By CM Team | CultureMass Staff Published: 09/09/2013 10:00 am EST
Every comic reader remembers it. The moment when you were, for the first time, completely captivated by a comic, falling headfirst into the medium (and, in most cases, an incurable addiction to the four-color page). Maybe it was the first comic you ever read. Maybe it was a game-changer you stumbled across after years of exploring convenience store spinner racks. Whatever the story behind them, these were the comics that transformed you into a lifelong reader. In this edition of our Graphic/Novels Roundtable, the CultureMass team remembers our first, most formative comics.
Justice League of America #207 (1982): This was my first introduction to the multiverse, and I was hooked! I will never forget the day my dad came home from the bookstore when I was 5 years old, carrying a stack of comic books, and said, “I thought you might like some of these.” This issue is the one I remember most clearly from that first haul, and ever since that day, I have loved DC’s Earth-2 characters, which eventually led to an affection for the Golden Age of comics in general. Of course, that killer George Pérez cover didn’t hurt, either.
Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985): The first thing that excited me about this issue was the inclusion of so many characters I’d never heard of before, but I think that this also marked the first time that I was emotionally affected by a comic book, as opposed to just having my intellect stimulated. The death of Supergirl was so shocking to my little child’s brain, I literally dreamed about this issue on a semi-weekly basis until I was in my 20s. And again, that George Pérez cover…whoo! This is the one that made me recognize that comics are works of art.
JLA #1 (1997): Of course, as a young adult, there was a time when I thought I was too grown-up for comic books. One day when I was closing in on 20, I happened to glance at the spinning rack in the grocery store, and this baby caught my eye. I bought it, read it and reread it over and over. Comics had grown up! Just like that, I was hooked once again, and haven’t looked back since. This was the first time I read a comic book that sold me as an adult, with a sophisticated story and mature characters. I still have a poster of this cover hanging in our library!
WildC.A.T.s (1992):WildC.A.T.s was the first comic I ever picked up solely for the artwork, and Jim Lee quickly became a favorite of mine. This was a series I felt like I could grow up with. It began as a pretty typical superhero comic, but with sex and violence, which I was getting into at the time, on top of the memorable characters and great villains. The book began to change and grow, especially with WildC.A.T.s 3.0, incorporating more politics and espionage. I loved that. WildC.A.T.s is a series that I can go back and reread several times and still enjoy.
Batman: Prodigal (1997): Up to this point I had mostly read one-shots and caught random issues of X-Men and Spider-Man but was never able to finish a story. “Prodigal” was the first whole story arc I collected, picking them all up on the same trip to the comic shop and reading the whole thing that night. It stuck out, as I was a new reader, that there was a new Batman who was thrust into the heat of battle with a huge responsibility, ready or not. This series convinced me to keep better track of the caped crusader in the future.
Watchmen (1986):Watchmen isn’t just a masterpiece, it has sentimental value for me. My brother, whom I didn’t see often, gave me his copy of this graphic novel. It was the first comic that made me realize that heroes could do evil, even though I didn’t fully understand the story when I read it at such a young age. It may seem cliché, but Watchmen shaped the idea in my mind of what comics could be and removed many of the limitations that other titles had established for the medium, showing that comics were just as good as literature when done right.
Marvel Tales #99 (1979): My first introduction to the death of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin was from this reprint of the original story. The comic was my brother’s, but I would constantly be caught reading it. The cover burned itself into my mind: Spider-Man holding the woman he’d loved, the Green Goblin gloating on his glider. It’s primal and spun a tight web around me. The idea of death had always intrigued me, from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars to Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And here it was again, this time involving one of my favorite heroes. An image I couldn’t forget.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero # 26-27 (1984): I was a child who rushed home after school to watch cartoons (He-Man, G.I. Joe, Jem and the Holograms, Transformers). When Marvel released the G.I. Joe comic series, I was hooked from the outset. But it wasn’t until issues 26 and 27 that things changed for me. That two-parter delved deeper than any G.I. Joe comics had before, exposing the tragic life of my favorite character: Snake Eyes. Larry Hama’s story caught me off guard, as the sheer nobility of a man who kept giving even though life took away all he loved was captivating and still resonates today.
Batman #426-429 (1988): I had stopped collecting comics briefly, probably thinking I was too cool for them. But when I heard Robin was going to be killed off, I rushed down to the local comic book store. I was older now, and craved life’s harsh realities in my stories. “A Death in the Family” did not disappoint. Again, death and loss were the themes that embedded themselves most inside me, that plus the image of the Joker holding a bloody crowbar. Yet there was disappointment. Living in Canada, I was unable to phone in and vote whether Robin lives or dies (although, if you’re wondering, I would have chosen the latter).
Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985): One of the first graphic novels I ever read was Crisis on Infinite Earths, by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. The first thing I loved about this comic, and what ultimately hooked me, was the sheer scale of this universe they were using. It was such an omniscient feeling for a new comic reader to have, being able to jump between so many different characters, see villains that are still human, and witness unheard of levels of cooperation between good and bad. Watching the most powerful heroes fail against the ultimate evil. I knew then that world of comics had no limits.
Spawn (1992): Another series I got into was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. This was one my little brother read and introduced me to and I think reading it together was a big part of the draw, but what’s not to love? This comic was not for us (children that is) and that was what we loved about it. The gore, the language, the hero from hell—the whole thing dropped comics on their head for us. It was badass in all the right places. But I think more than anything I loved the character design. That. Mask.
The Goon (1999): This is a series that got me back into reading comics. At a certain point in my life I did shy away from the medium altogether, but when my friends and I started frequenting the shops again I picked up a series called The Goon by Eric Powell. This is one of my all-time favorite series and one of the funniest you’ll ever read. The art is just a tad bit sharper and simpler than Hellboy but it still has the same feel to it. A definite must-read.
Walt Disney Comics Digest #26 (1970): That summer I asked my folks if we could go to Disneyland. My parents said no (and something like “Who do you think we are? The Rockefellers?”). Whilst shopping at the local IGA, I noticed this Disney digest on the Impulse Buy magazine rack and begged my mom for it. It was 50 cents (back in the day, that was a Rockefeller’s ransom!), but, perhaps feeling guilty about my Disney-less future, she caved. Wow—from that day on, I was consumed with comics in digest form. And it dawned on me that every Disney character must live in the same universe a la Marvel. Best of all (in retrospect), it was the first time I’d read a Paul Murry mouse story and a Carl Barks duck comic. Of course I didn’t know who they were at the time, but those were the stories that stood out far above the rest.
Batman #223 (1970): This was an 80 Page Giant for 25 cents—I already had expensive taste even way back when! There was just something so cool about that Dick Sprang/Charles Paris/Jack Burnley old time art (or “Bob Kane art” as I called it back then). I particularly loved the huge old Bat-sedan and the cavernous-yet-cramped Batcave that contained the Giant Penny and the Dinosaur. And this all-reprint issue had a theme: Batman Around the World—Mexico, London, Canada! And in the Tibetan adventure “Journey to the Top of the World” (from Batman #93), Batman wore a completely white, camouflage batsuit. But best of all, it included a reprint of a Sunday newspaper page story. Batman was in the newspaper with Peanuts and Dick Tracy!!! Sweeeeeet!
Marvel Tales #26 (1970): Reprinting perhaps the greatest single comic book of all time, “The Final Chapter!” from The Amazing Spider-Man #33. Plus, a Paste-Pot Pete misadventure starring Human Torch and Thing from Strange Tales #124. And finally, “The Vengeance of the Thunder God” featuring Thor vs. The Absorbing Man, from Journey into Mystery #115. This book—yet another 25 cent comic out of the budding college fund—sat in the bathroom all summer long. I literally read it to pieces. Besides Spidey’s triumph over a ton of machinery, there was a mind-blowing moment courtesy of Jack Kirby where a P.O.’ed Crusher Creel decided the only way to defeat Thor was to absorb…well…the entire Earth. Really bad move. Really great comic!
Transformers Comics Magazine #1-10 (1987-88): There were no comic shops where I grew up, so my first real exposure to them came in the form of the wobbly, metal spinner rack at the local (and now-extinct) A & P, and while I never actually bought any, my cousin did, God bless him! The one that kindled my love of the art form was Transformers. I was already a slave to the cartoon, which served as part of a much-beloved after-school programming block that would be integral to postponing my homework every weekday for nigh-on ten years, but the comic was quite different. More violent than its network censors-approved, cookie-cutter TV counterpart by far, the comic presented the heroes I thought I knew as flawed, doubtful, and oftentimes opportunistic, and the villains as more diabolical and vindictive than my then-10-year-old mind could readily process. These digest format (each volume contained two comic issues) collections opened my eyes to a new way of telling stories, and I never looked back.
Archie’s Explorers of the Unknown #1-4 (1990): Comics are like music. When you’re just starting to get into it, your taste is usually awful, hence my pick for #2. Ten years before the word “re-envisioning” would become Hollywood marketing’s standard-issue sidearm, Archie Comics launched a parody of Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown that re-imagined the well-known kids of Riverdale as a crack team of world adventurers. Betty Cooper as an ace pilot, Veronica Lodge as a black belt in karate, giant robots, cursed temples, globetrotting James Bond/Indiana Jones-inspired storylines—it was admittedly insane, but it had it all, and I loved it. No. You know what? Check that. I still love it.
Legionnaires #1-6 (1994): There’s no shame in this one. None. No comic has had a greater impact on determining the kinds of stories I gravitate to or the style of writer I’ve become than this mid-‘90s alternate universe take on DC Comics’ long-running, part-intergalactic U.N./part-cop series Legion of Super-Heroes. Take a veritable General Assembly of powerful but unabashedly flawed alien youngsters and charge them with the protection of the universe, and you get a recipe for drama and action that forever set the bar for how I felt teams should be handled and a playbook for how teen characters should be written. Painful, unrequited romances, feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, rampant arrogance, friendships under constant fire, and more in-fighting than I’d ever seen depicted in a “team” comic, Legionnaires was like everything you loved and hated about high school, only set in space!
The Amazing Spider-Man #242 (1983): When I was three, one of my parents took me to the local convention center to meet Spider-Man. I don’t remember which parent, because all I cared about was Spider-Man. Having followed the web-slinger’s exploits on the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon, I was understandably excited to meet my Saturday morning hero. Sometimes we’re disillusioned upon meeting our idols, but oh man, Spidey did not disappoint. He even gave me my very first comic! What a class act, that guy! This issue features a probably long-forgotten battle between Spidey and the Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android. I may not have really followed the plot all that well as a kid (I had no idea who those two girls were at the end, let alone why Pete would voluntarily kiss one of them), but the art (some fairly early work by John Romita, Jr.) absolutely jumped off the page. My brain could scarcely comprehend how a static image could have so much kinetic energy.
Return of the Jedi: The Official Comics Adaptation #1-4 (1983): Perhaps no family member had a greater impact on my interests as a young child than my grandfather. Whether it was toys, movies, mini golfing…he always seemed to know exactly what I’d be interested in. I was on a shopping trip when he pulled a bagged collection of four comics off a peg and handed them to me. My eyes nearly fell out of my head. Comics and Star Wars? This is a thing?! I read these over and over again for years (at least until my parents bought a VCR and I could actually watch the movie again), and they’re still in surprisingly good shape. With terrific pacing by Archie Goodwin and some great art by Al Williamson, this series is still my gold standard for movie-comic adaptations.
Avengers #274 (1986): At this point, I was familiar with many of the Marvel heroes beyond Spider-Man (Captain America was an early favorite), but I was not prepared for this comic. I won this issue at a small-scale local carnival (“won” might be a bit too strong a word, as it implies some skill was required on my part). I couldn’t identify anyone on the cover, but I could certainly tell the good guys (or guy, in this case) from the bad, and this image filled me with dread. I had never seen a hero so heavily outnumbered before, and my immediate thought (again, not knowing who any of these dudes were) was, “Oh no. How is he going to get out of this?” Then I opened the book and realized that not only was Captain America in this thing, but there were a ton of heroes in it. It took me years to pick up the issues on either side of this one and complete what is still my favorite Avengers story of all time, so the cliffhanger “death of Hercules” ending had extremely far-reaching effects!