Monday, January 15, 2018

Heroes Love Twinkies! (And so do I!)

One of the signature features of the Bronze Age of comics were the single page Hostess Cakes ads that were presented as mini superhero stories. These were so much fun that I sometimes kept a comic in my collection or traded to get a new one just for the Hostess ad. For this post, I thought I'd just share a few of my favorites.



Of Cat Women and Love ...

When I set out to create the dream comic book collection of my "wonder years," at first I had only DC and Marvel superhero titles in mind. For the most part this is exactly what I have. However, there was one title that grabbed my imagination as a youth and that was Mike Grell's: The Warlord!

The Warlord is a title in the sword and sorcery genre. There was a niche for this kind of comic, and Marvel comics were doing very well with Conan the Barbarian, and DC had The Warlord. Ultimately, I added issues from both titles to my dream collection although I never really got into Conan as a boy. Warlord on the other hand. I loved Warlord!

Oddly enough I think you might be able to blame my passion for Warlord on Star Trek. Before there was comics in my life, there was Star Trek. The original series was broadcast in syndication every day in the early to mid 70's and I watched in every chance that I got. It fired my imagination and got me excited about science and space and racial/gender equality and justice. It even effected my manner of speaking so that my mom was known to call me, "Little Spock."

A favorite episode for me as a boy was the final episode of season 2 of the original series entitled: Assignment Earth. I think this episode was meant to test the possibility of a spin-off series. It featured actors Robert Lansing as Gary Seven and Teri Garr as Roberta Lincoln. It also featured a cat that could turn into a humanoid (or a humanoid that becomes a cat.)

Robert Lansing as Gary Seven (with Isis the cat)

Teri Garr as Roberta Lincoln

Victoria Vetri as Isis (the human)

Roberta: "Would you mind telling me who 'that' is?"

Gary: "That, Miss Lincoln, is simply my cat."

Roberta: "Your cat?!!"

As a boy, I was in Luhuv! with Teri Gar. She was my boyhood celebrity crush. Oh, and a transforming cat-woman was pretty awesome too. And Lansing as a James Bond-like super agent from another world elevated the awesome pudding all the way to eleven! While I recognize that there are many much better episodes of the original series of Star Trek, Assignment Earth will forever be my favorite.

Fast forward several years to 1980 and my very first issue of The Warlord, issue #32. I was 14 years old. I had started noticing that there existed women folk other than my mom and Teri Garr. The cover of Warlord 32 grabbed hold of my boyish hyper-labido and didn't let go. Mike Grell and Vince Colletta were the masters of sensual illustration of the comics from the Bronze age and Warlord was their showpiece.

It wasn't Warlord #32's cover that made this title memorable or made it a permanent part of my dream collection, however. It was the character introduced in this issue, the transforming cat-woman: Shakira.

Shakira was sexy-cool and a super capable warrior woman. Part Red Sonja and part ninja, Shakira had me anxious to grab the subsequent issues of the title and kept the Warlord on my reading list back in 1980 and today.

Plus, she was just like "Isis" from that episode of Star Trek! Warlord is one of the titles in my dream collection that I have "completed." I have all issues from 1-50 and annual #1. Together they tell a good story if you are a fan of this sort of sword and sorcery fair. It strikes me as curious now that I write this that I never considered setting a Dungeons and Dragons campaign in the world setting of The Warlord. I might have to change that at some point.



Friday, January 12, 2018

CLZ Comics

Over in the side bar there are some links for viewing the progress of my current comic collection.

Comics I WANT
Comics I HAVE
All 1800 Comics

I use an app on my phone called CLZ Comics to track my collection. I tried a few different apps before settling on this one and I am really happy with it.

It makes organizing my comics a snap and has details about every comic that I own or will own. I even use it to track which shelf holds what comic in my collection both for the comics that I have and those that I will have in the future.

I can have it with me on the road, so if I should walk into a comic shop to browse I'll always have the information with me. And, everything syncs to the cloud so the lists above will always be accurate. At time of this writing, I'm only 812 comics away from completing my collection, and only 12 Comics away from hitting a landmark 1000 comics. Huzzah!



Fantastic Four #196

I just added Fantastic Four #196 to my collection. This issue begins a new story arc that sees the team reunited in a build-up towards their big 200th issue!

Reed is working with some scientificy group or other who have taken him prisoner for some kind of weird experiments. In New York, Sue is home with Agatha and Franklin when Johnny and Ben arrive. There's a bit of shenanigans on the way to a restaurant as Ben sees a favorite actor whom writer Marv Wolfman gives a fictional name, but who I think is supposed to be John Wayne.

At the restaurant the trio are attacked, first by manifestations of their own worst fears and then by the villain of the issue, The Invincible Man. (Whom I love the look of and would have liked to see again.) The three are defeated and taken to the same scientificy place where Reed is being held prisoner. Here, we get the first big surprise reveal of the issue as we learn why the Invincible Man was able to defeat the three members of the FF so easily. The Invincible Man is, Reed Richards!

Reunited but prisoners, it seems the evil-doers' plans are to use Ben, Sue, and Johnny as leverage to force Reed to do some scientificy inventiony stuffs for them. There's a thrilling escape sequence only to have the group defeated once again in the final two panels for the biggest surprise reveal of all ... the head of the scientificy place and the mastermind behind it all is, Doctor Doom!

It's a great issue with a lot going on. The story is well paced, and the art by Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos is fantastic. Pollard isn't an artist one hears a lot of buzz about which is a shame, his work is stellar.

This issue is significant to me personally for a few reasons. It marks the beginning of my first "run" of any comic book. It was spring of 1978. I was 12 years old. The only comics that I got under normal circumstances were the ones that my mom would buy me when she would go to the super-market. That generally amounted to one comic a week.

It might seem like spending 35 cents once a week on a comic is no big deal, but it was. Plus, my sisters didn't have any sort of comparable hobby themselves. Mom would bring me a comic every week and they would get nothing. They didn't collect anything, so there wasn't the impetus. I mean ... Karla wanted a pony, but mom could hardly bring one of those home every week. So, the one comic a week thing was the best mom could do, if not necessarily from a financial standpoint, then from a parent/child/sibling relations standpoint.

What this meant for me though is that my collection was very much a patchwork. My mom really didn't understand much about collecting. Heck, I don't think that I really did either. She'd try to get me a "variety" ... a lot of different characters to read. I didn't have any runs up to this point. But, that Doctor Doom cliffhanger! That had an impact on me. I had to get the rest of this story! And, I did.

This issue caused me to discover something that would change the way I collected comics. I traded with other kids at school to get the exact comic that I wanted. It was brilliant! And it forced me to begin socializing at least a little with my "peers." Something that I was never very good at, or even usually "welcome" to attempt.

Twelve was the perfect age. Other boys my age collected comics too. We would meet in the library and talk about comics, draw comics of our own, and trade comics. I traded to get FF 197, 198, and 199. By the time 200 had come out, we had moved and I lost contact with the first group of friends that I had ever made. Fortunately, I was with mom at the supermarket and was able to pick out #200 myself. Which took some convincing on my part, because it was double sized and nearly twice the price!

This epic 5 issue run of the Fantastic Four elevated the title making the FF my favorite comic book! This is a distinction that is reflected in the comics that I have now, and FF #196 was the last comic that I needed to complete my Fantastic Four collection!

My collection begins with issue #164 which I chose because it was the first issue illustrated by George Perez, and ends with #262 which wraps up a John Byrne storyline just before the team is dragged off to the Secret Wars and comics as I know them are changed forever.

It's a massive 99 issue run spanning November of 1975 to Jan of 1984, and is the biggest run in my collection. It feels great to complete it! Now, I think it's time to settle in and read some comics.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Punisher vs. My Bratty Little Sister!

I mentioned my step-dad, Chuck in a previous post. I also might have mentioned that he wasn't really my favorite person. The story that I want to tell today isn't about him at all really. But, I am going to tell a different story first, to set the tone. My pre-story is a story about punishment.

Spider-Man 174, Nov. 1977 - My first encounter with The Punisher!

I can't actually remember what had been done. But, kids being kids, we had done something that deserved punishment. Perhaps not the punishment that was meted out, but I am sure we deserved something. Or, rather ... the guilty party deserved something.

The problem was that Chuck didn't know who had committed the crime. He knew that he hadn't done it, and that my mom hadn't done it. That left one of us, kids. Chuck decided to take the King Salomon approach to solving the riddle, he produced a "hog-paddle" and proceeded to inform us that if one child did not confess to the crime, that all would be punished.

In this case, I was not the guilty party and I didn't know who was. The party in question remained silent and we were in fact, all punished. Now, in a surprise twist, Chuck repeated the ultimatum, and the subsequent punishment. When the guilty party still had not come forth, the punishment was repeated again ... and so on.

In retrospect, if I had been a proper and heroic big brother, or even just a little bit smart, I would have simply confessed to the crime and taken my lumps to end the cycle. It would have been better for everyone. But, I didn't think about that then. Neither did my sister, Sally. We each knew that we didn't do it, and that was all we could hold on to.

The guilty party was my bratty little sister, Karla, and never had a more stubborn child been born ... well, except maybe for Chuck. Because his plan did work ... eventually. Karla confessed to the crime. And, when she did the punishments ended immediately.

But, Chuck felt that justice had not been satisfied. He handed the paddle over and instructed Sally and myself that we were allowed to "use it" on Karla in payback for the punishment that we had suffered.

We refused.

I will pause here to mention that this wasn't the first trouble Sally and I had assumed because of our bratty little sister. Karla was the champion of self preservation, any allegiance she might feel towards her siblings was only entertained after the "every man for himself" strategy had failed her.

That's just the way that she was. But, she was younger, and I am not sure that she could even remember a time when there wasn't a Chuck in our lives. So, it wasn't a big deal. As a sister, Karla may have been bratty, but she was OUR bratty sister and we were protective of her.

This baffled Chuck. Karla had remained silent while we were punished along with her. Surely, we desired vengeance!

We didn't.

We were just happy it was over. Chuck allowed our decision to stand. When I think now about how truly bewildered Chuck was at our choice NOT to enact revenge upon our little sister, it makes me wonder what Chuck's childhood must have been like. I wish that I had allowed myself to understand him better when I was younger.

But, understanding Chuck wasn't why I told this little story. I told this story so that you might know my little sister Karla a little better, at least how she was as a child. She is still a strong willed, fearless woman with a focused determination which I believe has served her well in her life much more often than it might have worked against her.

In the late windy autumn of 1977, my "bratty" little sister, Karla and I had an adventure together.

It starts out innocently enough. We were playing outside. (When I was young, "browsing the web" was called, "playing outside.") It was probably some form of tag, or hide and seek or something equally physical at which I was absolutely terrible. (I am much better at browsing the web.) The actual activity isn't important, what is important is that we were outside and that it was a very windy day.

And on this windy day, what should blow across my path as I was playing, but a bit of a newspaper. (When I was young, "web pages" were called, "newspapers.") This wouldn't have been significant under normal circumstances. I was playing outside and having my fun. News and newspapers weren't anything to concern myself with. So, imagine then, my surprise when I saw my little sister, Karla, a full five years my junior with a piece of said newspaper in hand ... reading it!

"What are you doing?" I asked her in exactly the tone of voice an older brother uses when talking to his little sister so as to say, "It doesn't matter how you answer, because what you're doing has to be ridiculous."

Undaunted by my tone, Karla didn't even bother looking up. "Reading comics ... " was her simple 'matter of fact' reply.

"Comics?" I asked, suddenly interested. Big brother tone was gone in an instant. This child wasn't ridiculous. She was miraculous ... a newspaper savant. "Let me see." I demanded.

Now normally the best way to get my sister to absolutely NOT do something was to demand that she do it. I perhaps should have been more tactful. But today was a special magical day and my abrupt tone did not immediately spark the ignition of sibling conflict. Karla obligingly strode to my side and handed me the paper.

I had my expectations in check. I had seen newspaper comics before. I had read Family Circus and Charlie Brown. This is what she was reading. I knew it would be. And that was fine. I liked those comics too. It was bound to be way better than whatever "outside" game we had been playing.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the newspaper comic page my sister had been reading and discovered, "The Amazing Spider-man!" Surely, this was a trick! It must be some newspaper knock-off intended for kids, like Spidey Super Stories and that Spider-man from the Electric Company. But, no ... this was a proper Spider-man. Spider-man in new adventures not chronicled in the pages of a comic book; written by Stan Lee himself, and drawn by John Romita. This was the real deal!

Karla was anxious to share in my enthusiasm. She ran from the yard across to the neighboring field to snatch up another piece of newspaper. "Darn! No comic!" she cursed in her harshest 7 year old vocabulary. Of course there wouldn't be. We had already found the comics pages.

I tried to explain to her that a newspaper was made up of many, many pages, but that only a few of these were comics pages and that we had found them all already (or at least, the only one that mattered ... the one that featured, Spider-man!) "You don't know that!" she countered stubbornly as she ran across the field to snatch up another piece of the newspaper that had been blowing towards our front yard. "Darn!" she cursed with a venom that would melt diamonds. And she took off in search of another fluttering scrap of "hopeless waste of time."

I was calling for her to come back and struggling to keep up with her. I knew that I would get in trouble if I allowed her to run off alone, so I had to keep an eye on her. We lived in a farm house out in the middle of nowhere on the distant outskirts of an abandoned ghost town called, "Dilapidated Corn-Cob" Iowa ... Or, something equally desolate sounding. (It's possible that names have been changed to avoid the boring.)

We were across the road from our house, which itself was a fair distance from the road, and in the middle of a cornfield. The cornfield was barren as this was late November or early December, the only notable feature was an old gray barn in the distance. I called out again to Karla, who continued to actively ignore me. I was beginning to get angry, when Karla cried out unexpectedly.


"What? ... Another one?" I was astonished. "Impossible!"

If the Princess Bride had been a thing in 1977, I would have thought, "Inconceivable!" but that wasn't a word back then.

I finally caught up to Karla who thrust out the new piece of newspaper in triumph. It was indeed another installment of the Spider-Man strip from a different newspaper! How could this be?

Karla smirked at me with a smugness of Trumpian proportions. "Told you!" she trumpeted as pleased with the object of her quest as she was with being right. I was pleased, too! If there was two ... there could be more! Scanning the distance, it appeared the trail of paper was coming from that old gray barn at the far side of the cornfield.

"Come on!" I exclaimed, suddenly very excited by this recent turn of events. Karla had gone from "pain in the neck, bratty little sister" to "faithful sidekick" in a instant. We ran with youthful vigor toward the barn together, matching one another step for step like Batman and Robin in that episode where the Batmobile ran out of gas!

We reached the barn, but it was locked up. There was a chain on the door. Up high on one side of the barn was a large window, but no glass ... just a framed aperture and old wooden shutters that must have been unfurled by the ferocious winds. Newspapers were being blown out through the opening, but we couldn't get up there ... or so one would assume.

There was a tree next to the barn, and Karla was certain that she could reach the window from the tree and climb in. As her big brother, I was responsible for Karla's safety, and I objected strongly.

"Good idea!" I said, but Karla was already halfway up the tree.

Karla made it up the tree and into the loft of the barn successfully. I waited anxiously as she disappeared inside.

"There's a jillion of them!" Karla called out as she looked down at me from the loft. Within moments she was pushing tied bundles of newspapers that she could barely manage to lift, out of the window to me on the ground below. Once on the ground, I struggled to free the newspapers from their bindings and began to dig through them in search of Spider-man. I was met with success after success and each discovery inflamed our dedication to our quest!

Once again, as in a previous tale, the wind was our enemy. Comic collecting is not an outdoor sport. Karla to the rescue! Fearlessly, she was down the tree and running back to the house to get my school binder (the contents of which she helpfully emptied on the floor of my room) and a pair of scissors so that we could clip and store the strips safely. She was met by my sister, Sally who asked her what was going on. "I have to hurry!" Karla proclaimed without pausing to give her big sister a single glance. "We're collecting Spider-man!" she spouted as she ran off back out into the cornfield.

Karla delivered to me the tools needed to complete our task and was back up the tree and into the barn before I'd even begun to get things properly organized. Her single-minded dedication to our goal was a credit to side-kicks everywhere. She was brave, efficient, focused ... amazing. I couldn't believe that I once thought of this paragon of Spider-man comic strip, detection, location, and collection as my "bratty little sister!" She was a hero! We both were! She was Robin to my Batman, Falcon to my Captain America! We were a team!!

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice ...

Mom was driving home from work.

I mentioned that we lived in the middle of nowhere ... so the last leg of the drive home from work, for my mom, was an unremarkable five mile stretch of lonely country road. Uh, normally unremarkable.

Mom encountered the first in a trail of newspapers as soon as she turned down the road towards home. The trail quickly grew thicker and created a path down the side of the road that accompanied my mother as she drove along, puzzled at the spectacle. A spectacle that accompanied her for every one of the last five miles of her journey.

When she got home, she asked Sally what was going on. Sally pointed to the barn in the distance. "Jeff's collecting Spider-man comics. Karla's helping." She reported simply.

Breaking and entering, vandalism, trespassing, theft, littering ... these were but a few of our crimes. The newspapers in our landlord's barn were being stored there for a Boy Scout paper drive for charity. We had made a shambles of them. A shambles that would take many many people, many many days to clean up.

In an aforementioned previous post, I had spoken of seeing my mom at various stages of anger ... this would be the time that my mom's anger reached atomic elevations.

As my fiancée, Julie is fond of saying, "It was the 70's. Life was cheap."

Life was cheap ... and whippings happened. Well, they did.

And they were about to again.

Mom cut a switch from a tree in our front yard and proceeded to thunder like a Sherman Tank across the road towards the barn.

Karla was the first to see mom coming from her vantage point in the loft. There was no mistaking the nature of mom's gait as she marched our direction. We were in big trouble. Karla spared me only a word, "Mom!" and she was down the tree and already on her way home before I knew what was happening.

Now, we come to the reason I told that first story. I believe it's important to know about my sister Karla's fearless demeanor and stubborn defiance in the face of disciplinary action. She is and has always been unflappable. If she were a horse she would be one of those that could never be broken; always wild; always free. Discipline ... phhtt! Fear? Ha! These things didn't impact Karla's world at all.

So it was, that as little 7 year old Karla was running towards home, prepared with her youthful agility to dodge right past our mother heedless of the consequences, that her eyes came to fixate on the knife in my mom's hand. The knife that mom had used to cut a switch with which to punish us.

Mom in her anger had forgotten to put the knife down. Karla in her haste to return to the safety of home, wasn't prepared for the sight of an angry mother with knife in hand.

Karla turned white and fell defeated to her knees.  "Please, don't KILL us, mom!" came her desperate plea.

This stopped mom dead in her tracks. For a moment nothing happened. Everything froze. Then mom's face contorted into a knot of visible struggle, like Bill Bizby's as he was about to transform into the Hulk.

Would she scream out in anger, at the thoughtlessness of our crimes? Cry at the sight of her youngest child begging for her life at the hands of her own mother? Or, laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all? In the end, her face passed out from the strain of this turmoil and fell lax. Mom let out a sigh.

"Get back to the house!" she barked. Karla was off like a rocket. I had never seen anyone run so fast.

I ... got the switch.

But, that didn't really matter. The whipping I got wasn't the real punishment, not to me. The real punishment was that I didn't get to keep the newspaper strips.

Oh, well.

Karla and I were closer after that. She was never my "bratty" little sister again.



Monday, January 08, 2018

Growing Pains

I really wanted to write and draw for the comics when I was younger. I even took a commercial art course as an adult in hopes of pursuing that dream. I do okay with illustration techniques. This is a picture of my mom and step-dad that I did for her birthday this past November.

First real attempt at artwork that I'd done in over 20 years. I don't know if I was ever good enough to pursue the work professionally. Probably, not. I am way too slow. Although, I imagine I'd get faster and better if I did it everyday. Still, that doesn't matter and really isn't the point. I used to want to draw comic books. I don't want to anymore.

It's because comics have changed. What I love about the comic books that I grew up reading is not what todays comic book consumer loves or even wants. Change isn't a new thing to comics. Showcase #4, Oct. 1956 introduced readers to a completely different "Flash" than the one that they had known and ushered in the "Silver Age" of comics. In 1970, Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics and went to work for DC, rocking the industry and beginning an evolution in the tonal quality of comic book story telling that would become known as the "Bronze Age."

That's my "Age" of comics: The Bronze Age. Mostly for me it would be books published between 1974 and 1984 when I was between the ages of 9 and 19. It's an awesome 10 years. Kirby's defection to DC was a wake-up call in the industry. There was a shift in focus from comic character to comic creator. Talented writers and artists sold more comic books than an unsupported, though well established IP.* This was becoming more and more true, and the industry was starting to take notice.

This combined with an influx of young, ambitious and super talented new comers would really bolster the quality of the comics that I was very very lucky to read as I was growing up. I mentioned in previous posts a couple of team-up comics: Marvel Two-In-One #50, and Marvel Team-Up #59. These comics had more in common than the simple fact that they were team-up books. They were both illustrated by Marvel's newest super star, John Byrne.

As a kid John Byrne was my very favorite artist. His lines were clean and his panels were dynamic and exciting. And like another new comer to Marvel, Frank Miller, Byrne started as an artist but grew to become a double threat, an artist who also scripted his own stories. Miller and Byrne amassed an incredible fan base. And it was well deserved, Miller's storytelling on Daredevil showed a slick Film Noir style that proved that comic books could tell stories that adults would enjoy. Comics were no longer just for kids. And, Byrne's run on the Fantastic Four showed us a superhero family that was bigger than life, that could go anywhere and could do anything!

But, all of this innovation and amazing storytelling came at a price. The comic book industry became too self-aware. Comics were selling at an all time high and the powers in charge noticed. They began to ask, "What's the hot title?" or "Who's the hot talent." All to answer the ultimate question, "How can we sell more books?"

Crossovers became the biggest new thing. Collectors need to have a "complete" story, so telling a story across multiple titles will boost the sales of less popular comics. Mini-series were contrived that enacted changes across every title in the DC and Marvel Comics libraries: "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Secret Wars."

Crisis eliminated an established trope from the Silver Age that there were parallel Earths. These "Earths" allowed the heroes of the Golden Age and the Silver Age to coexist, and even team-up annually in the pages of the Justice League. One of the coolest things a young comic reader like myself would ever read ... gone.

Frank Miller wrote a story for DC. A four issue mini-series called, "The Dark Knight Returns" this was an alternative Earth story that showed a darker, meaner version of Batman. It is a fantastic story. It was met with much critical acclaim and stellar sales figures. It was decided that Batman should be more like this. Worlds Finest Comics was a title that featured Superman and Batman in team-up adventures since the very beginning of the silver age. But, this new Batman could never work along side Superman. Worlds Finest Comics ... gone.

Secret Wars put Spider-man in a ridiculous black costume in an attempt to make the character seem more dark. Spider-man ... gone. The Thing was removed from the Fantastic Four, and the family that I loved was a family no more. The Fantastic Four ... gone.

Byrne moved to DC and completely redesigned Superman to make him more like the Superman from the movies and therefore more accessible to a broader audience. This came at the expense of 48 years of character history. You can't maintain the prestige of being the first and greatest superhero if you don't have the history to back you up. Superman ... gone.

At the beginning of the bronze age comics were being written for children and for adults who still held a child like wonder in their hearts. At the end of the bronze age comics were being written for comic book collectors.

The worse thing that ever happened to the comic book industry is that it began making money. They call the period in comics following the "Bronze Age" the "Modern Age." That name won't always work, because in the very near future this so called "Modern Age" will be "modern" no more. I would place my vote for calling it the "Commercial Age." And the period after that, I would call the "Digital Age." Comics are making the move away from paper ... and that too is a sad thing to me.

Crisis and Secret Wars are not part of the "dream collection" that I have been working to rebuild. These titles mark the beginning of the end of "joy in comics" for me. So, I don't really care to draw, write, or read comic books anymore. At least not the ones that are on the shelves today. But, I still have my memories.



*Intellectual Property  - pretending to be a comic editor, Jeff.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Yellow Jacket and my Mom

Three different men have carried the title of "Dad" for me during my life. The first was my biological father, whom I have already mentioned had really nothing to do with my upbringing; the second was, "Chuck."

It was the summer of 1974. I had just spent the past year living with my Aunt and Uncle. I didn't really understand it at the time, but the stress and pressures of raising three children alone had gotten to be too much for my mom and she needed help. That help came in the form of sending her children to spend a few months with relatives so she could get the rest that she needed and some quiet to pull herself together.

Again, these are things that I would not become aware of until I was much older, but mom had to "fight" to get her children back. I have 2 younger sisters (I also have a much younger brother, but he wasn't born yet.) who like me, were sent to stay with family. I am still not sure that I understand all the details, but attachments were formed, and the breaking of those attachments was met with resistance. I don't think that there were any real "bad guys" here, but there were a great deal of hurt feelings. What matters is that mom did get my sisters back.

When it came time for mom to get me, my Aunt and Uncle flat out refused, but provided reasoning that was difficult for my mom to argue. I was enrolled in school and I was doing well. I must be allowed to finish out the school year. My mom agreed, and I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle for several months more than originally intended.

So, here we are ... summer. And mom and my sisters are on their way to my Aunt and Uncle's house to pick me up ... My mom, my sisters, plus one more. In the interim months between collecting my sisters and waiting for me to finish school, mom met someone. His name was Chuck.

I was excited to meet Chuck, my new dad ... or rather as I announced to him from the back seat of the car, "You're my 'fake' dad." I repeated it a few times. Not to drive home a point, but because I knew it wasn't right. I was trying to find the right term and my mind could not grab hold of it. The term I wanted to announce to display my vast 8 year-old knowledge was, "step-dad." But, instead I called him my "fake-dad" multiple times on the very long drive home that day. I have sometimes worried that I might have hurt his feelings.

Chuck suffered from alcoholism. He believed in parenting with a firm hand, which was something that we weren't used to from my mother, and when he was drunk which was most of the time, this firm hand became unyielding, and sometimes cruel. And as I grew up with him as my "father" over the next five years, I came to despise this man. Now, looking back. He wasn't a villain. He was a drowning man with an addiction doing the best that he could. But that wasn't how I saw him then.

I was talking about Team-Up comics in my last post and it made me want to talk about this comic: Marvel Team-Up #59. It was a night when Chuck had been drinking and his mood was particularly ill. He had passed out, I think and mom crept into my bedroom after I had gone to bed and woke me. She told me to get dressed because we were going out, but to be quiet because we shouldn't wake Chuck. I did as instructed, as my mom woke my two sisters with similar instruction.

We left in the night without really knowing what was going on ... Mom had an overnight bag with her and she grabbed a little bit of clothing for each of us as she ushered us into the car. And we were off into the dark of the night. I was curious about the situation and probably being a bit of a pest. Mom hadn't thought to grab toys or comics or anything to keep us occupied, it's reasonable I guess, for her to assume that we would go to sleep on the ride. But, not me. I was too curious.

I did fall asleep though, and it was morning before I woke up. Mom stopped at a store and got something quick and easy for us to eat for breakfast and she corrected her earlier mistake by getting me a comic (and I think, puzzle books for my sisters) to keep me occupied for the remainder of the trip. It was the aforementioned Marvel Team-Up. Mom got it because Spider-Man was on the cover, but I was more intrigued with Yellow Jacket, a character that I had not known about before now.

Mom explained to us that we were leaving Chuck, my youngest sister wanted to know why, but my other sister and I were older ... we knew. Maybe that's why I liked Yellow Jacket so much. He was married. He had a wife. And they loved each other. At least that's what it looked like in MTU #59.

Why couldn't my mom have that? Why couldn't mom be married to Yellow Jacket? We spent a few days with an Aunt and Uncle, not the same as referenced above. This Uncle was actually my very favorite. He had a collection of Science Fiction paper back books and gave me some to take home with me. Which we did (go home ... back with Chuck) a few days later after whatever had happened had gained some time and distance.

I read MTU #59 over and over again. John Byrne's clean line work was traced and re-traced as I taught myself to draw. And this comic ended in a cliffhanger ... Oh, man! Was this a cliffhanger!!

It wasn't until I was older, moved out and on my own that I was able to pick up a copy of Marvel Team-Up #60 to find out what happened. It took me 20 years to find out how Yellow Jacket survives (of course he does!) He will always be one of my favorite heroes.

Maybe it's irony that Yellow Jacket turns out to be abusive to his wife later in his history, but I can't appreciate that. For me the thought of it is heart breaking. I refuse to read those issues, and it's perhaps what is the beginning of the end for me as a comic book collector. At some point, comic books changed from optimistic and hopeful to cynical and mean. That's just not for me. I'll talk a bit about that next time.



Thursday, January 04, 2018

Superman and the Flash

Artist Curt Swan is pretty much synonymous with Superman of the 70's and early 80's (and for many many years prior.) I like Swan's work very much. I can remember seeing his work on a Legion of Superheroes story (without Superman or Superboy) and it was great. (Wish I could remember what comic that was in.) But, the thing is ... just as George Reeves was my first exposure to Superman, Swan's depiction of Superman was my earliest exposure to the comic book version of the character. For me, Swan's version of Superman was the George Reeves version of Superman. That's just how I imagined it.

The problem with this was that the George Reeves Superman was really "old fashioned." Also, it seemed like only Swan was "allowed" to draw the character, but I knew early on that it was all about the "art" for me. I wanted to see all of my favorite characters drawn by as many different artists as possible. With Superman this would only happen on the covers. Swan always did the interior illustrations. I liked those just fine, but I wanted more. I just loved (and still do) looking at all the different styles of drawings.

It's my mom, once again to the rescue. Comics were sold in the grocery store where we lived when I grew up. That used to be where people got all of their magazines and periodicals. Bread, milk, comic books ... that was the trifecta for me. Mom didn't always bring a comic home, but one book every so often was doable, and I was always very appreciative.

This time it was DC Comics Presents #1. She bought it for me because it had Superman paired with the Flash which seemed like a "two for one" and it was a first issue. The chance to start on a new book from the beginning. Her instincts served her well. DC Comics Presents #1 was awesome!!

And unlike the normal practice with Superman and Action Comics, the cover artist: Garcia Lopez, also did the story inside. There was so much good here, I am not sure where to even begin. It matched two popular heroes and gave me a chance to see them depicted as I had never seen them before. Where Swan's "Reeves" Superman was somehow always "friendly," Lopez's Superman had a kind of intensity about him, he was bigger somehow ... more heroic. Flash too, somehow bigger and grander and faster than the Irv Novak version of Flash that I had read before.

And it didn't stop there. In subsequent issues Superman was teamed with other heroes and other artists. I loved it. I became obsessed with team-up books. They were a chance to see all of my favorite characters in new ways. There was Batman in The Brave and The Bold, and Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, and The Thing in Marvel-Two-In-One. I gobbled them all up! And, now as I build the dream collection of my youth, those team-up comics play a vital role.

I already talked about Marvel-Two-In-One #50, but there are other team-up books that burn hot in my memory. One of them features Spider-Man and I would like to talk about that one next time.



Wednesday, January 03, 2018

It All Started With Superman

I grew up reading comic books. For as long as I can remember they have been part of my existence. Even before I could read, superheroes encompassed my play and inflamed my imagination.

One of my earliest memories was playing "Superman" with my mom and dad. They were on the couch, and I was "bashing" myself into them declaring myself to be, "Superman." But, they said that they had Kryptonite with which to repel me! I hid behind the couch to shield myself from said Kryptonite before jumping out at them again!

I'm not sure how old I was, but my dad and mom separated when I was five years old so it was some time before that happened. Also, I suffer from some mobility limitations as I was born with cerebral palsy, but I remember "running" and "jumping" in as much as I was able. I couldn't do this when I was much younger than 5 I think, and I would have been wearing braces on my legs. I must have been close to five years old. It's the only childhood memory of my father that I have, and it includes, Superman.

But not the Superman from the comic books. This would have been the TV Superman as portrayed by George Reeves. He was on, I believe, in an early afternoon syndication block right after Lassie, which I loved because the little boy who owned Lassie was a blond haired urchin named, "Jeff;" just like me. (Jeff was Lassie's first owner, replaced after season 4 of the series by the better known, Timmy.)

I was obsessed with Superman. And, as a boy who spent half of my early youth in a hospital bed, or when I was home, with casts or corrective braces on my legs, comic books were a perfect distraction. I loved them! And, for a divorced mom raising 3 kids on her own, (Dad vanished not to be seen for almost 30 years, and he didn't pay a dime of child support. Mom did it all alone.) comics were one of the few "extravagances" that she could afford.

The first Superman comic that I can actually remember reading (which I did over and over again) was Superman #300. Significant, I think because it was a special "bicentennial" issue, (with a shelf date of June 1976) because it was the landmark 300th issue, and because it took an imaginary look 25 years into the future to the year 2001.

"Just Imagine The Man of Steel Coming to Earth as a Baby Today --
-- And Growing Up In The World of Tomorrow!" was the challenge posed on the cover that depicted Superman's image standing over an exploding Krypton!

The issue postured a modern retelling of Superman's origin story as if the baby Kal-El came to earth in 1976 and grew up in our world today. It was my first exposure to the Superman origin beyond the opening credit sequence of the aforementioned Superman TV series.

I found that I related to Superman. He was different than those around him, and because he was different he caused those whom he cared for some distress. In my case, I was constantly aware of the "burden" that I represented to my mother. For Superman, the threat of his great power put those he loved in danger.

But, Superman didn't want his power. He didn't ask for it. He wanted to be a normal boy just like me. And just like me he didn't have a choice. He was born with his "disability" and it was simply a fact of his life. So, he (and I) made the best he could with what he was given.

I always loved that Superman just wanted to live a normal life. That's all I wanted too. Superman understood me, and I understood him. Except that he could don a disguise to make himself fit-in ... to become more normal. I could never hide who I was on the outside. But, I certainly spent a fair amount of time pretending to be someone other than myself.

That, however is a story for another time. For now, I leave you with this: It all started with Superman.



Tuesday, January 02, 2018

... And Only One Shall Survive!

This past Christmas I received a most unexpected gift, a comic book. This is unusual because as a collector I have a very specific agenda. I know exactly what I want and I pursue it. So, I assumed that my fiancée Julie would most likely steer clear of comics. Happily, I was mistaken.

It began many weeks ago. Julie and I are laying in bed chatting about something unimportant but satisfiably distracting. Movies it was. Not necessarily good ones. But, ones we enjoyed. Memories from our childhoods.

We fell upon the movie: Meatballs. A cheesy teensploitation movie about high school kids at summer camp. This one predated more notable entries in the genre like Porky's or Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It was in my recollection surprisingly good, and it was the first movie appearance of then Saturday Night Live star Bill Murray.

I told Julie that I remembered being excited about a scene in that movie because one of the characters, Rudy (who later goes on to star in a very good movie called, My Bodyguard) had comic books on his bed, and that one of the comics was one that I had in my own collection at the time.

This lead me to talk about the comic itself, which has a bit of a dark past for me. It was this comic book that led me to cut school, get into a conflict with a bully, and get into a bit of trouble with my mom. But that wasn't on my mind that night as I talked to Julie about the comic from the movie.

I told Julie about the story that was told within the pages of the comic and about how it involved the character known as "the Thing" traveling back in time to battle himself. Julie was unfamiliar with "the Thing" and asked me about him. I explained that he was a man made of stone and a founding member of the Fantastic Four. She asked if this was the same "rock man" as seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy and I answered that he was not and proceeded to talk about the Fantastic Four.

I talked to her about how these characters ushered in the "Marvel Age" of comics and how the Fantastic Four comic book was a personal favorite and that it wasn't in publication anymore and what a tragedy that was. I got sidetracked by this comic book history lesson and, never revealed to her my personal history with this comic book.

But, she paid attention all the same.

I suppose she heard the passion in my voice as I spoke of this comic. She asked me:

"What number was it again?"

"What was it called?"

"Oh, that's interesting. Do you have that one in your collection?"

I thought she was simply trying to demonstrate an interest in what I was saying. I had no idea that she was repeating the information over and over and over in her head, desperately trying to keep hold of it until she could find an opportunity to write it down.

But, remember it she did. And, she surprised me with it this Christmas. I hadn't even shared with her the story of my personal experience of this special comic book and its sordid past. So, I'm sharing that with her (and with you, gentle reader) here and now.

It would have been December of 1978. I was riding on the bus to school. We drove up to a 7-11 store and had stopped at the intersection there. I knew this intersection because one could look through the bus window if we were stopped long enough and see the store's comic book rack displaying the latest issues for sale. These comics sparkled to my young eyes like the lights of a Christmas tree.

On this particular chilly December morning, one special comic book caught my eye:

"Big 50th Issue" boasted bright red letters on the cover. "The Thing Battles The Thing ... and only one shall survive!"

"The Thing Battles The Thing!"

How could this be possible?

They are the same person. One could not battle himself!

And yet the cover depicted just such an outcome!

But, one of the two "Things" looked as he did when he was first created ... a throwback to an earlier period in the character's history.

What was going on!??

" ... only one shall survive!"

Gasp! Was the Thing being forced to a battle to the death with himself!!??

And the wording. So, ominous. " ... only one SHALL survive!" SHALL ... a heavy word ... a serious word. A word one might only read in the Bible. This was certainly life and death stuff!!

Oh, how I wanted that comic!

I got off the bus at school, turned and walked against the flow of children, heading instead in the opposite direction. I followed the sidewalk up the street back in the direction from which the bus had come. I wasn't entirely sure how far it was to the 7-11, but I was pretty sure that I could get there, buy the comic (with my 50¢ lunch money ... the comic was 35¢) and get back before the bell.

No one tried to stop me.

No one even noticed as one lone young man marched with singular purpose and indomitable determination off school grounds and up the street towards the object of his quest: his own personal "Holy Grail." I'm not sure exactly how long or how far I walked, but I reached the 7-11 safely, and I bought my comic book: Marvel Two-In-One #50.

I tucked the comic safely and snuggly into the folder of my Spider-man Trapper Keeper and headed off back towards school. I knew that spending my lunch money on a comic book instead of my actual lunch as intended was the wrong thing to do. But, this was my own personal sacrifice to make, I reasoned. Besides, I could use the 15¢ in change (comics were sold tax free as periodicals at this particular place and time) to purchase a strawberry/vanilla swirl-pop at the local arcade at lunch time.

This was my plan. It was a good plan. It would work. By the end of this day, I would be the luckiest kid in the world: owner of both a spectacular new comic book to add to his collection and the lunchroom bragging rights of how I had eaten a strawberry/vanilla swirl-pop for MY lunch that day.

Ah, but how all good plans can go astray. I hadn't correctly calculated the correlation of time and distance relative to the completion of my quest and the starting of school. I had under-estimated the amount of time my journey would take, by what I suspect is ... quite a lot.

Upon entering the school grounds, the play ground was empty. No one was there. Everyone had already gone to class. I contemplated hurrying to class, but how would I explain my tardiness? How late was I? Which class was I missing? What if the teachers had discovered what I had done? I already knew that a child caught with a comic book at school would have it taken away never to be seen again. I couldn't let that happen.

There was only one thing that I could do. I would stay off the school grounds for the rest of the day and hide out. When kids boarded the buses in the afternoon, I would join them and none would be the wiser. When asked where I had been the next day in class, I would simply explain that I had been sick.

This new plan wasn't as perfect as the first and I was well aware that morally speaking I was now on much shakier ground. There was no getting out of this one. If I got caught, I would be in a world of trouble! That was it then. I just wouldn't get caught.

Across the street from the school was an abandoned old factory building or warehouse of some kind. I walked around the place to see if I could find a way inside. The building was surrounded by a fence that was locked with a chain and padlock, but there was a gap where the gate was bound by the length of chain and back then, I was a really skinny kid.

I managed to slip through the gate and get inside. However, I still couldn't get into the building. All the doors and windows were boarded up. But, children in trouble can be very determined and very foolish. I was both, and I climbed on top of an old dumpster to reach a fire-escape. Climbing the rusty red stairs of the fire escape, I managed to reach the roof of this old abandoned factory building.

I wasn't really aware of how dangerous this was; for me it was a great adventure! Nor did it occur to me just how dirty a child might get climbing around on the tar covered roof-top of such a place. (Suffice it to say, I didn't look like I had spent my day in a classroom.)

You might think that the little bit of foreshadowing above is meant to telegraph the means of my undoing and ultimate demise, but the truth is quite the opposite. Read on, dear reader ...

I walked to the edge of the roof and looked over. I could see the school yard from here. I could see the street where the buses would line up to take everyone home at the end of the day. This was perfect! No one could see me, and I could see everything. I was winning!

I turned and sat down on the rooftop and dug into my Trapper Keeper to get out my comic book. This was going to be the best comic that I'd ever read in my life!

But, that would have been too easy.

This particular day, at this particular location the December wind decided to blow and bluster in mean, inconsiderate gusts of cold and cruelty. I wasn't able to read my comic at all ... not even a single page. In fact I tore a few pages a bit trying to turn them in the wind, and I knew that if I persisted, my comic would be shredded.

So, with a Herculean effort of self-control, I put the comic book away and resigned myself to wait to read my new comic book until I was safely home.

That is until fate offered my young desperate mind an alternative: the lunch bell!

The lunch bell rang and the school yard filled with children. This added up to one incredible fact in my mind. If all the kids were outside ... then the school building itself would be empty! I could sneak inside, safe from the malicious comic-shredding assault of the wind and I could read my comic book!

And, gentle reader ... I did just that. I would regale you with the thrilling tale of how I avoided detection and stealthily snuck back into the school like a mystical ninja if I could. But, the truth is there isn't much to tell. It wasn't thrilling or even difficult. No one was really paying all that much attention. So, just as I had walked off of the school grounds, I walked back on ... and into the school building under a stairwell to settle down in this quiet hiding place alone to finally read my comic book.

It's an odd sort of irony to me that the movie "Meatballs" featured my comic book in the possession of a character named Rudy. And that this actor's next film, "My Bodyguard" finds the same actor playing a character beset upon by a bully.

Ironic, because the next part of my story involves a bully dear reader. Like the evils of bullyism follows this specific comic book like a curse.

Apparently, my hiding spot was not my discovery alone and was in fact the preferred lunch time "smoke hole" of one of the less savory members of the high school student body. I don't remember much about this person now, except that he was much bigger and older than me. I never dared look directly at him, but I remember his voice.

"What are you doing." He asked me, his words stumbling through the air towards me like gravel across a scraped knee.

"Uh, reading my comic book." I answered timidly. Like a daisy, I wilted under the steamy heat of his putrid yellow breath.

"Give it to me." He demanded.

The struggle that followed was brief, and for me at least, it was painful. I did not surrender my comic book without a fight, but surrender it, I did. In a terrible torturous instant my triumph was turned to tragedy, and my elation gave way to despair.

I fled the scene and hid myself behind the school building. Shaking, cold, angry, afraid, and heartbroken in my defeat, I cried. There was nothing I could do. I couldn't report the bully. I was myself a breaker of the rules. I was on the side of wrong, and there was no honor among thieves. This was my punishment. Evils deeds beget evil consequences.

This is what I deserved.

And that thought made me cry all the more.

I am not sure how long I cowered there behind the school building, but I am fairly certain that while my morning of adventure flew by with hours passing in the seeming breadth of but a moment, that the opposite was happening now and what might have seemed hours was probably not so very long.

But, in this brief span of eternity I pulled myself together and prepared my mind and body to weather the rest of the day.

I was hungry. Lunch was long past and I had not eaten. I could go to the arcade as planned. No one would be there now. I still had my 15¢. The bully had taken only my comic book. And so, I went to the arcade and I bought my strawberry/vanilla swirl-pop. I ate my "lunch," and the folks at the arcade were kind enough to gift me a glass of ice water.

As a kid, you don't take into consideration what those around you think; what they do; what they know. Being a kid, it's hard enough to sort those things out for yourself. So, it doesn't occur to me that the proprietors of the arcade are no stranger to children playing hooky. Or that they would call the school. Or that a toe-headed urchin with cerebral palsy would be especially easy to identify.

I am distracting myself at a pool table in the arcade when my mom walks in behind me. I don't see her come in. I don't hear her. She is right behind me when she calls me out in a stern voice. I spin around and I am certain that in that moment of realization that I have been "caught" that every bit of color runs screaming from my face. I don't believe that every bit of it has yet come back to this day.

I have seen my mom in anger. I have been on the receiving end of her wrath as perhaps no one else could be. I have known her rage, her disappointment, and her disapproval, and I have deserved them all at one time or another. But, in this moment, on her face, I saw none of these things.

"Let's go home." she said.

I often wondered why my mom wasn't angry with me, why I wasn't punished for skipping school.

Not long ago, while visiting my mom, the subject of my "out of school adventure" came up ... and Mom revealed to me the truth. She was angry. She was going to punish me. Until that moment that I turned to see her, and she saw my face.

Remember, dear reader, that bit of foreshadowing from earlier? Apparently, I was quite dirty, almost completely covered in soot from my sojourn on that rooftop. Except, that is, for the clean white streaks that traveled from my eyes down my cheeks. Tracks created by my tears.

Mom didn't know what had happened, or what I had gone through, but I had clearly been crying. Mom confessed to me recently that the sight of me then, it broke her heart.

She asked if I had eaten lunch, and I admitted that I had not. So, she stopped as fate would have it at the 7-11. I had not told her about the comic book, or the bully, or about what I had done. But, I was ill-equipped to conceal my interest in the comic book that had been the impetus of all that had transpired this day. So, as we walked past the comic book racks at the 7-11 in addition to a hot dog and a soda, Mom bought me a new pristine copy of Marvel-Two-In-One #50.

I love you mom.

Over the years the comic books that I collected lost their "importance" somehow, as life pushed me to pursue other things and to create "grown-up" memories.

I have none of the comics that I had as a youth. But, over the past few years I have been trying to rebuild my collection. And as I do so, I find that I am rebuilding these memories as well.

She didn't know it, but this Christmas in addition to a great comic book, my sweet Julie gifted me with a great moment from my past. A cherished memory.

Thank you.