memory before that point (along with forementioned Spider-Man issues) would be Firestorm 3 (first series), Detective 525, Batman 336, Captain America 205, Web of Spider-Man 17& Annual 1, Blue Beetle 1 (modern comics reprint), Iceman 4, Amazing Spider-Man 17, Shazam 27, Action 465,537,& 582, Superman 335-337, Spectacular Spider-Man 61 & 120, and World's Finest 314, along with a bunch of other random issues of Transformers, Fury of Firestorm, and Green Lantern that I have no idea what order I read any of them in.

4/11/2006 03:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents bought a few comic books for my sisters and me when I was young, but I didn't buy them with any regularity until I was 12 (1990), the summer after the Batman movie came out. I was in a 7-11, looking casually through the spinner rack, not really interested... and all of a sudden the Hulk jumped out at me! There he was, tearing through the cover of the book, ripping Banner' and the grey Hulk's faces in half, eyes white with fury!!

I bought Incredible Hulk 372, raced home on my bike, and read it 3 or 4 times in a row. The next week, I went back to the 7-11, bought a Batman comic ("Dark Knight, Dark City," part 1- awesome!), found the local comic shop soon after, discovered Classic X-Men (starting at part 2 of the Dark Phoenix Saga, Steve Lightle's cover being more interesting than anything in the current X-books), New Warriors 11 (Wolverine squaring off against a bunch of heroes, some of whom I didn't recognize), Infinity Gauntlet, Fantastic Four, Robocop vs. Terminator, What If?, McFarlane's Spider-Man, et al.

Re Jim Aparo: I agree completely. I would never call his art bad, it just never, ever stood out to me. Like Dick Giordano, Graham Nolan (and I loved Hawkworld), Tom Grumett, and Paul Ryan.

4/11/2006 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

T.: Man, you're making my head ache. I could have sworn MJ showed up in the earlier cartoons, where Spidey used to swing from the clouds and passing blimps (and had the great theme song). What the hell am I thinking of? I know I saw her long before I started buying comics. Maybe it was in some random comic books from my deep dark youth. I'm old - my memory is slowly fading.

4/11/2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger I. N. J. Culbard said...

First comic I think I ever had was "Werewolf By Night" Issue 13. Mike Ploog drew it. Dated 1974 I think, so I'd have been too young to read it (born in 73) but as I recall, my mum, who was a nurse at the time, brought it home for me from the hospital she was working at at the time. Apparently, a lot of US comics made their way over to the UK as shipping ballast (can you believe!). But, fortunately, by the 70's, we had marvel UK, so young children didn't have to join the merchant navy in order to enjoy their favourite titles anymore. ;)

I still have it, sealed in a bag, hidden away from daylight in a box.

Ploog was to prove an inspiration to me in a big way.

Your first ever comic is like your first ever pair of shoes. It's quite a momento to keep.

That said, my wife accidently threw out my first ever pair of shoes a few weeks back when she was clearing out the attic. Needless to say, Werewolf by Night issue 13 is now in a safe place.

- I. N. J. Culbard

4/11/2006 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I seriously don't remember my first comic. I remember my first Batman comic, my first Superman comic, probably my first Spidey if I searched through the boxes again... Hmm. It might have been some TMNT thing. I can't quite remember.

But you've got me wanting to go out and buy more Breyfogle-drawn Bat-back-issues.

4/11/2006 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Oh, and Cap-Wolf was an early one, too. Mmm. Cap-Wolf.

4/11/2006 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first comic I ever read was probably an Archie or Richie Rich. I got started when I was four or five, reading my older sister's comics. She didn't have many superhero comics, staying mostly with the humor, horror, and romance comics. She did have a few Batman and Superman issues.

I can't remember what was the first comic I ever read, but I remember my mother got me subscriptions to Spiderman in the late seventies. Kids today will never know the joy of coming home from school to find a comic in the mailbox.

4/11/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

I grew up on "Spidey Super Stories," so I can't remember what my first comic was. Too young.

But I do remember the comics that marked my changeover from "kid who buys a comic off a spinner rack once in a while" to "fanboy in training." I blogged about Cap #284. Another one was the original Secret Wars. My first trip to a comic shop led me to Secret Wars #4. Dude, the Hulk holding up a mountain? WOO!

So I too have a very warm spot for the latter half of the Eighties. The DeFalco/Frenz Spider-Man run, DeMattis on Captain America, the Suicide Squad, and my all-time favorite superhero book, the "Bwah-ha-ha" era of the Justice League.

Due to vague childhood memories, I also have a warm spot for late Seventies Marvel, when weirdness reigned.

4/11/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Imagine if your first comic was Apocalypse vs. Dracula #2! And you grew up with fond memories of Apocalypse vs. Dracula #2.

That would be weird.

My first comic, I believe, was a collection of old Superman reprints.

4/11/2006 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff R. said...

My first comic was action #497. From there I became a major Superman fan, following Action, Superman, and DCCP mainly. Dc Comics Presents introduced me to Firestorm, and the relaunch of that title was the first book I collected starting from #1. I was also a big fan of Krypton stories, and so Superboy and the Legion #255 brought me into legion fandom.

4/11/2006 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg: I think you may be thinking of Firestar, who's non-costumed appearence was based visually on how John Romita drew Mary Jane.

4/11/2006 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My absolute first ever comicbook was some supermarket Whitman reprint of a Superman issue. Actually three of them. They didn't make much of an impact, because of those three all I can recall is one featured Vartox "from the Sombrero Hat Galaxy" whose planet blew up, and later in the story impersonated Superman.

I later had three Marvel supermarket comics - reprints, too, but direct from Marvel. Hmmm, I wonder if there's still supermarket three-packs on the market. Anyway, one was Peter Parker #27 (in the middle of a story, guest-starring Daredevil) and one was Iron Man # 119, the issue right before "Demon In A Bottle" which was the last part of a story.

None of the above actually got me into comics. The comicbook that got me into comics was GI Joe #31, at the end of 1984. I was 13. That was so long ago ...

4/11/2006 06:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that PPSpectacularSM with Daredevil. It was a two-parter drawn by Frank Miller if I'm not mistaken.

I went to New York city for the first time and was walking around Manhattan when I came upon my first ever outdoor newsstand. I literally stopped in my tracks with my eyes wide and my mouth wide open when I saw all the comics just hanging on the wall.

I spent every cent I had (not much) and bought that PPSSM along with a few other comics.

Ahhhh, what memories.

4/11/2006 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First comic, who knows. First superhero comic? A 1973 issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. The lead story had him a prisoner of harpies; the backup was a continuing story of Lucy Lane's secret mysterious advanced aging problem.

4/11/2006 09:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I remember that PPSpectacularSM with Daredevil. It was a two-parter drawn by Frank Miller if I'm not mistaken"

well, yes, there were two issues (27-28) drawn by Miller, which Marvel has reprinted the heck out of (I've got at least two different reprints). They never include the first part in #26 which Miller didn't draw, tho (and which I finally got to read in Essentail PPTSSM vol 1). Rotten Marvel ...

4/12/2006 08:33:00 PM  
Blogger the Walrus himself said...

Your post reminded me my own experience a lot. My first comic wasn't Batman but The Avengers, but I feel really close to your story. I can't forget Wolverine's cover and everytime I look at it not only images from the comic come to my mind, but images from my own life those days. That's kind of a magical think, that old comics make you remember how your life was when you bought them and read them.

4/13/2006 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Weird. I bought my first comic at the Waldenbooks in Montgomery Mall. It was a DC Dragonlance comic (cause I was a D&D player). Also got my first X-Men comic there (245 I think... it had a Liefield cover).

4/14/2006 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Sara Spano said...

...I don't write English very well, sorry, but i could like to share my passion for the comics with you. If u are agree this is my blog with a few of my drawings. Tanx, bay

4/28/2006 01:47:00 PM  
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