Sunday, November 27, 2016
Reunited With My Very First Comic Book
The older I get, the more value I place upon the simplest things that may take a smidge of effort but are so worth it in the long run. I love grinding coffee beans for my java versus a mere scoop and dump into the carafe. Keurig is strictly for the office when I have to get back to my desk in reasonable time. I love how long it takes me now to walk the trash out to the street at night, these days living on a farm, because more often than not, God's majesty is revealed to me with sprawling constellations to marvel at. I indulge in shots and beer but not to extremes, and it's the days in-between without booze that makes an an alcoholic beverage feel like a reward instead of something you take for granted and possibly destroy yourself over.
I am humbled time and again when I see my album reviews cited at Wikipedia. I love pushing my body to split and rebuild my muscles. When I receive a compliment for my dedication to fitness, I welcome it as a badge of honor. I make the bitchinist salads and fajitas and take pride in sharing them with others. I put a lot of love into my food creations as I do my everyday work in multiple professions. I have the reputation of being a tireless grinder when it comes to work (I've been hilariously called Superman by a few) and yet to me, it's just the nature of my own beast. My son is my greatest task and also my greatest achievement. Still, at the end of the day, it's the simplest thing to give him my love and my soul; you would never know he's adopted we're so close. I smile as I build new friendships, in particular people I knew back in school with less than three words exchanged, now finding common ground to build upon in our adult lives. That's cool stuff.
It just takes a little effort, is all I'm saying. Patience also goes a long way, while I'm at it. Given our collective hectic lives as the human race, this is all easier said than done. I get it.
When I was hosting the forum "Comic Books" at ReadWave, I posted a piece about my very first comic book. That was more descriptive about the book and its place in time. My rewrite this time will contain a far more personal slant. I had no longer owned the book in question when I wrote that column, nor did I the coveted G.I. Joe # 2 (Marvel's 1980's run) which was the topic of another post I'd dropped at ReadWave. Both books had been lost to me over the ages and though I routinely spot second printings of G.I. Joe # 2, I have no interest in it unless it's a first run, not to sound like the snotty Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons. If something means that much to me, it's all or nothing.
My first comic--drum roll if you would--was Marvel Team-Up # 72. It was the summer of 1978 and my parents had just divorced. I can't imagine what hell my mom faced as a temporary single mother, but this was one of only two periods of my entire life I ever gave her any kind of grief. It was a shattered moment for us both as my dad exited our daily-do and my stepfather was about to enter the picture. Yes, I saw my father on Saturdays and we built wonderful memories together in time. At home, I had silently rebelled by leaving all my toys and trading cards scattered about my new bedroom in Essex, Maryland, as if daring my mother to do anything about it. I'd been raised to be orderly and neat, which I still am today. This freakout session is what child psychologists would call lashing out against a traumatic event and challenging the strength of a lone parent--in particular a female parent. Is it any wonder the villain of my first comic book would be Whiplash?
My mom is tougher than Galactus' shin guard and one day I was taken to the movies with my aunt. This provided Mom the opportunity to show me you never effed with her--not without dire consequences. I came home to find all of my toys, vanished, dumpster-bound. I was momentarily devastated, resentful-even. Yet something inside that little kid who was frightened to shit after his father told him he was the man of the house now felt relieved his mother could bulldog if she needed to. We became immediately bonded. It wouldn't be long thereafter until she was reunited with a childhood sweetheart who'd survived Vietnam and soon took me as his own son.
In the midst of these gales of change came Marvel Team-Up # 72. We'd had a brutal way to go as a divided family from late 1977 into the summer of '78. My mom decided we needed to blow off a little steam by taking a trip to Ocean City with my grandmother, aunt and cousins. I only remember bits and pieces about that trip, but the most glaring moment came when my mother stopped at a local convenience store and put Marvel Team-Up # 72 into my hands for the three hour trek to the beach.
Now you younger folk might scoff at the proposition that a lone comic book could entertain a child for so long of a drive. This is the age of iPod and Nintendo DS, which I refer to as kid crack, since youngsters today can't even go five minutes without being plugged in like junior Borg. Atari had only just started infiltrating the world and yeah, I eventually had handheld electronic games you've likely never heard of unless you're in your mid-forties today: Merlin, Split Second and Mattel's Electronic Baseball and Electronic Football. Our parents were generally stricter over our game play time, and very seldom would they tolerate twittering boops and squawks from the backseats of their cars. Car Bingo was as much of a red-hot time as you could have as a child inside a car then. Kids today have it so damned lucky.
Yes, that single, solitary comic book occupied me for the entire ride. It sounds ludicrous, I know. It takes me an average time of 12-15 minutes to read a modern comic today, 15 solid for the vintage books. How is it possible one comic lasted me so long?
Well, first and foremost, it was the most magical thing I'd seen outside of Kiss, Dr. Seuss and Star Wars. I wasn't a slow reader by any means, but I was still learning to read comprehensively, so I tripped over certain words until I re-read them and inquired about their meanings. Bigger picture, it was the mystique of seeing those action-packed panels spread before my eyes that captivated me. Sure, I'd seen Spiderman countless times on the classic education show The Electric Company. I'd seen comics many times but never really went after them, though I was deep into superheroes as you can infer by my prior posts here. My cousin Shawn turned me onto Jonah Hex later in 1978 though I had already become an avid comics scarfer a week after returning from the beach.
I'm not going to draw out too much time analyzing the plot for you this time. I'm too busy waxing nostalgia, but the core story is thus: Spiderman thwarts a cluster of fur robbers but gets shot with dart drug that makes him not only woozy, it mucks up his spider sense. This leaves him vulnerable to attack by one of Iron Man's main baddies, Whiplash. After getting trashed by Whiplash, Spidey's frequent enabler Detective Jean DeWolff takes charge of him after he's apprehended by the police. Jean has summoned Iron Man to lend his expertise about Whiplash. We're thus set up for a tag team with ol' Shellhead, ba-da-da-daaaaaa!
Whiplash is in cahoots with an underground mafia of supervillains, The Maggia. The Section Leader of these costumed thugs ends up being Jean's unhinged brother, Brian, who can manipulate psyches to trigger hallucinations or to do his evil bidding. Sheesh, I sound as old school as this book. Brian, that dirty dog, manipulates Jean to turn a gun upon herself. Spidey and Iron Man pull some trickery of their own to take out Whiplash and Brian in a goofy table turn abruptly ends in forgiveness, puzzling even our heroes.
For a young kid in 1978, however, this was powerful stuff. I read, then re-read and re-read it again on the way to Ocean City, pausing only to gape at the sprawling Chesapeake while crossing the Bay Bridge. It was the only sight that could possibly compete with all the trouncing and flogging throughout Marvel Team-Up # 72. Well, there were those old Coppertone billboards with the runty dog pulling the girl's bathing suit to reveal her tanless bottom. They prompted such giggles out of me my mom knew every time what had triggered them.
I lost this book among many others when I was forced to sell half my collection years ago. There's only so much money these days for pleasure, so rebuilding my collection has been a gradual process, one spent fishing out of dollar boxes and 50-70% off back issue sales. It's probably not worth any more than the $1.20 I just paid for it, particularly with one of those muscle-building ads I mentioned in the Geppi Museum post clipped out of it. Being a devout gym rat, I laughed heartily at that.
To me, it's worth a ton, as if I'd scored back Amazing Spiderman # 252, the single issue I regret letting go. That was the first appearance of Peter Parker's black suit, the alien nemesis which gestated into the contemporary badguy legend, Venom. The first appearance on Earth, let's clarify, since it was 1984's Secret Wars # 8 where Peter and the symbiote first bonded (I do still have that one, thank you).
Having back the book that christened me into comics, one bearing the classic Rick Barry vs. Dr. J Spalding ad on the back...priceless. I don't give two craps about basketball any longer, but I was a huge Dr. J. and 76'ers fan back in the day, thus it's always a treat seeing this ad when adding bronze age books back into the collection.
With patience and the effort to keep a vigilant eye out for a book many would finger past a zillion other downgraded comics, I got a sectioned part of my life back. It's the simple things, I'm telling you...