13 Comics From My Childhood Years That Helped Turn Me Into the Comics-Obsessed Fiend I Am Today
1. Uncle Scrooge #161, “The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan!” (Western, 02/79)
This is my 250th list (I know; I’m surprised, too), and I thought I’d celebrate by listing some of the comics from my younger years that got me started on this whole crazy obsession. My earliest comic-related memory is sitting on the floor of my father’s cousin’s bedroom and being a little freaked out by the cover of a 1970s horror title (don’t ask me which one); he had a box full of kids’ comics he didn’t want anymore, and I was first in line to get them. There were a lot of Richie Riches, a fair number of Archies and a couple of books starring characters from the Looney Tunes and Disney gangs… including this one, a tale that sent Scrooge, Donald and the triplets to the Himalayas in search of treasure. What my fragile little mind didn’t realize at the time was that I was holding greatness in my hands; that particular tale was written and drawn by the legendary Carl Barks, and it first appeared in an Uncle Scrooge comic in 1956. I’ve got a picture of my younger self sitting on my bed and holding that comic book; it goes without saying my bedspread had images of Golden Age DC comic covers all over it. What I’m saying is, my parents never really gave me the chance to live a normal life.
2. Archie #356, “Title here” (Archie, 05/88)
Between my cousin’s stash and my own trips to the corner store, I amassed a few hundred books by the time I hit fourth grade, and more than half of them were Archie books. There were plenty to choose from in the ’80s, and Mom was always good for throwing me an extra dollar to buy an Archie digest at the grocery checkout counter. (Plus, I think the adventures of Archie and his friends were a little more accessible to an eight-year-old kid than a lot of the other stuff on the spinner rack.) I gave most of them away to the local hospital during one of my more charitable moods, but I’ve held on to this one issue through the years. I’d pretty much stopped buying Archie books by 1988, but my patriotic 15-year-old self couldn’t resist a comic set in Canada during the Winter Olympics. Sure, Archie and crew were visiting Calgary and Edmonton and wouldn’t come visit my home province until 1996, but still! Chinooks! West Edmonton Mall! Hockey! CA-NA-DA! CA-NA-DA!
3. The Man of Steel #3, “One Night in Gotham City…” (DC, 11/86)
I discovered DC Comics at a pretty good time. After the deck-cleaning efforts of their Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series (which I later bought secondhand from another comic-collecting classmate), DC started fresh with its biggest characters; The Man of Steel was our first look at the “new” Superman who was just starting his superhero career. In this issue, Superman and Batman meet for the first time, and their initial reaction to each other is a little more tense than the chummy relationship they shared in their World’s Finest days. I remember this comic as one of my first purchased-with-my-own-hard-earned-money superhero comics, and also because it was the first time my dad talked comics with me; when he saw this issue lying around the house, he started arguing this story wasn’t a “real” one because everyone knows Superman and Batman are best friends. Then he started talking about the Silver Surfer and how he had a bunch of those comics when he was a kid and why can’t they make books like that anymore… My dad is not the most talkative guy, and he didn’t have a lot to say about the other stuff I was into at the time, but it meant a lot to me knowing there was a little bit of geek inside him, too.
4. Legends #4, “Cry Havoc!” (DC, 02/87)
I’m not sure if this was my first book bought at a garage sale, but it’s the first one I remember picking up at one. Actually, it wasn’t a garage; for a couple of years, the arena in my hometown hosted a rummage sale, bringing anyone with secondhand stuff to sell together under one roof. I remember going from table to table, looking for Archie digests or anything else cheap, and finding this comic with “10 cents” written in black marker across the Flash’s flaming head. Up to that point, I was collecting only Batman and Superman books — other characters appearing in this book were just names to me, and this was my first introduction to the larger, non-Super Friends cast of the DC universe (as well as the concept of “crossover events,” which turned out to be a mixed blessing). Plus: goddamn, didn’t that guy with the torch look like a crazy mofo? My adolescent mind couldn’t imagine how a dude in a brown suit and necktie could cause this much trouble for the heroes, and I had to pick up the book and find out what the hairy heck was going on. That’s called marketing, people.
5. The All-Star Squadron #35, “That Earths May Live!” (DC, 07/84)
Yeah, so, about my hometown. I grew up in a small town in northern Canada, which felt as far from civilization as… well, any other town in northern Canada. We had shops, sure, but my parents bought a lot of our Christmas presents from the Sears catalogue. Knowing my interest in comics, one year they ordered a “Comic Collectors Kit,” which came with a cardboard longbox, a magazine guide to collecting comics, the cheapest set of bags you can imagine, and a few dozen comics. I didn’t get the sense that anyone at the warehouse put a lot of thought into which comics were placed in the box; I got a variety of Marvels, DCs, Archies, Harveys, Gold Keys and a lot of early-’80s independent titles (Ms. Mystic, anyone?). But I think this book made the biggest impact on my younger self: I had no idea who any of these characters, but even my 12-year-old self knew the guy wearing swastikas was bad news. Especially if he was able to trap this many good guys inside whatever secret base that stone wall was in. Also, I was adorably naive enough to think, “No way would they actually kill a superhero like this cover is promising!” (Spoiler: They did, but it was someone nobody cared about.) These days, many years later, I’m more likely to look at this cover and think something like, “Wow, that Baron Blitzkrieg guy either knew Doll Man was coming, or he had special miniature manacles in his dungeon for just such an occasion. Hate the guy’s politics if you must, but that is one Nazi that plans ahead.”
6. Marvel Tales #178, “How Green Was My Goblin!” (Marvel, 08/85)
When you’re an athletically challenged kid living in a place that gets six months of serious winter, and you’re living in a time before things like YouTube or PlayStations existed, you’re going to watch a lot of television. I mean, a lot. Fortunately, our local cable provider was hip to my needs, offering stations from Western Canada that were airing their Saturday morning cartoons at a time when kids in my time zone were looking for a few hours of solid afternoon entertainment. One station, Edmonton’s ITV (now Global), offered hours of cartoons based on toys (Challenge of the Gobots, G.I. Joe), early anime (Astro Boy, Thunderbirds 2086) and animated shows from the 1960s like Rocket Robin Hood, Max the 2,000-Year-Old Mouse, The Mighty Hercules… and Spider-Man, the 1967 series featuring the wall-crawler’s first-ever animated adventures. Those episodes guest-starring Spidey’s greatest foes (and a few not-so-great ones) were directly responsible for me one day picking up an issue of Marvel Tales, which may or may not have been this issue featuring a reprint of “Jazzy” Johnny Romita’s debut as the regular artist on The Amazing Spider-Man. Of course, I didn’t know anything about that back then, just that Peter Parker was, if this cover was anything to go by, in seriously deep doo-doo, and it was my duty to find out what the hairy heck was going on (again, people: marketing).
7. The Amazing Spider-Man #231, “Caught in the Act” (Marvel, 08/82)
Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this was the first Spider-Man comic I ever bought. The Marvel Tales issue I just mentioned was probably the first Spider-Man comic that inspired me to start collecting Spider-Man comics, but this is the earliest one I can remember seeing on a spinner rack. It was the summer of ’82, I was nine years old, and we were visiting my extended family; they lived in a small Newfoundland village that has one main road, a fish plant, and not a whole lot of anything else. But for my younger self, that place represented freedom; running wild with my cousins took up most of my vacation. When I wasn’t racing across the rocks and barrens, I went with the grown-ups on their shopping errands; I remember seeing this issue on a visit to the local pharmacy. I couldn’t tell you exactly why this issue caught my eye or why I decided to part with 60 cents of my hard-earned money to get it; maybe I thought it was really creepy how the Cobra was wrapped around Spider-Man like that.
8. The Transformers #31, “Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom!” (Marvel, 08/87)
Man, did I have it bad for the Transformers back in the day. They came along at just the right time to blow my pre-teen mind away; even when I was a little bit older than the target market, I was still trying to figure out how my younger cousins’ Transformers twisted and folded. My obsession with the toys wasn’t helped by Marvel’s Transformers comic, which contained some of the nuttiest stories and scripts ever conceived, not to mention the clumsiest possible attempts to shoehorn every Transformer toy into the plotlines. But they didn’t come nuttier than this issue, which delivered exactly what you’re looking at here: in this story, the Decepticons launch their latest scheme to ruuuuuuule the world: a chain of mind-controlling car wash stations that used flashing lights to subliminally order unwitting humans to empty their gas tanks in support of the Decepticons’ new “Give a Gallon to Your Future Alien Overlords” charity. Now, as much as I don’t wish to inadvertently insult any future alien masters of mine, there are several holes in this plan that Optimus Prime himself could somersault through, not least of which is the fact it seems a bit inefficient to allow the refining of oil into gasoline, transporting that gasoline all over the continent and then pumping it into millions of cars, trucks, and SUVs… and then just steal the bloody stuff back (what makes it even daffier is the fact the Decepticons’ unwitting human fronting this mad scheme is the CEO of a major oil company who might have some leads on where they could pick up some crude in a hurry). Implausible, too, is the idea that bamboozled drivers wouldn’t eventually cotton on to the fact that filling up their massive gas tanks five, six times a week might be just a wee bit unusual. Then again, I haven’t checked the mileage lately on SUVs, so they might not.
9. Blue Beetle #22, “A Question of Time!” (DC, 03/88)
Sometimes I feel like I was born just a little too late. As much as I loved most of the comics that came along in the mid- to late 1980s, I always had a soft spot for books that reprinted Silver Age stuff, or titles that consciously used the tropes and templates from those more innocent times. The 1986 Blue Beetle title was one of the latter, featuring the adventures of a businessman inventor who juggled his personal life with a promise to a mentor to battle a never-ending parade of garishly costumed super-villains. And villains didn’t come more garishly costumed than Chronos, the time-controlling baddie who embarks on a devilishly clever scheme to strip-mine Chicago — or more precisely, the land Chicago sits on as it appeared 200 million years ago. Naturally, Blue Beetle puts a stop to his evil scheme by… wait, why was this an evil scheme, exactly? Are land rights now retroactive to the dawn of time? I mean, sure, if there’s a “butterfly effect” reason for why a time-traveling dude can’t help himself to a rare element that existed millions of years before anyone else is even around to claim it, then let’s work with that, but the story doesn’t even try to go there. Doesn’t matter; Chronos is a bad guy, Blue Beetle is a good guy, shut up and hand over your buck thirty-five plus tax. But I’d still take this story over 97% of Marvel’s output during the 1990s any day.
10. Secret Origins #25, “The Dreams of Youth” (DC, 04/88)
I’ve said it before: some concepts are just too beautiful to require any justification. For instance, the Legion of Super-Heroes: I submit it’s impossible for any but the most shriveled of hearts not to love the basic idea behind them (teenagers! in the future! with super powers!). I remember finding a couple of Best of DC comic digests (remember those?) that reprinted some of the great Legion stories from the 1960s; this issue was what inspired me to start collecting the new Legion stories as they came out. Secret Origins was also one of the first DC titles I picked up every month; even back then, I was all about mastering the minutiae of every character Marvel and DC pumped out. I have fond memories of this book because it came out during my artist-wannabe phase, when I thought I might actually have some talent as a comic artist (spoiler: I don’t), and I’m pretty sure there’s still a half-finished pen-and-pencil-crayon re-creation of this issue’s centerfold group shot somewhere in my parents’ basement.
11. X-Men #133, “Wolverine: Alone!” (Marvel, 05/80)
Speaking of youthful artistic dreams. In 1987, I picked up a copy of a fan magazine, which I recently discovered I still have, that featured articles about some of the more popular characters and titles during the ’80s. That’s where I first saw the image of Wolverine from the final panel of X-Men #132, the one where he’s down in a sewer and looking up at the camera while snarling, “Okay, suckers — you’ve taken yer best shot! Now it’s my turn!” I spent hours enlarging that image on a piece of Bristol board and using actual ink to finish it. Fast forward to 1991, my first year at university, and I happened to be at a church rummage sale not far from campus (small town, limited entertainment options, you know the drill). It was the last place I expected to find a very well-preserved copy of any Claremont/Byrne-era X-Men comic, much less find one with a 25-cent price tag. You know those stories of people finding huge stashes of priceless comics in someone’s basement or attic? Well, this wasn’t quite like the same as that — but it still felt pretty awesome.
12. Daredevil #257, “The Bully” (Marvel, 08/88)
I missed out on Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil, though I was lucky to find some of the issues from his “Born Again” storyline at garage sales. This issue is the first brand-new Daredevil comic I ever bought, and I wish I could say I picked it up because I was a big fan of the art by John Romita, Jr., but nope — this was another “sucked in by the cover” moments, as I was going through a big Punisher phase at the time. I have this vague memory of reading this issue and The Punisher #10 (which tells the same story from another point of view) in the local barbershop back home and being shocked by the idea of someone using tampered aspirin bottles to kill complete strangers (I don’t think I had heard of the 1982 Tylenol scare at the time), and also geeking out to the prospect of a big fight between Daredevil and the Punisher. You can safely assume their fight has something to do with their differences regarding how to deal with the guy doing the tampering.
13. Firestorm Annual #5, “Ground Zero” (DC, 1987)
It never fails — every time I think about my lazy days of summer as a kid, back before I had to worry about summer jobs or anything else, I always get this image in my mind of me in my backyard, lying on the picnic table without a care in the world and reading this comic. I first saw Firestorm on the Super Powers: Galactic Guardians show, and right away I knew I was a big fan (maybe it was the whole head-on-fire look that sucked me in). The first Firestorm comic I picked up was issue #64 of his second series, in which our hero battles the newly formed Suicide because the government isn’t too thrilled with Firestorm’s demand that the U.S. and the Soviet Union immediately disarm all their nuclear missiles (maybe he should have offered to throw them into the sun). That issue’s story was continued in this annual one, where they — no foolin’ — drop a big-ass nuclear bomb right on top of our hero — and yes, I was young and foolish enough to think the “The End!” splashed on this cover was referring to the actual demise of our hero. Imagine my relief when it didn’t. Boy, it’s a good thing comic writers don’t stoop to that kind of cover blurb trickery anymore, huh?