I think in the life of every early comic reader there is a moment, a moment when you pick up a book and something clicks. This funky medium finally makes sense, and you have a book that becomes your first love of comics. I know I have one, a few really if I’m being honest, and I bet you do too. I also would be willing to wager that many of our “first love” comics are not particularly special issues. They probably take place in the middle of a story arc, are not necessarily a one-and-done, and by all measures might not actually be very good as comics. But to each of us they hold a special place, that first diamond in the rough that sent us down the road to full-fledged comic fan. I think I’ve shared a few of my own influences as vignettes within various columns before, but I don’t think I’ve ever walked through my own chronology, so here goes nothing.
The first two comics I really remember pouring over were an issue of Spider-Man and an issue of Superman. I think they both came as books within a variety pack bought at the bookstore by my mom. The only other exposure to superheroes I’d had at that age (we’re talking some of my earliest memories here) was watching the bootleg VHS of the 1966 Batman movie and forcing my grandma to tell me Superman stories, even though neither of us could remember his secret identity and usually wound up calling him something like “Craig Kent.” But these were my first two comics.
The Spider-Man issue dealt with Peter Parker facing Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin. Harry was essentially holding his wife, Liz Allan, and their son, Normie, hostage in a big mansion. Molten Man was also there for some reason. Parker sneaks in all ninja-like only to sit down for a meal with his former friend. I think there may be a page or so of fisticuffs, but the issue ends with Harry being hauled away and Normie glaring at Spider-Man like he’s gearing up to be the next in the Osborn line to hop on a glider. I knew I liked Spider-Man, probably due to exposure to the 1990’s animated series, so I dug this issue even though I didn’t really know what was going on.
The same could be said for my Superman issue. The issue was the finale of the Trial of Superman storyline, which ran throughout the Superman titles in late 1995 and early 1996 (meaning I was 9 years old). I remember big blue judge aliens who had Supes on trial for… something. And they decide that it was really Cyborg Superman so they send him to a black hole (guess Kal-El forgot to bring his negative zone projector?). For some reason, all the alternative Supermen from the death and return storyline were there too. I could make sense of them all except Eradicator, who seemed like a mash-up between Cyclops and Superman with half the personality of either. The book ends with Superman returning during a football game, or something like that, and he flies off to greet Lois after their time apart. I can’t remember if she comments on the mullet, though she really should have; that thing was inexcusable I don’t care how popular MacGyver may have been.
After that I didn’t really read comics for a while. I watched the cartoons, and that was enough for my superhero fix. I really was only drawn back in during junior high when Marvel launched the Ultimate line. Yep, that crazy scheme actually worked. They put a few of those early issues online for free and I read them voraciously. I then started to peruse the graphic novel section of the local book store and picked up whatever looked good based on the art alone (I used to draw a lot). This left me with two tomes that really stood out. One was the first arc of the JMS Amazing Spider-Man run. The one where he gets told his powers are mystical and becomes a school teacher after stopping a school shooting. I followed that run until John Romita Jr. left and I realized it wasn’t actually any good. The less said about that the better.
The other book was the first volume of Peter David’s Captain Marvel run. This was when Captain Marvel was Genis-Vell, cloned son of Mar-Vell, and Rick Jones. Having no context going into this book, I didn’t even know who Rick Jones was, what hooked me with this book was the idea of “cosmic awareness” or, an innate sense of everything that’s happening in the universe all at once. Needless to say, this drives Genis insane, leaving Rick trapped in a sub-atomic Microvese while Genis searches for the discipline to properly utilize his “gift.” This one arc runs the gamut from Captain Marvel teaming up with The Punisher, joining the Kree army (and getting an amazing new costume), and, SPOILERS, killing Eternity thus having to restart the universe. It’s fantastic stuff, and even though the series itself eventually went a bit off the rails, this first arc showed how comics could tackle ideas beyond “Stop the bad guy, get the girl.”
And after much casual reading, it was Red Son that brought be fully into the fold. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before so I won’t go into detail. Hell, I mentioned it to Mark Millar himself and Ron said I was weird about it, so I won’t do that to you here. Suffice it to say, these books are my touchstones to the different eras of my comic-reading life. They may not have been great, but they were mine, and I’ll never forget the impact they had.
What about you?