Friday, June 15, 2012

Comics on Infinite Minds

For every kid who would eventually get into comics, the first one he remembers owning is his equivalent of Action Comics #1—a seismic shift in his personal pop culture ecosystem. I remember mine—the otherwise unremarkable Superman Family #196 (7-8/79).

Then there are other comics that, while not my first, are still lodged in the nostalgia lobe. I remember staring at the cover of Flash #269 (1/79), with Kid Flash and dinosaurs, on the magazine rack within the old-fashioned pharmacy-luncheonette my dad ran in New Haven.

I remember the first issue that came in the mail of the only comic I ever had a subscription to: Super Friends (#32, 5/80). (The comic in general was actually quite a bit more sophisticated than the Saturday morning cartoon it was based on; it featured many and sometimes obscure guest stars including TNT with Dan the Dyna-Mite and Black Orchid.)

And I remember each of the first issues I bought of what would become my three favorite series: Justice League of America (#189, 4/81), The Brave and the Bold (#178, with the Creeper; 9/81), and DC Comics Presents (#38, with the Flash; 10/81). 

Soon began my ongoing hunt for back issues, which in the eBay age now seems quaint. Kids going forward won’t know quite the same thrill when finding The Brave and the Bold #139 (with Hawkman and Commissioner Gordon) among a random assortment strewn on a table in a small bookstore or stumbling upon DC Comics Presents #17, co-starring an electrifying (or, more precisely, transmogrifying) new character, Firestorm, in a back issue bin.

Yet forced to choose the title that impacted me the most, I must revisit a period of massive disruption in the time-space continuum (and not just because it was the year of my bar mitzvah). Not one but two blockbusters that came out in 1985 became my all-time favorites. One was Back to the Future, which for this purpose doesn’t count. The other was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Given the various series I mentioned above, most of which were team-up or just plan team titles, this would seem consistent. Except there’d never been a gathering of characters like what Crisis delivered. The lineup on the first cover, a wraparound, was an invigorating jolt. Among those appearing: Geo-Force. John Stewart Green Lantern. Killer Frost. Obsidian. Solovar. Who the heck was Psimon? And where was (Earth-One) Superman? Wonder Woman? Batman? (I believe the guy in the blue cape tucked away on the back, small, and facing away from the camera is Owlman.)

The combinations of heroes and villains within was irresistible. I’d loved to see the permutations when the Justice League or even the Super Friends would split up (why didn’t Batman and Robin ever pair off with Hawkman and Hawkgirl?), and this was on a far grander scale. Leave it to me to bring up a game-changer like Crisis but focus on something as minor as grouping.

The action felt cinematic and the emotion felt real. Even at the often-indifferent age of 13, I was moved by little details in the cosmic epic—sometimes multiple details within the same scene: The way Superman screamed when Supergirl died. The way he positioned his hands when kneeling before her cape-wrapped corpse. The way a few plaintive tufts of snow flung out behind him when he launched to carry her to the stars. The heavens, rather,

I was even inspired to create my own Crisis comic book. Alas, I did not save it. However, I do remember the characters I included in the first scene: Batgirl, Eclipso, and the Wonder Twins. On second thought, perhaps it’s better that I didn’t save it…

Then came the break-up. In 1987, at the 7-Eleven in my Connecticut hometown, I noticed Justice League #1 on the lowest tier of the magazine rack.

It featured heroes who’d never been in the League before; I was especially intrigued by the inclusion of Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, and Mr. Miracle. But I was a freshman in high school and I think I thought comics and I should start seeing other people, so I didn’t buy it. And this began a comics drought that lasted until 1993.

One last comic from my formative year that remains special is yet another team book: Batman and the Outsiders #24 (8/85).

In case you didn’t immediately recall the connection, yes, that issue contained a letter by yours truly. I don’t remember if it was the only time I’d written to a comic, but I know for sure it was the only time a comic printed my letter.

Today I call it my first DC writing credit.

Thank you to Rob Kelly of the Aquaman Shrine for granting me permission to post this, a version of which would later appear in one of his labors of love.


Jamie Coville said...

Wow, right below Jerry Siegel!

An inspiration for Boys of Steel?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

So much for my detective skills on this one, Jamie. I DID NOT NOTICE THAT! At least not now as I quickly scanned the page.

I have to say: that coincidence gave me chills.

Richard said...

Holy cow, that's just astonishing.

A few years back, a group of comics bloggers tried to establish a "First Comic Day" on which they would present essays recalling -- as you'd guess from the name -- the earliest comic they remembered reading, or the first to make a deep impression. I had great fun composing mine and I'm sorry it didn't go on to become a recurring thing. This would have fit in perfectly!

Re unlikely groupings of heroes, I wonder if you've read the Mark Evanier-devised round-robin series DC Challenge from 1985?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Richard. I did read (and then reread, I think) DC CHALLENGE, but don't remember it... Still like the concept though.

Anonymous said...

It's no wonder Brave & the Bold and DC Comics Presents became your favorites if those particular issues were your first. Alan Brennert's Batman/Creeper story is outstanding, easily one of the best ever to appear in B&B, and while I don't remember anything about the lead story in that issue of DCCP, I remember the Crimson Avenger backup as being quite touching.

hobbyfan said...


I wrote my share of letters in the 80's & 90's, and a good chunk of them were printed, mostly DC (of course).

My earliest memory of reading comics is more diverse, especially considering I started in the late 60's, so I can trace my roots to having had some coverless issues of House of Secrets and others (which were later given away to a neighbor). I read whatever I could get my hands on from the 2 local newsstands in my neighborhood that carried comics. Sad Sack, Casper, Bugs Bunny, Batman, et al.

In the late 70's, I gravitated more toward the superhero fare I've always cherished. However, it wasn't until the post-Crisis era of the late 80's that I finally cut loose and started finding my way into letters pages.

Let's remember, too, that a number of comics pros have also started in the letter pages, like, for example, Martin Pasko, so you're not alone.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Hobbyfan, thanks for the reminiscence. I wasn't trying to equate myself with comics pros! Mine is just a quirky little footnote...