Trouble with Comics
TWC Question Time #28 Re-evaluating Gimmick Covers

This week’s question:  How do you feel about enhanced covers? They always get a large part of the blame for what happened in the 90s, but is it deserved? Were there any you liked?

Logan Polk: I don’t think it’s entirely fair to place the blame of the ‘90s comics market collapse at the feet of gimmick covers. Yes, they had a part to play in it, but the over saturation of issues was, I think, a much bigger problem. With the possible exception of the poly-bagged Deadpool card, can any retailer still move their copies of X-Force #1 at even face value? Yet it still gets mentioned in conversations regarding how many copies were sold, how popular the book was, and so on. The only gimmick to it was that there were different trading cards bagged with each issue,* and I don’t recall there being a shortage on any particular card, Mike Sterling would have a better memory of that though. But, the true gimmick covers, like the glow-in-the-dark Ghost Rider issue, or the chromium/acetate/hologram stuff? I always enjoyed them. I can’t speak for the retailers though, maybe they were an absolute nuisance. My favorite has to be that Ghost Rider issue, easily. I even have the second printing.

*Ed. Note: There was also the matter of the reverse-image UPC boxes.

Chris Allen: I never had a particular problem with special or variant covers. I remember being one of those guys in the early ‘90s buying all the different editions of X-Force #1, which was poly-bagged and had 4 or 5 different trading cards to collect. Even at the time, I questioned why I was buying multiple editions of a comic made by a creator I didn’t even like all that much, but I did it, and that’s on me. A little later, acetate covers helped the quite good Kurt Busiek/Alex Ross miniseries MARVELS stand out on the shelves, and while the acetate one-shot thing was quickly overused and applied to lesser books, I didn’t blame the covers themselves. I was already growing beyond the irrational need to buy every cover, especially once some variants got to be over $10. Mostly, I don’t care that much about the cover, especially if I really only have to buy one edition of the book. In the internet age, I think most people kind of decide whether to pick up a comic by the description of the story, list of creators, etc., and the cover doesn’t much matter. At the same time, I think maybe there’s something to be learned from some of these covers, as a lot of the time, one sees a cover and, due to the “it’s going to be collected in a trade very soon anyway” nature, the cover itself isn’t treated as a necessary selling tool.  

Joe Gualtieri: I love a well-done gimmick cover (please note the well-done modifier). Some of that is certainly nostalgia; after all, I was the right age in the early 90s to be into them at the time. That being said, I honestly believe that a gimmick can enhance a cover to create an effect traditional pen an ink cannot replicate. My favorite example of this is probably the cover to Darkhawk #25 by Mike Manley. Rendering Darkhawk’s blast in foil makes it pop off the cover in way that even modern coloring techniques would be hard-pressed to match. Similarly, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #50 uses prismatic foil to make Strange’s magic look truly otherworldly. Glow in the dark covers tend to be a favorite of a lot of people, and I’m not exception. Ghost Rider #15 is probably the most famous and best example, followed by Venom: the Enemy Within #1, but I’m partial to Green Lantern #50.

So what’s the difference between a good and a bad gimmick cover? Well, for starters, let’s just get this out of the way—polybags are bad. They keep people from being able to flip through comics on the stands and generally discourage reading (the Colorforms-style covers DC did were neat, and probably the only justifiably poly-bagged comics).  Beyond that, let’s compare the thirtieth anniversary covers for Spider-Man in 1992 to the ones for the X-Men in 1993. In both cases, Marvel “celebrated” with hologram covers. The Spider-Man covers are, essentially, only the holograms with a border. Coming out in 1992, covers usually reflected the contents of the comic, so iconic shots of just Spider-Man were a rarity, and making them holograms were an added twist. The X-Men covers, by contrast, are mess. The six X-Men anniversary covers are wrap-around images, nearly a quarter of which are then covered up by a wall of text in a very 1993 font with a hologram card slapped on top. The Spider-Man covers revolve around the hologram while the X-Men covers just slap them on in an example of unattractive excess. It’s actually a shame, as the X-Men holograms look a lot better, on their own, than the Spider-Man ones (the X-Men thirtieth anniversary magazine contains an in-depth feature on how they were made that is quite interesting), but they have nothing to do with the covers that they’re attached to, making them aesthetic abominations and among the worst gimmick covers.

No title better exemplifies the good and the bad of gimmick covers than Fantastic Four. Between #358 and 400, the title featured seven enhanced covers (not counting the issue polybagged with Dirt magazine, an allegedly hip magazine Marvel poly-bagged with a random title a month for awhile), and basically serve as a microcosm for the good and bad of the trend. #358 is one of the earliest enhanced covers and sports a simple die-cut for the book’s thirtieth anniversary. #371 is a completely gratuitous in terms of being a gimmick cover (ostensibly it was a key story, but in hindsight, no, it was not), but it is utterly gorgeous, with its all-white, varnished and embossed cover. #375 has a terrible, poorly integrated foil cover because it’s an anniversary issue. #394 comes poly-bagged with an animation cel promoting the new FF cartoon and sports a metallic-ink cover just because. Finally, #398-400 all have a foil covers, as a closing iris gradually reveals the new look team that does not exactly debut in #400. So as with gimmick covers as a whole, those FF covers start off as something new and innovative, and gradually just become a sales gimmick that are not well thought out and are solely there to bring in more money. It’s not at all accurate to blame them for the comic market collapsing in the 90s, but they certainly fed into the bubble that existed, as the history of Fantastic Four gimmick covers shows.

Mike Sterling: You know, by and large I was okay with enhanced covers, at least until things got way out of hand. As I’m presuming some of you know, I’ve been in the business of funnybook-sellin’ for nearly three decades now, so I was there when, as the market began to swell with more and more comics all demanding the consumer’s attention, companies began to look for new ways to grab the eye. I’m not quite sure what the first comic out of the gate was that kicked off that '80s/'90s trend, but there were predecessors: there was Boffo Laffs with “the first holo-comic!” in 1986, and I suppose there was that one issue of RAW from 1985, where corners were torn off each cover, and then randomly taped back into each copy of the magazine.

Like I said, I was fine with the idea of it, but as the marketplace burgeoned with more and more first issues and event comics, and too many investors were desperately looking for whatever the next big thing was going to be, the proliferation of special covers of course meant they were less special as time went on. Retailers, ordering cases of these books when they once could have expected to blow through them all in short order, were now finding they had to dump them in their bargain bins. Piles of chromium and foil and die-cut covers, all relegated to dusty backroom shelves, filed away in 50-cent boxes,hiding away in forgotten storage units, or occupying landfills as they slowly break down, or not break down, depending on what exactly comprised the material of the cover in question.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, however, is that there is once again some demand for those enhanced covers. Kids who weren’t around back in the Stone Age twenty or so years ago, and thus weren’t burnt out on the fad, are pulling those foil-or-whatever covers out of the back issue bins. They’re able to see them with a fresh eye, not contemptibly-familiar with them, not pulling stacks off the racks with one hand while clutching their “Comic Book Becketts” with the other, but buying them because they look neat. They have no idea these special comics went from “oh hey this is kind of cool” to “oh God I have to pay extra for yet ANOTHER shiny cover?” in, like, a year and a half.

And, you know, some of them are pretty neat. Probably my favorite 
just plain ol’ shiny holographic/foil/whatever it is cover is Adventures of Superman #505 from 1993. Some of you may recall the whole Death-And-Return-of-Superman brouhaha, which itself was no stranger to multiple special covers along the way (including the infamously over-ordered Adventures of Superman #500). At the conclusion of the storyline, to herald the return of the one True-and-Mulleted Man of Steel, a special cover was provided for #505, which used the holographic/foil enhancement to nice effect, making it appear as if fireworks were bursting in the background as you moved the cover around. Really, get your mitts on one of these and check it out yourself… it’s pretty cool-looking and it is sufficiently celebratory given the context in which it is presented.

Ah, but that isn’t my all-time favorite cover enhancement. In fact, this may not even count as a cover enhancement but rather a full-book enhancement, as, Adhesive Comics, back in 1993, took their copies of their comics anthology Jab #3 down to the shooting range and put a bullet through every copy:

Here’s a slightly closer look at said bullethole, in case you don’t
believe me 

And get this: the regular version of Jab #3 was shot in 10-copy stacks by a .22 caliber bullet. There is an ad in the back of the issue where you can order “Ultimate Collectors Edition” copies of Jab #3, each shot individually by a 9mm ($6) all the way up to the "guaranteed not to be readable" shotgun edition ($10). Each comic would be bagged with the shell of the ammunition fired into it. I don’t know how many people went for this admittedly awesome offer, but I do know that they created something amazing, a crazy-ass enhancement to beat all enhancements. The bullet’s passage through the book was even incorporated into some of the stories themselves, such as this panel from Shannon Wheeler’s “Too Much Coffee Man” entry:

This is just downright bonkers, but this almost makes the piles of Namor the Sub-Mariner #37 and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 all worth it.


TWC Question Time #27: Variants, Threat or Menace?

This week’s question: Last month, Image publisher and creator Eric Stephenson delivered a speech at Comicspro looking at the history of the comics industry that concludes by blasting variant covers as being bad for the industry. Do you are agree?

Logan Polk: As a reader, I don’t care about variant covers in the slightest. As a collector (and Deadpool fan) I enjoy some of them immensely. The problem is that I can’t afford to enjoy them in my collection. Occasionally I’ll spring for one that I really dig, but it’s not often. The bigger problem? Thanks to Marvel’s (I’m singling them out since that’s the only one of the Big Two I ever give my money to) policy of tiered variants not only are most of them out of my price range, but my local comics shop can scarcely afford to get them either.

They’ve effectively created a system that falsely inflates sales, props up their incessant attempts to reinvent their properties and leaves their sole source of distribution floundering. It’s absolute insanity. So, if the choice were for me to occasionally be able to snag a cheeky Deadpool variant, or even a cute Skottie Young piece, or for my friend and only local comics distributor to be able to get the items his customers want without having to worry about ordering enough issues to hit some arbitrary number, I’ll take the latter. If comics are going to survive as a physical medium, the people that produce them have got to stop abusing the people that sell them.

Joe Gualtieri: Variants covers suck.

In theory, having multiple covers to pick from on a comic is egalitarian, and leads Skottie Young fans to try everything Marvel publishes. In practice, it’s awful. For those not in the know, variants basically come in three flavors:
-free order variants where retailers can order all they want (I’ve been out of Diamond long to forget the official term for these).
-“order all” variants tied to your orders for something else (this is mostly a Marvel special)
-Ratio variants.
Generally, people talk about the last of these when they talk about variants, but all three are worth discussing. “Free order” variants aren’t so bad, really. There’s no artificial scarcity, in theory readers could buy the cover of their choice. The downsides are the title taking up extra rack space and your poor retailer trying to figure out if he or she needs more of one cover than another. If these were the only variants, I don’t think anyone wuld much care.

The “order all” variants are a pain in the butt for your retailer. The way this works is, if your order of Deadpool #12 exceeds your order of another comic by a certain percentage, you can order all you want of the Skottie Young Deadpool Baby Variant for #12. Where it gets tricky is the book that Skottie Young incentive cover is tied to probably isn’t Deadpool #11, it could be Uncanny X-Men #1. Then next month, there’s a Skottie Young variant for Squirrel Girl #1 where it’s tied to your orders for Deadpool #12… and so and so forth, every month linking back to a different comic where Marvel was trying to jack up sales, in theory inflating the sales of something every month to keep those Skottie Young variants rolling in (I don’t mean to pick on Young, and many of those covers are cute, it’s just a series that’s been running for close to five years now). It can also be a pain for your poor retailer to have to do the math here, although I understand Diamond has recently started out rate stating what targets are for individual retailers.

Last but not least are the ratio variants, where a retailer orders so many copies of the main cover to get one ratio variant. Companies will also stack these up, so when you order 5000 copies of Dark Knight III #1, in addition to the 1:5000 Jim Lee sketch variant, you can get 50 copies of the 1:100 and so on down the line. Publisher justify these ratio variants by saying they help titles find their levels, but any cursory examination of sales charts reveals that’s a lie. Retailers order extra copies of titles to get variants, which are sold at premium and in short order the extra copies of the regular cover wind up in a dollar bin. Heck, it might even take that long; one retailer near me had Dark Knight III #1 for half price day of release. In way, this is good for people who just want to read comics and have the patience to wait for books to hit bargain bins, but it actually devalues the work the creators put into the comic itself and emphasizes a collector mentality where only the outside of the comic matters.

No comic better encapsulates this problem than Supergirl and the Legion of Super Heroes #23 by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson. I read that title when it was coming out, and when I saw the 1:10 Adam Hughes variant, I wanted one, and unusually for me, was willing to pay a small premium (it was, after all, only 1:10). Well, I never found a copy and moved on. The cover got reproduced in the trade. Flash forward to now, and there are people claiming this one of the most important comics of the last decade and copies easily fetch hundreds of dollars. I completely understand the comic is scarce, but so what? Original art is scarcer, and it’s possible build a nice collection of pages and sketches that cost less than high-end variant covers. That Dark Knight III Jim Lee sketch cover becomes particularly egregious. Those covers, with mediocre, boring Batman head sketches are commanding about $3000. Meanwhile, a much nicer vintage sketch of Psylocke by Lee sold for less than half of that. A quick search of reputable dealers turned up actual X-Men pages by Lee for less than $2000. That’s an extreme example, but it’s still generally true. And that “scarce” variant cover? The image is readily available online and trades usually reprint the associated variant covers, so really what are you paying for?

Mike Sterling: For the new Dark Knight III series, there were an avalanche of 
variant covers. The usual 1 in 10/1 in 25/1 in 50 etc. variants, the variant covers commissioned for specific retailers, the blank variant so you can take it to a convention and pay a comic artist to draw on it, and then, of course, there was the Original Sketch by Jim Lee variant. For retailers who ordered 5,000 copies of the regular cover of Dark Knight III #1, at a wholesale cost of well over $10,000, you would be able to order one copy of this variant upon which the co-publisher of DC Comics gifted his personal illustration.
A glance at completed eBay auctions for this very item, as of this writing, shows that it seems to sell in the high $3000s, occasionally cracking four grand. So, let’s assume the wholesale cost on those 5,000 comics was $10,000, for simplicity’s sake, even if that’s on the low side. You sell your sketch cover for $4,000, and so, just to break even, you have to sell another 1,000 copies of the regular Dark Knight III #1. And then if you sell those 1,000 copies, you have another 4,000 to try to unload. Now, I admit, for larger stores in big cities with extensive mail order clientele, they could possibly move this excess product. They can also make some bank on the 100 copies of the 1/50 variants they received, and so on. If that one eBay seller I saw can be believed, there are supposedly only 43 copies of the 1/5000 sketch variant in circulation. That means 215,000 copies of the regular cover for #1 were ordered to get that specific variant, and that doesn't include all the copies ordered by other shops that didn’t splurge for the 1/5000 variant. And it doesn’t include the dozens of store-specific variants that also required minimum purchases, and…well, you get the idea. (Ultimately, over 440,000 copies of #1 were produced.)

My prediction at the time was that there would be a flood of regular DKIII #1s on eBay, selling for pennies on the dollar. A look just now (and it was difficult just finding the regular #1 amongst all the variants) shows I was a little off… there are copies selling for as much as one or two dollars.

This is all just secondary market stuff. For the average reader, who just wants to read DKIII (and there are a lot… there are plenty of people coming to my shop just for this series, and I can’t be the only retailer experiencing this), they don’t care about all that. For folks who are into the variants…well, some of them just like the alternate artwork, some want to invest or immediately flip the book online, or whatever. And whatever you want to do, however you want to interact with the hobby, hey, go for it.

But it’s a little troubling, this much excess. That’s a lot of dough tied up in one product, despite the fact that the comic is selling, a large amount of that product almost certainly is going to waste. Blown out on eBay, stashed away in boxes in the backroom, maybe even just straight-up recycled. (I’ll give you collectors a moment to recover from that onset of the vapors after reading that last one.) The regular covers served their purpose, the chaff you have to cast off in order to sell the variant cover wheat, which is a terrible metaphor but I hope you forgive me. And that’s money that goes into short term profits, which I absolutely will not blame anyone for pursuing in the current marketplace, but I wonder how much money went to DKIII that didn’t go for other items shops could have carried, that could have attracted readers that weren’t necessarily looking for Bat-comics. Now, if you’re a large shop going all-in on that sketch variant, you probably didn’t impact your other stock that much. But for small stores, that have to watch their budgets, bumping up your orders to that next plateau in order to get that next variant might mean having to order a copy or three less of something else.

And that’s great for Marvel and DC. They naturally want stores to spend less money on other products and more on theirs. That's just business.

The main purpose of variant covers is get retailers to order more copies of the book. Dark Knight III is the most extreme example of that in recent memory. Usually, however, it’s more a case of maybe a retailer deciding to order nine copies of something, seeing there’s a 1 in 10 variant cover, and bumping it up an extra copy to order the variant. Behold… two more copies sold!

Or there’s the “match or exceed previous orders” variants… “equal or beat 
your orders on Variant Cover Man #1 with orders for Variant Cover Man #2, and you can order as many copies of Variant Cover Man: Variant Cover as you want.” Generally this means having to at the very least maintain or slowly increase your numbers over time in order to continue receiving the latest variants. (I cover that particular strategy on my own site in much greater detail.)

And then there’s the form of variant cover particularly favored by DC, in which retailers can freely order both the regular and the “themed” variant cover… that theme being a topic that all these freely-orderable variants feature during that specific month, such as “Batman's Anniversary” or “Harley Quinn” or “Lego” or so on. And there’s the problem with that… these variant covers can actively mislead the customer, as the themed illustrations have nothing to do with the contents. It was the Lego covers that drove this home, as disappointed customers in droves returned Lego-covered comics to the shelves after discovering the comics inside did not feature the expected Lego-ized heroes.

It’s not necessarily all negative. Different cover images may appeal to different customers’ tastes, and if one cover for a certain comic doesn’t catch a person’s eye, maybe that comic’s other cover(s) will. Plus, ordering a few extra copies of a title to get the incentive 1-in-whatever-number variant could mean having more copies around on the shelves rather than selling out right away, allowing for more potential sales. And, if that variant sells at a premium price, it helps subsidize the cost of the extras.

In the long run, though, it’s a sales crutch to entice retailers to bump up numbers, as well as being a wee bit rough to to deal with at ordering time. It’s hard enough, even with months and months and years of sales reports to go by, to try to order the right number of comics that you’re at least partially guesstimating will sell two or three months down the road to regular readers. Adding “huh, I wonder if anyone two months from now will want any of these variants” to the equation just pads the chore. I mean, as a retailer, variants can be a good sales tool, and they do attract attention, but I can’t help but wonder if the energy expended on producing, retailing, and buying variant covers couldn’t be put to better use in this industry. It’s a short term patch to the ongoing problem of cash flow in the comics business, but it’s not the solution.

TWC Question Time #26: Anniversary Time

This week’s question: What’s your favorite anniversary issue?

Tim Durkee:  I’m glad that this question was given an extra week. I knew I could catch up with my reading and two anniversary issues would be a part of that. First off, I’m very far behind, so please don’t chuckle too loud when tell you I just finished Amazing Spider-Man # 690-700 including every point one and gimmick book in between. For all purposes issue 692 is the 50th anniversary issue, but that was overshadowed by the hype surrounding 700. The cat has been out of the bag for several years now, the question would have it been worth the cover price when first released?

I hate when a character dies in a book, not because my favorite hero or villain has perished, but because they never last. Give it a few months, maybe a year and they are back so I was I was in hurry as I knew what to expect. Did ASM 700 deliver to a reader who is very skeptical of deaths, anniversaries, and gimmicks? It sure did!

For a moment I actually thought this was it, the last story. No more Parker. The way the letter columns were filled it was more like a eulogy page rather that a celebration of one of the greatest super-heroes created. And I am reading this, believing this, knowing what happened. That’s what we call darn good writing, true believers! Now I’m on to Superior Spider-Man, which I stayed away from initially. I’ve never been known to have a favorite anniversary issue, until today.


Mike Sterling: Very early on in my comic collecting endeavors, I always went out of my way to pick up “special” issues. Extra-sized anniversary editions or annuals or the large treasury editions, even if they were from series or featuring characters I didn’t normally follow. There was just something especially enticing about these, even if the higher pricetags bit into my funnybook-buying budget. And, in the late ‘70s/early '80s, there was no shortage of fine books to choose from: Flash #300, detailing the origins of all the Rogues, Detective Comics #500, a monster of a comic featuring stories starring not just Batman, but several other characters featuring throughout the series’ long run.

And then there was Justice League of America #200 from 1982.

A great premise: the founding members of the League have gone out of 
control, and it’s up to their latter-day teammates to bring them down.
A great story structure: each confrontation is divided into its own short chapter, including one splash page punctuating the conflict between the characters.
A great collection of artists: each chapter is illustrated either by the artist most strongly associated with the characters involved (such as the Flash versus the Elongated Man by Carmine Infantino, or the Atom versus Green Lantern by Gil Kane), or by an artist that is most perfectly suited to said characters (such as Green Arrow and Black Canary versus Batman as drawn by Brian Bolland). The artwork for the framing and connective sequences is by George Pérez, who was then nearing the end of his run as the regular Justice League artist.
The story, by Gerry Conway, very nicely showcases each major character from the title’s history, as well as tying the plot into the team's origins. It is, in effect, a sequel to Justice League of America #9 (1962), where the League’s origin was initially told. Conway also contributes an extensive text history of the series on the inside front and back covers.

This is 72 adless pages of superhero perfection, presenting the almost Platonic ideal of how each character should be treated. Sure, maybe Pérez isn’t quite as polished here as he would become in short order, but there’s no denying his work’s power and enthusiasm. He certainly holds his own with the other featured artists. In addition to Bolland, Kane and Infantino, there’s Jim Aparo, and Dick Giordano, and Joe Kubert, and Brett Breeding, and more. If anyone’s taking suggestions for one of those giant tomes that features high-quality scans of original art, I nominate this book for the treatment.

Justice League of America #200 is the comic I think of when I think of superhero comics. It’s the one that reminds me of why I became interested in superhero comics in the first place. Not that it was my first superhero comic, by any means, but it still remains, at least to the part of me that still remembers that youthful thrill of seeing the week’s new arrivals on the newsstand racks, the best.


Scott Cederlund: My Legion of Super-Heroes fandom started out sporadically.  I probably read more reprints of older Legion stories in Adventure Comics or even the old Treasury Editions.  There’s one Treasury Edition that reprinted a Mordru story that’s still one of my favorite comic stories.  Those old Silver-Age stories were hokey but all of those super-powered kids running in those old fashioned costumes held a wonderful charm over me.  That’s probably why I had a problem with some of the more modern (at least modern circa 1983) Legion stories.  The characters kind of seemed familiar but with all of their updated, Bronze Age costumes, my mind couldn’t connect those old Legion stories to the current Legion stories.

Legion of Super-Heroes #300 is a suspect anniversary issue because the series continued the numbering of the original Superboy series after it became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes with issue #197.  So maybe the 300th issue of Legion of Super-Heroes is a bit of a stretch but it provided the link for me between the Legion I knew from those old reprints and the modern day Legion as it contained a number of imaginary stories about possible timelines for the Legion, all written by Paul Levitz and drawn by a number of different artists.  

Levitz’s story touched on all of the eras of the Legion, all the way back to it’s earliest and corniest days in the late 1950s and 1960s, through the Bronze Age cynicism of the 1970s and all the way through the Keith Giffen technological utopia of the 1980s. These stories were “what ifs,” looking at the decisions that the Legion had made through those years and how they could have been different. And Levitz even framed it through the perspective of the brother of the late Ferro Lad.  All of these maybes and could-have-been were told from the point of view of one of the Legion’s first and greatest tragedies.

There’s only a handful of comics from 1983 (or even before that) that I can actually remember buying and reading for the first time. I got the issue from a shop called All American Comics in Evergreen Park, Il, on a summer night. And I read the comic in the lobby of the Christ Medical Center on 95th Street. My father had taken me to the comic shop as a mild bribe before going to visit my grandmother in the hospital. I can remember the lighting still being dim in the waiting area while my father went up to my grandma’s room. I probably went up to her room for a little bit but I was probably quickly allowed to go down to the lobby to read my comics while my dad spent time with his mother.  

The comic means as much to me about the contents of it as it does about the summer of 1983 when my grandmother died of cancer. When the question was posed about anniversary issues for this column, I immediately thought of this issue but it took a while to sink in about what the comic means to me and why I still have it in my collection.  The comic is full of possibilities and things that never happened in the Legion continuity, but they all could have happened if the writer and artists had made different choices along the ways. For this anniversary issue, Paul Levitz tapped into some of that potential that exists in all comics within the boundaries of continuity.


Joe Gualtieri: This week’s question is borderline impossible. It would have been tough enough if we could pick five, but one anniversary issue? Especially as someone who was a young teen during the prime years of anniversary mania (Marvel made a way bigger deal about the thirtieth anniversaries of their various superheroes than they did the fiftieth), this felt like a nigh-impossible task. Outside of material reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (“To Kill a Legend” from Detective Comics #500 is a contender here), my first anniversary issue was likely Detectve #627, celebrating Batman’s 600th appearance in the title (yes, it’s actually his 601st, an error pointed by many letter writers in subsequent issues). It reprinted the very first Batman story, “The Case of the Criminal Syndicate” by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and a retelling of the story, “The Cry of the Night is- ‘Kill’”, from #387 by Mike Friederich, Bob Brown, and Joe Giella. It also contained two new reinterpretations of that first story by essentially the then-contemporary teams on both Detective and Batman: Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, and Adrienne Roy, and Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Steve Mitchell, and Roy. The Grant/Breyfogle tale was a little gruesome for my tastes at the time, but getting four variations, retold over time, has always left an impression on me as a great way to do an anniversary issue.

My favorite though? In the end, it comes down to two issues, both from the same storyline, Spectacular Spider-Man #189 (the first of four issues celebrating Spider-Man’s thirtieth anniversary in 1992, each with a hologram on the cover, because 1992) and #200. My first Spider-Man comics were Amazing #347 (Venom!) and Spectacular #175 (Doc Ock!), both purchased from Robinson’s Convenience Store on the same day because they had villains I liked from Marvel trading cards. Funnily enough, I came in as a classic creator left, as Spectacular #175 wrapped up Gerry Conway’s final Spider-Man story-arc (though it was written by David Michelinie). The next two issues were fill-ins by some guy named Kurt Busiek, and then in #178, J.M. DeMatteis’s run started with a sequel to his already legendary Kraven’s Last Hunt, with Sal Buscema on art. Despite not having read that story, his run worked really for me, in part because the story was something of a thematic sequel, focusing on Harry Osborn and his struggles with his father’s legacy as the Green Goblin. By the end of that initial arc, Harry had fallen to his worse impulses, becoming a villain again.

After a detour involving the Vulture, DeMatteis brought Harry back in #189 for “The Osborn Legacy.” Deranged after using his father’s super-strength formula, Harry kidnaps his own family and starts psychologically torturing Spider-Man. At the end of the issue, Spidey actually turns Harry over to the authorities, despite the threat of Harry revealing his secret identity as Peter Parker. Over the next year, Harry would occasionally show that he could still reach out from prison, but he was released in #199. The next issue, “Best of Enemies!” sees Harry up his war against Spider-Man, his family struggling to deal with his instability and Harry fighting himself, caught between wanting to do what his evil father would want and his long friendship with Parker. The issue is tense, and features one of probably only two scenes returning to the scene of Gwen Stacy’s death that is actually any good, as Harry takes Mary Jane Parker there to assure her he will not hurt her. In the end, Peter and Harry come to blows, Harry poisons Peter and leaves him to die in a death trap before Mary Jane talks him into going back. Then the super strength formula he used a year earlier turns to poison and kills him (a simple metaphor, but beautifully done, and perfect for the genre). Harry Osborn’s death is absolutely stunning, a scene so well done by Buscema that DeMatteis deviated from his original plans and left the final pages silent.

Spectacular Spider-Man #200 is everything an anniversary issue should be: it wraps up the current creative team’s story-lines, but beyond that it truly builds on the history of the characters involved. “Best of Enemies” gets its impact not just from the artistry of DeMatteis and Buscema, but from everyone who came before on the Spider-Man comics. It’s a story that demands a mature Spider-Man, and is inconceivable without him being married to Mary Jane. Marvel has, inexplicably, just reprinted parts of it, and the only way that makes sense to me as vindictiveness over how it shows how wrong nearly everything the company has tried to with the character since has been, as Marvel’s flailed about, trying to de-age him, believing kids couldn’t relate to an older, married Spider-Man. *Ahem* Anyway, it also has a foil cover, and being 11 in 1992, I confess to having a weakness for those when they’re well done.

TWC Question Time #25 Romance!

This week’s question: What’s your favorite romance in comics?

Logan Polk: Thanos is one of my favorite characters. I think he’s endlessly compelling when handled right, and a big part of that is his love life. So, my favorite romance in all of comics has to be Thanos and Death. Okay, it’s more of an obsessive and unrequited love than an actual romance, but it’s a story that I’ve followed for most of my comics reading life, and one I still find completely fascinating. To want the approval and affection of someone so much that you would seek godhood and attempt to wipe entire portions of the galaxy out of existence? That’s an epic love story. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the bad guys just as much (or more) than the good guys.

Tim Durkee: Even though it is not as popular as his first fling with the human Lois Lane, I enjoy the chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman. I was first introduced to their relationship with the Kingdom Come miniseries, an Elseworlds tale. That is a story that does not take place in the current time frame of stories in the DC Universe. I’m not sure if he was seeing the Amazon on the side and decided to go full-time after Lois Lane’s death, sorry for the spoiler. They both are also an item in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight universe. More spoilers: Superman and WW have a child together and another on the way. The impression is that there was still a relationship between Clark and Lois before Lois’s death. I can understand Lois being all gaga over the Man of Steel, I just can’t see him seeing any interest in her, so having him with the most powerful woman in the DCU makes more sense to me. Now, the new 52 universe has them together, so I’m told. I have read some reviews about them together. Some love hate, more hate it. I am curious what direction the DCU films will take with the introduction of Wonder Woman.

Mike Sterling: I never really paid much attention to romance in comics when I was younger. Generally, that was for good reason; in most of the superhero comics, it wasn’t so much “romance” as “plot point” or “character description.” You know, “Lois is Superman’s girlfriend” or “Iris is Flash’s wife” or whatever. Love interests existed to be threatened by villains, or to be nosy about secret identities, or to be pined over, or whathaveyou. It was a technical point, not an emotional connection.

So, as will come as no surprise to most of you who are familiar with my online shenanigans, it was the romance that popped up in, of all places, Swamp Thing that caught me off guard.

Yes, Swamp Thing, the comic about a monster who fights other monsters while hangin’ out with pals who are related to monsters or are monsters themselves. That’s where a comic book romance finally hit home with me, and yeah yeah make your jokes, but it was one of the most totally out-of-nowhere-but-yeah-of-COURSE moments I’d ever read in a comic at that point. I’m talking about Saga of Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, where Abby tells Swamp Thing of her feelings for him, exclaiming “how could you love me?” Swampy’s response: “Deeply…silently…and…for too many…years.”

That pair of awkward admissions between a couple of characters I’ve been reading about for so long…that was the sort of honest emotion that’s not present in the eternal running-in-place of Superman and Lois, or most other superhero books. Particularly for someone like me, who’d been invested in these characters and was suddenly blindsided by this step forward, a change in the status quo in a storytelling industry that doesn’t like changes in the status quo.

Naturally, the relationship was fuel for melodrama, as this is comics, after all. Abby getting up to some plant-lovin’ becoming fodder for tabloid journalists, losing her job as a result, etc. etc. – all part and parcel of the soap opera style of funnybook storytelling, but through everything, Swamp Thing and Abby felt like an actual, and oddly normal (or as normal as they could manage) couple.
It didn’t last, sadly. Now, a couple of Swamp Thing series and a line-wide reboot of the shared DC universe later, Swamp Thing and Abby's life together is no longer at the center of Swampy’s adventures. It's nice, though, to recall a time when I could be genuinely surprised at a turn of events in a comic book. And not the usual "THIS ISSUE - SOMEBODY DIES!“ type of nonsense that’s no longer really working anyway - but just a couple of characters that you’ve read about for several years, quietly and shyly admitting their feelings to each other.


Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, I was the weirdo in your group of comic-loving friends, the one with really weird taste. You see, I vastly preferred Cyclops (Scott Summers) to Wolverine.

As the kid in your class who literally would remind the teacher to give the class homework, I suspect this is part of why Scott Summers appealed to me, along with the hyper-competence. I suspect it’s also worth noting that my first X-title was X-Factor #65, and I started regularly reading with X-Men #1, so more than five years after the ugliness with Madelyne Pryor occurred, and a couple years after Pryor was firmly established as a clone of Jean Grey created by Sinister, so that controversy was essentially a settled matter when I began reading. So I was Cyclops fan, and I was really into his relationship with Jean Grey. When John Byrne and Fabian Nicieza teased an affair with Psylocke, I didn’t take it seriously as storyline (nor, rereading those issues, should I have. There’s nothing there, really). Years later though, when Stephen T. Seagle hinted at real cracks in their relationship, I was apoplectic, and wanted him off the comic, which happened not long after, and after a few terrible issue by Alan Davis, I dropped the X-Men comics for the first time in about eight years. I soon started buying them again, as Davis finally did “The Twelve”, a story the X-books had teased since the late 80s. That arc ended with Cyclops apparently dying after being possessed by the soul of Apocalypse (this is all actually relevant). That was basically it for Davis, as Chris Claremont returned to the X-title for a disastrous run both creatively and n terms of sales. Marvel’s Editor in Chief Bob Harras was basically fired over it, he was replaced by Joe Quesada, who brought in Grant Morrison to revitalize the X-franchise. Oh, and Scott Summers returned from the dead prior to Morrison’s run starting in New X-Men #114.

Morrison’s run infamously begins with the line, “Wolverine. You can probably stop doing that now” foreshadowing how the series would focus on the idea of change and nowhere would Morrison affect more change than in the character of Cyclops. Following his resurrection, Summers’s marriage to Jean Grey is in tatters, the two not having touched each other for five months. Cue Emma Frost joining the team. She almost immediately hits on  Summers, and Morrison leaves the result of her come-on ambiguous at first. Gradually, it’s revealed that the pair involved, but only psychically, as a sort of sexual therapy for Cyclops. Jean Grey-Summers learns about it at the end of “Riot at Xaviers”, and the fallout carries into the first part of “Murder at the Mansion”. To Jean, the affair is just as real even if it’s happening on the psychic plane, and it soon turns out that despite her detached demeanor, Frost has real feelings for Summers. The reveal comes on one of my all-time favorite pages (drawn by Phil Jimenez) as she break down in Wolverine’s arms, the panel layout narrows until she has to ask, “Why did I have to fall in love with Scott Bloody Summers?”

The relationship hits the back-burner for the series from there until the final arc, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (the title an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), a new take on “Days of Future Past” where the key moment is Summers walking away from Frost at Grey’s grave (she died at the end of the previous arc). Jean Grey, in a superhero afterlife, heals reality, urging “Live. Scott.” Which prompts him to embrace Frost, after answering her question, “Don’t you want to inherit the Earth” with “I… yes.” The “yes” and scenario reads as a gender-flipped allusion to Molly Blooms long soliloquy that closes Joyce’s Ulysses:

[…]how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.

As the Blooms do not have a perfect relationship, but love each other, the allusion suggests that rather than the story-book, “perfect” romance of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Summers and Emma Frost will have a more realistic and messier relationship. Subsequent comics certainly bore this out and while the relationship seems to have run its course (plus Cyclops is dead again), the beginnings of their relationship make it my favorite in comics.

TWC Question Time #24: Sports!

This week’s question: what’s your favorite use of sports in comics?

Mike Sterling: I’ve never been one for sports, really. I mean, as a young'un I did play baseball and football with the neighborhood kids, but I never had much skill for it or interest in it. Any sports interest I did have probably peaked in high school nearly 30 years ago, as our volleyball team made state champion, and that was essentially that.

As such, I didn’t really seek out or pay much attention to sports in comics. It was always there, of course…Ronald Raymond was a high school basketball player in Firestorm The Nuclear Man, there were the weird mystery tales of DC’s Strange Sports Stories, and of course the famous DC heroes versus villains baseball story, but I think my favorite sports mention in comics actually involves a fictional sport.

Befitting a young nerd like myself, I perused the science fiction section in the local library, slowly working my way through the shelves. I particularly enjoyed the anthologies, the annual collections like Orbit and Nebula and such, and it was in one of these hardcover collections that I first encountered “Rules of Moopsball” by Gary Cohn. (You can read it yourself right here, presented online with permission by the author.) It wasn’t so much a story as…well, as the title says, rules for a bizarre, fantasy-tinged team sport. I think my particular interest in it came from an odd obsession I had (and still have, in fact) about reading game rules and examinations thereof. Not playing the games, necessarily, but enjoying how the various parts of the rules were detailed and worked together. (A favorite book of mine from that library was a history of the Monopoly game, for example.). As such, “Rules of Moopsball” was an unexpected diversion from the more traditional prose stories in the countless number of anthologies I would consume.That was the late ‘70s/early '80s when I read that story (and would occasional reread on later checkings-out of the same book). Not too long after that, I discovered the Legion of Super-Heroes comics and started following that series…in which, eventually, I would come across the occasional reference to the 30th century sport Moopsball.

Well, that surprised me a bit. There were two options I considered at the time: either the folks responsible for the Legion comics made up a name that coincidentally was the same as the sport from the story I’d read, or it was a specific, in-jokey reference to that very story. This wasn’t some huge mystery that occupied my time for years on end or anything…it was just something I noted, and as I became more immersed in comics, and eventually realized that the Gary Cohn who wrote “Rules of Moopsball” was in fact the same Gary Cohn who was also writing comics I was reading at the time, I eventually realized that, yes, it was bit of an in-joke.

As I recall, I don’t believe we ever saw the actual game of Moopsball in action in the Legion of Super-Heroes comics themselves, which was probably fine (particularly if they attempted to duplicate the game as described in the original story, which might have been a little too weird for a mainstream superhero comic). Despite that, I did appreciate this odd collusion among three different oddball interests of mine, reminding me that just maybe, I wasn’t alone in enjoying all these things.

Logan Polk: I know it’s hardly original, but I have to say I always loved it when we got to see the X-Men playing softball (or any sport really) in their downtime. I couldn’t tell you the first time I came across it, or in what comic. I do know that it wasn’t one of Claremont’s issues, as I didn’t come to the X-books until after he’d already left. But, since then I’ve probably read a dozen or so of those tales, including many of his. I’ve always been a sucker for sports films, so I’d venture to say that melding even a bit of that with the superhero genre just hits me in exactly the right spot. Considering the excessive crossovers of the last several years, it’s rare that the books slow down long enough to show the characters having anything close to fun. And under Brian Bendis’ pen the slow moments are usually time for him to “showcase” his dialoguing skills. I do remember a fairly recent issue of Avengers Academy (in the last few years at least) that pitted them against the new generation of X-Men in a football game; it was a fun throwback to much better days in both of those franchises.

Joe Gualtieri: Generally speaking, there are no best answers to the questions asked in this column. This is not a week where this is a case. Sure, like a lot of people who read X-Men comics in the 80s and 90s, I’ve got fond memories of softball games (which the Avengers tried to appropriate) or of John Byrne and Jim Lee’s attempt to switch the tradition to basketball in X-Men #4. I’m also just the right age to ironically love NFL Superpro (I want the trainwreck of this coming back so badly!) and Godzilla playing a game of hoops. Still, none of those are “Foul Play.”

Originally printed in Haunt of Fear #19 and illustrated by Jack Davis, “Foul Play” is one of the more infamous EC Comics horror stories. It’s not actually one of EC’s best. Oh, it’s ably drawn by Davis in wonderful, gory detail. Unfortunately, the characters and motivation are minimal, even by EC standards. The star pitcher on a team leading in the ninth inning of the last game of the minor league baseball season puts poison on his spikes and kills the best hitter on the opposing team. The team doctor figures out how the hitter died and rather than contacting the police, the players decide to handle the matter themselves. So they trick him into appearing at the ballpark the night before the next Major League Baseball season begins (as the pitcher was promoted) then dismember him and play a baseball game using the pitcher’s body parts as the equipment. The last page, with the hitter’s intestines used as baselines, his chest as the catcher’s well, chest protector, a leg as a bat, and his head as the ball make for some of the most indelible and grand guignol images in comics history. It’s little surprise that “Foul Play” was specifically excerpted in Frederic Wertham’s infamous Seduction of the Innocent. So while the story is thin, both for it’s unforgettable imagery and place in comics history, it’s my favorite use of sports in comics.

TWC Question time #23: First Appearance

This week’s question: what’s your favorite debut by a comics character or team?

Mike Sterling: For my favorite first appearance of a team, I’m going to go with a comic that hasn’t particularly aged well, but still holds some nostalgic value with me. All-Star Squadron, DC’s attempt in the ‘80s at a new super-team book set in World War II (on Earth 2, no less) began life as a 16-page insert in Justice League of America #193 (1981). Now, those inserts were very effective on Young Mike, basically giving you a second whole-other funnybook in a comic you’d already plunked your fifty cents (or whatever) down for. That’s how DC got you to check out New Teen Titans (inserted into DC Comics Presents) or Blue Devil (in an issue of Fury of Firestorm) and a handful of other titles. Marvel follows a similar strategy now, putting full issues of recent debuts in other, more popular comics…most recently including Vision #1 as a back-up in Spider-Man/Deadpool, but perhaps I’m getting slightly off-topic.

Placing that All-Star Squadron insert in Justice League of America was certainly well-planned, given that the JLA regularly crossed over with their Earth 2 counterparts, the Justice Society. That was definitely how I was introduced to those characters, discovering that there was a whole parallel universe featuring older counterparts (and entirely different superheroes) to the familiar heroes of the League. Here’s Superman…and here’s older Superman. Whoa. And now here’s All-Star Squadron, set back in the 1940s when these Earth 2 characters were in their prime, and in an entirely separate team from the Justice Society so that writer Roy Thomas could do his patented continuity plug-ins without too badly disrupting what had already gone on before in those actually-published-in-the-1940s All-Star Comics that featured the JSA. 

And it was those continuity plug-ins that was a huge part of the appeal. It was through All-Star Squadron (and especially in a contemporaneous related mini-series, the history-spanning footnote extravaganza America Vs. The Justice Society) that readers were introduced to characters and situations from those old issues of All-Star Comics. There may have been the occasional “AS SEEN IN ALL-STAR COMICS #17” editorial note, which, you know, sure ol’ Roy had a full run but a fat lot of good that did most of us reading the comic, but it still spoke of a long legacy to these characters, an unseen history aside from maybe the rare reprint in one of DC’s digests. All-Star Squadron gave us kids a new appreciation of what had come before, and for that I am grateful to that unexpected insert in that long-ago issue of Justice League

As I’d said, the appreciation is more nostalgic than anything else. Going back and rereading them as an adult, the flaws become more obvious, the clunky storytelling more apparent. I can appreciate the effort put into the title, but to more modern sensibilities it’s rough going. Even that beloved America Vs. The Justice Society has become bit of a slog, even with the nice art (sabotaged though it was DC’s unfortunate early flirtation with flexographic printing). Even still, I’m quite fond of that old All-Star Squadron insert. To be frank, I couldn’t even tell you exactly what happened in that debut installment, only that I was still young enough to be excited by the prospect of a new comic book showing me adventures and characters I hadn’t experienced before. That’s a valuable memory all by itself.

Logan Polk: This August will mark the twentieth anniversary of the debut of Aztek, the Ultimate Man. Created by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and N. Steven Harris, I still remember being blown away by that first issue. It was almost the antithesis to what was so very popular (and sadly still is), the grim n’ gritty superhero. So much so that we see the as-yet-unnamed Aztek take on a Punisher knock-off named Bloodtype in the first issue. Bloodtype is attempting to stop a robbery by a low level villain with lethal force, and as happens in the world of caped crusaders, the would be hero happens to be in line at the time and eventually comes to the defense of the pummeled bad guy. I still get a kick out of the fact that Millar would go on to write some incredibly dark material and Morrison went on to have a lengthy run on Batman, concepts and a character they are pretty much taking down a peg with the first issue of Aztek. I haven’t revisited it the book in awhile, but it’s a character whose first appearance definitely had an impact on me, and made me rethink what I wanted from superhero comics.

Joe Gualtieri: I’m cheating slightly with my answer, in several ways. Back in 1996, at the conclusion of the Onslaught saga, Marvel killed off the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Hard to believe in this day in age, but sales were not great, so they hired Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to try their hand those books, free of regular Marvel continuity for a year. With a chunk of the line gone, Marvel revived some old concepts (Heroes for Hire) gave some newer characters their own on-going series for the first time (Deadpool) and put out one all-new book, with some incredibly generic looking characters, titled Thunderbolts by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley.

The team first appeared in Incredible Hulk #449, which hinted at secret for the team. From there, they briefly appeared in Tales of the Marvel Universe (mostly a preview book for the post-Onslaught line, like the All-New Marvel specials today). Both of these stories, however, occur-in universe after Thunderbolts #1, so in a way, it is still the teams debut. As expected from those generic ads, Thunderbolts #1 is pretty boring. Competent, but boring. The team consists of Citizen V (the team patriot), Techno (the tech guy), Atlas (the big, strong guy), Meteorite (the hard-nosed female character), Songbird (the ingénue), and Mach-1 (the guy in a powered suit). Then, about three-pages from end, while the rest of the team is watching about themselves on TV, Citizen V strolls in without his mask on, and also without a face, because he’s actually Helmut Zemo and the whole team are members of his Masters of Evil team from Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story that ran in Avengers #270-277 (so again, not really the team’s first appearance).

It’s impossible to imagine this happening today. Someone would leak something to a rumor site or Marvel would tell a mainstream news outlet the Tuesday before Thunderbolts #1 hit shelves. At the time, this was something a friend told you about, and told you nothing about it except that you absolutely had to go buy Thunderbolts. That twist is one of my all-time favorite moments reading comics, and one bolstered by how great the subsequent eleven issues are, as Busiek and Bagley explore how being seen as heroes affects (or doesn’t) the Thunderbolts. Of course, the book lasted past that initial arc as well, becoming a Marvel mainstay.

TWC Question Time #22: Introductions

This week’s question: what’s your favorite introduction to a volume of comics?

Scott Cederlund: Reading Michael Chabon’s introduction to the Image/Dynamite American Flagg! collection, you’d think that AF creator Howard Chaykin was a spitfire of a comic book maker and you’d be right.  From that introduction, you can tell that Chabon has spent a lot of time poring over old issues of American Flagg!, trying to discover the source of the  alchemy that Chaykin was concocting.  His image of Chaykin rests somewhere between artistic genius and journeyman as he focuses a lot on the craft of American Flagg! Viewing AF as the perfect blend of pop, cynicism and an eye towards the future, Chabon’s piece on the comic identifies it as a great piece of American literature/art from the early 1980s.

This piece was first originally published as an essay named “The Killer Hook” in Chabon’s 2008 book Maps and Legends, a collection of essays on everything from architecture to Will Eisner and Sherlock Holmes.  In those essays, Chabon was trying to map out his own influences and idols within his own work.  There are a couple of essays that talk about comics in the book but the essay on Chaykin serves as much as an introduction to the creator as it does to the creation.  Chabon’s writing about Chaykin places Chaykin in a much broader pantheon of American artists than just among the small pool of comic creators.  Chaykin isn’t talked about in the context of Frank Miller or John Byrne.  Chabon compares and contrasts him to musicians like Brian Wilson and Paul Simon, to Orson Welles (and AF! to Citizen Kane,) and to writers like Chandler and Hammett.  

Chabon’s introduction to American Flagg! sings the book’s praises while making an argument for it to be considered among the great works of American popular art.  “American Flagg! stands at the glorious midpoint, at that difficult fulcrum between innocence and experience, romance and disillusion, adventure and satire, the unashamedly commercial and the purely aesthetic… Such balancing acts have always been the greatest feats of American popular art,” he concludes.  Chabon’s examination of Chaykin and his hinted at the disappointment that nothing Chaykin did afterwards found that perfect balance sets up the experience of reading American Flagg! as something more than just another comic book.  Yes, it is a comic book but it’s also Howard Chaykin, an American storyteller, right there on each and every page showing you the world but through his distinct and creative point of view.  

Joe Gualtieri: There are quite a few comics introductions I love. A few weeks ago, I wrote a little about how the intro and foreword help make the 1988 version of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told a superior version of such a collection. With his introduction for The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore created a seminal piece of superhero comics criticism. The introductions to the different editions of early Justice League International collections create an indelible portrait of Keith Giffen as a serpentine figure, forever lurking around the corner and hissing “Jussssticcccce League” at editor Andy Helfer.

Arguably the one that’s made the biggest impression on me though, is Warren Ellis’s for Hellblazer: Fear and Loathing, which collects the title’s transition from DC’s non-imprint “mature readers” imprint to Vertigo. It is a fine example of a formulaic introduction. As Ellis himself notes, “where’s the checklist? I’ve pretty much covered the ‘I know Garth, which is why I’m writing this’ bit, done the quick bio bit, done the history bit, and the sad licrit bit.” What makes the piece particularly interesting is that “sad litcrit bit”:

What’s John protecting these things from? Authority. With the capital A. These are stories about what authority does to people, about the poison in its foundations. You can substitute Authority for Government, for the Establishment, even for God, and it all means the same thing: someone exerting control they did not earn and do not deserve, grinding lives into shit largely because they feel like it.

Three years after writing that passage, Ellis would be writing a superhero comic titled The Authority. Two to three years after that, Ellis would create a stir on his message board, The Warren Ellis Forum, by declaring that the Authority were the villains of their own comic. This is not really the place for a long, drawn out discussion about authorial intent, but the connection between The Authority and this passage has long fascinated me, especially given that The Authority is very much a liberal power fantasy in a way rarely seen in the genre since the early days of Superman in Action Comics. The passage arguably even anticipates the structure of The Authority, since the in the first arc they take on a singular government, in the second the corrupt establishment running an alternate Earth, and finally, they fight god. So it’s totally weird, but I love this intro because of how it connects to a completely different work by the same author.

Mike Sterling: I’m actually not one to read introductions, to be frank. I usually skip right over ‘em and plunge right into the funnybookin’ for which I actually purchased the book. There are always exceptions, of course, particularly when it’s a foreword by a person (or persons) of particular interest to me. There’s that Penn Jillette intro to a volume of Preacher, or an old college professor of mine writing the foreword to a Sandman volume…but the trade paperback introduction that sticks in my mind is not so much because of who wrote it but what it was about.

One of dopiest events to come out of the late '80s comics boom was the “A Death in the Family” Batman story, in which fans were encouraged to call actual phone numbers, in those pre-easy-access-to-the-Internet days, to vote on whether or not Batman’s latest iteration of Robin, Jason Todd, would survive his assault by the Joker. Of course, the majority voted thumbs-down, because who doesn’t like a good killing, and when all was said and done, demand was so great to read a story in which the Joker gained diplomatic immunity by becoming the Iranian ambassador (sigh…yes, really) that a cheap trade paperback was rush-printed. It was only $3.95 in its initial printing, so sure, it was terrible, but such good value! And adding to that value was a new introduction written, most likely, by editor Denny O'Neil.

The introduction was titled “The Death of a Boy Wonder,” supposedly written by “Dr. Socrates S. Rodor, Professor Emeritus of Twentieth Century History, Gotham University.” It was written an “in-universe” essay, commenting upon archaeologically-derived knowledge of the existence of super-heroes, and in particular the history of Batman and his multiple Robins. Of particular note is the emphasis placed on specific durations of time, such as noting that Dick Grayson’s tenure as Robin lasted about six years, and that Batman was partnerless for about a year and half. Such specific references are rare in the actual comics, so it was unusual and interesting to see them mentioned here. 
There is a sense of humor present as well, with some in-jokes and references that were probably borne of whatever insanely tight deadline under which this foreword was produced. It’s noted that in the time of Professor Rodor, much information about Batman’s period was lost in the “Great Implosion,” almost certainly a nod to the “DC Implosion” of title cancellations suffered by the publisher in the 1970s. There’s a footnote wondering why Robin’s brightly-colored costume contrasted so with Batman’s darker coloring, which is perhaps a reference to the old joke about “Robin, the Boy Target” (“he’s there to draw fire”). There’s the aside suggesting that Batman was was too dour a person to be as frivolous as to attach “Bat-” prefixes to all his equipment, and here’s the comment that Batman in no way would have encouraged Robin’s “Holy _____!” exclamations. 

This introduction, in an odd little way, is a deconstruction of sorts of the Batman myth, in line with Frank Miller’s own examination of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ examination of the genre in toto in Watchmen. It looks at the specifics of the character, holds up some pieces of it for closer examination and near-dismissal, and as a whole is probably more entertaining and informative that the reprinted comics it prefaces. So of course this foreword has been removed from more recent editions of this trade paperback (along with O'Neil’s back cover quote about how it would be a “cheap trick” to bring Todd back…which DC eventually did). It’s worth seeking out the early versions of the A Death in the Family trade just for the introduction. You should read the comics, too, at least once, just to see the sort of thing folks would get excited about in the 1980s.

TWC Question Time #21: Cover Artists

This week’s question: Who’s your favorite cover artist?

Logan Polk: I’m torn with this question. For me cover art is like a song; I love ones that tell stories, but I also really dig big splashy pieces that usually don’t contribute much to anything at all. But, just like there are songs you hear and you think “I must buy that album,” immediately, there’s one cover artist who will get me to pick up an issue of anything, and that’s Alex Ross. I don’t think he’s the best in the business, probably not even close, and he’s likely done as many bad covers as he has good ones, but if I see a Ross cover I will pick up the book. I may not always buy it, unless it’s in the discount bin, but there’s always a moment I’ll at least consider it.

Joe Gualtieri: One of the great ironies of the current age of comics is that even as the collectible side of the industry has placed a great emphasis than ever before on covers (witness both the variant market and how certain back issues become hot solely because of their covers), for about the past 15 years there’s been an increasing divorce between the cover and the content. Long gone are the days when Mort Weisinger would come up with a cover idea to dictate the story (I was tempted to make Weisinger my answer, despite him not actually being a cover artist). A lot of the blame for this squarely falls on Marvel’s shoulders, where the Quesada/Jemas regime began to favor “iconic” covers that told you nothing about the content of the issue (and crucially, could be kept on a comic even if the contents changed without making it returnable). I’ve never been overly pleased by this trend, but forced to pick one cover artist, I’m going to pick the artist arguably as responsible for the trend as anyone else, Bryan Hitch.
Hitch was a solid artist for years before joining Warren Ellis on Stormwatch volume two, but the combination worked remarkably well, so well that Ellis revived the title as The Authority to keep working with Hitch. Critical discussion of that work has usually centered on the widescreen presentation within the comic itself, but I adore those covers. They strike a balance between telling something about the story inside (as they are not all static shots of the group’s members) and providing iconic images. When Hitch moved to Marvel and The Ultimates, his covers became less representative of the story, but still managed to convey more character other those for other books in the line.
I’d never argue that Hitch is the best cover artist in comics history, but that run of covers on The Authority and The Ultimates is solid, unforgettable bunch that for better or for worse, helped to define the comic cover for the twentieth-first century.

Mike Sterling: In thinking about my favorite cover artists, I suppose one should really focus on technical proficiency, design, a little bit of flashiness, and so on. However, I’m going to have to go with just straight-up nostalgia in my choice.
As a young Mikester slowly feeling his way through the comics art form in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the superhero I took the most liking to was, of course, the most popular of them all: Superman. And boy, did I read a lot of Superman, in digests, in more high-end reprint volumes (as previously discussed), and, naturally, in the monthly newsstand comics. Curt Swan was my preferred artist on the Super-books (as also previously discussed) but he rarely provided cover art.
The art team that did frequently provide the covers was Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, whose work became as familiar to me as Swan’s. I remember thinking it was odd that they didn’t provide the artwork inside – not that I was complaining, because, as I said, as long as it was Swan I was happy. “Maybe they’ll get to do some interior work, someday,” I thought, ignorant as I was of the artistic history of both these talented gentlemen. I would later learn of Giordano’s long history in the business, as well as Andru’s (who did draw Spider-Man for many a year, after all).
Eventually, I got to experience Ross Andru’s storytelling first hand in the Superman and His Incredible Fortress of Solitude treasury edition…Giordano didn’t ink the story, but he was there with his longtime cover-collaborator on the wraparound exterior!
Andru and Giordano didn’t just do covers for Superman, but across the DC publishing line. It was on Superman, however, that they left their mark on me, forever entwined with my love of Curt Swan’s work on the character. It wasn’t the flashiest. It wasn’t the most dynamic. Still, though, the sight of their cover art always gives me a good strong poke in the nostalgia gland,reminding me of that time when every Superman story was fresh and new to me, and every copy of his comic that I came across and hadn’t yet read held the promise of entertaining adventure. .

TWC Question Time #20: Number Ones

This week’s question: To celebrate the new year, what’s your favorite #1 issue?

Tim Durkee: My favorite first issue is Justice League. I’m referring to the 1987 series written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis with pencils by Kevin Maguire. I was always a fan of the JLA, even the Detroit era. DC’s ads (featuring a picture of the cover of the first issue) for the book had me anticipating the release, and I was not disappointed after that long – or what seemed to be a long – wait for the release. Everything about that cover just teased the readers that this was going to be a very different JLA book than what we were used to. I knew it was going to be a fun title; I don’t know how I knew that as I did not have any inside information about it. I followed the book seriously for about two- dozen issues and then casually for another two dozen. The cover is still one of my favorites, and the first 24 issues along with the first two annuals are in my “Forever Box: not for sale, not for trade.” Yes, I do have several of those. Just the right amount of action, along with a well-written cast makes this version a great read. Grab a copy of the first issue and see for yourself.

Logan Polk: This might be the hardest comic book related question anyone’s ever asked me. My collection is filled with first issues to series, many of which never saw a proper end, with just as many that are nothing but relaunches for book that needed a sales bump. To pick my favorite? That’s a Herculean task of the geeky kind.

The obvious choice is probably X-Force #1. I know, I know; typical ‘90s comic, Liefeld, blah blah, but like I said in last week’s QT, it was Cable that pulled me completely in to the world of comics. Still, other than the cover, I don’t actually remember too much about that first issue. Probably because I didn’t read it until months after it hit the stands, possibly a year.

Qualifying something as your favorite would mean it would have to have had an impact, making itself memorable in a significant way. That narrows down the choices a great deal, and the first #1 issue I recall doing that was The Maxx #1 by Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs. I still remember opening that book and being both perplexed and thoroughly engaged by the dialogue and the pseudo-superheroics of Kieth’s Br'er Lappin; the juxtaposition of his grimy cityscape and The Outback, the way his characters weren’t action figures (outside of Maxx that is), the opening monologue from his cardboard box, the ride in the police car, the introductions of Julie, Gone and those creepy Isz. It’s a series I’ve owned in multiple formats, and that first issue has never gone out of my mind.

Mike Sterling: Picking out my favorite first issue is a challenge…which series are my favorite is a lot easier, since those are much longer bodies of work with which to form an opinion. But trying to remember just that one issue, separate from your memories of the issues that followed, the single installment that grabbed your eyeballs and fed itself directly into your mind, embedded forever in your fondest comic-reading memories – well, that’s certainly the trick, isn’t it?

There have been plenty of great first issues, of course. Fantastic Four is a brilliant transition between the sci-fi/monster books of 1950s Atlas and the 1960s superhero universe of Marvel. The first issue of the recent She-Hulk series really knocked me for a loop. I still have some fondness for the debut issue of John Byrne’s Alpha Flight. And so on. I appreciate these as solid examples of comic-booking, but they lack the specific emotional component that made me decide on what exactly is my favorite #1.

And that would be The Saga of the Swamp Thing #1 from 1982.

“Whoa, now hold on there a minute, Mike,” those of you who have some familiarity with my particular tastes may be saying to yourselves. “Now, picking a Swamp Thing comic is no surprise, but the Marty Pasko/Tom Yeates Saga the of Swamp Thing #1 and not the original considered-by-everyone-to-be-a-classic Swamp Thing #1 by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson from 1972? Have you done flipped your gourd at last?”
Well, lemme 'splain. My entry into the world of Swamp Thing fandom was two-fold: through old copies of the '70s series found in a used book store, and the ancient Nickelodeon program Video Comics which would present a comic panel-by-panel onscreen with narration and sound effects (as seen here). I spent some time piecing together that original series, in whatever order I could find them, reading and rereading the books once the holes were filled, and wondering what I was missing. I knew those Swamp Thing stories were out there, and I knew the series was over and done, with no more continuing adventures coming after I completed that run. Well, aside maybe from a guest-appearance or of Brave and the Bold or DC Comics Presents here and there, but that was hardly the same.

Until, of course, the new Saga of the Swamp Thing series was announced. None of the folks from the original series were involved, beyond co-creator Len Wein as editor, but that was fine. The old comics were great, but they were the old comics. They were done. Wein and Wrightson and Kraft and Michelinie and Redondo weren’t doing new stories, and even as I was putting together that original run, I realized this was a finite thing. Once that was done, that was it.A new series, however…! That’s a promise of a new issue only a month away from the current issue you have in your hot little hands! And you don’t need to go out on a treasure hunt to find that next installment, as it’ll be coming, freshly printed, to a newsstand near you!

Sure, that first issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing wasn’t the same as the older stuff, and maybe it wasn’t quite up to the classic material in the original 10 issues by Wein and Wrightson. But it was good, and for someone who was certain that he was just about to have all the Swamp Thing there ever was, knowing that, for at least a while, there was going to be brand-new, previously untold tales of his favorite character coming each and every month was welcome news indeed.

So that’s why Saga of the Swamp Thing #1 is my favorite first issue. Not so much about the actual quality of the content (which, as previously noted, I enjoyed just fine) but for the promise that single comic book held: that there would be more of these Swamp Thing comic books forthcoming.

Joe Gualtieri: This question was a lot harder than it seemed on the surface. TV pilots are notorious for not always resembling what a show becomes, and the same is true of comics series as well. There’s also the matter some of the best comics #1s are not really #1s at all, like Amazing Fantasy #15 or New X-Men #114 (which is surely better than any X-Men comic that actually has a #1 in the corner box). It was sorely tempting to subvert the intent of the question and go with Invisibles v3 #1, which is actually the last issue of the series.

Ultimately though, I was over-thinking it and missing the obvious—Action Comics #1, specifically the Superman story. Taken out of context, it’s an action-packed story that does a great job of establishing Superman as a champion of the oppressed and the love triangle between Superman, Lois Lane, and Clark Kent. Lane, interestingly, isn’t an ace reporter for the Daily Star, but instead an advice columnist; her fiery personality is all-there, however, as she slaps a gangster who interrupts her date with Kent.

What really makes me love the first Superman strip though, is Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator. Published in 1930, Gladiator is a turgid sci-fi novel about Hugo Danner, whose father experimented on him in the womb, resulting in Danner possessing super-strength, invulnerability, and the ability to leap great distances. Sound familiar? The difference between Danner and Superman is one of personality. Danner is a whiny shit who agonizes over what he should do with his great power. In a way, you might say Wylie invented the Marvel superhero, 30 years before Stan Lee. The issue of whether or not Jerry Siegel read Gladiator has been somewhat controversial, but apparently he admitted reading it in an unpublished autobiography. Anyone who reads both Gladiator and Action #1 would have little doubt that was the case though, as many of the vignettes in Action come off as direct responses to scenes from Gladiator. Unlike Danner, Superman never hesitates to use his powers to do good and in his very first adventure tackles gangsters, wife-beaters, corrupt politicians, and saves an innocent man from the electric chair. In context, the whole comic reads like a response to Gladiator, one that finds it wanting and desires to show how a man with superpowers should act. It makes for an exhilarating and generally up-lifting read, and means that the aspirational aspects of Superman, which are the best parts of the characters, were there from day one

TWC Question Time #19 The Gift of Comics

This week’s question: What is the greatest comics gift you’ve ever received? TWC editor/publisher Alan David Doane shared his response Monday to coincide with Stan Lee’s 93rd birthday. Now let’s find out what everyone else had to say:

Logan Polk: Oddly enough, I’ve received very few comics as gifts in my 20-plus years of reading. Even if that weren't the case, I think Uncanny X-Men #201 would still be my favorite of the bunch. Written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Rick Leonardi, it features the first appearance of Nathan Summers, son of Scott Summers and Madelyn Pryor, the young baby that would grow up to become Cable.

Cable is my favorite character in all of comics; in fact the mystery of his backstory is largely responsible for fueling my interest in the medium as a teen. So, of course after tons of speculation, and eventually a reveal of his lineage, Uncanny #201 became kind of a lesser holy grail, with New Mutants #87, his first appearance as Cable, being the true biggie. While I’m sure I’d have preferred the more expensive NM #87 at the time, I’ll never forget the smile on my Dad’s face when I opened the carefully wrapped so-it-doesn’t-look-like-a-comic box with #201, and how happy it made him to see me freak out about it. It may be my favorite gift of all time.

Joe Gualtieri: In 1989, like seemingly everyone else on the planet, eight-year-old me was Batman mad. I watched reruns of the ‘60s TV series, got the lousy Toybiz action figures, and started reading the monthly comic (my first superhero comic). Come Christmas morning, there was a treasure haul of Batman-related items under the tree, mainly more upscale Toybiz items, but there was also The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.

Originally published in 1988, by the Warner Books division created to sell Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, GBSET followed a similarly-titled Superman volume and served to celebrate Batman’s fiftieth anniversary. It’s the second of DC’s more-or-less every ten years rotation of printing such collections. In the ‘70s, Crown Publishing released the From the ‘30s to the ‘70s line, which are some of, if not the earliest comic-sized reprint collections. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s had the Greatest Stories line. The aughts used the same title for the line, but placed the character or team’s name in front (so you had Batman: the Greatest Stories Ever Told). Now, in the 2010s, there’s the A Celebration of 75 Years line. Among its other influences, I blame GBSET with making me enjoy picking up the different versions to compare them. I admit my prejudice, but the presentation of the eighties/nineties line strikes me as the best of the four. The introductions, forewords, and endnotes all give a sense of context, of how the stories were chosen, and of stories that did not make the cut. They’re also illustrated with tons of covers from stories not included in the volume, and to this day, I get thrill whenever I see any of those covers, because I spent years wanting to read many of them.

As for the actual comics included, GBSET is not perfect, but it’s close, and clearly influenced a lot of my taste in comics (and comics greats). The book opens with two of the notorious early tales where Batman uses a gun – the Mad Monk two-parter by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane, and the Hugo Strange Monster Men story from Batman #1. Matt Wagner would later modernize both of them. Both of these are wonderfully moody stories that hold up today. After some decent ‘40s and ‘50s issues comes “The First Batman” and “Robin Dies at Dawn,” both by Bill Finger and Shelly Moldoff. Those two stories would be major touchstones for Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel’s Batman: RIP storyline. Even at eight, I thought revealing someone had hired Joe Chill was going a bit too far with Batman’s origin, but Moldoff’s design for Thomas Wayne’s costume is inspired and justifies the story. “Robin Dies at Dawn” is the volume’s sole representative of the weird sci-fi era Batman stories, and it’s fantastic, completely tense and psychologically terrifying. “Ghost of the Killer Skies” by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano is probably responsible for my love of Enemy Ace. The story features Batman going up against a descendant of von Hammer. The weird thing about the story is that actually came out in the middle of the original run of Enemy Ace stories, but O’Neil completely makes it feel like a tribute to something from years ago. There’s an odd little running sub-theme of aeronautics in GBSET, as one of the forties stories included centered on Batman building a new Batplane and it also includes the gorgeous “Death Haunts the Skies” by Archie Goodwin and Alex Toth. “The Batman Nobody Knows” by Frank Robbins and Giordano has sort-of been adapted twice, once as part of Batman: the Animated Series and later as Batman: Gotham Knight. I say sort-of, because they take the idea of the story, which is three kids on a camping trip talking about the “real” Batman, while having their own spins on the stories the kids tell.

Of all the stories in GBSET, “The Deadshot Ricochet” probably had the most profound effect on my tastes. Taken from Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s legendary (but brief) Detective Comics run, the issue is part of an attempt to translate the Marvel style to DC and probably imprinted itself on me as the best sort of superhero comics. The comic contains a one-in-done main plot, but has subplots involving supporting characters feed from issue to issue (the two issues after “Ricochet” are included in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, which I got within the next year).  Batman’s love interest here, Silver St. Cloud, makes more of an impression than any of the other non-Catwoman paramours in the volume by figuring out his secret identity, making her quite different from the Julie Madisons and Vicki Vales.The issue is also heavy on nostalgia for the comics of yesteryear, as the climactic fight is a tribute to the work of Dick Sprang and the villain is one forgotten and unseen for nearly 25 years at the time of the story’s publication. I’m also sure reading the comic at age eight is at least part of why, to this day, Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton is one of my favorite characters. A lot of that has to do with subsequent work on the character by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Christos Gage, Gail Simone, and many others, but the Englehart/Rogers revamp of Deadshot makes an immediate impression, which is why the character didn’t disappear the way he originally did after Batman #59. Lawton’s desire for revenge is utterly palpable, and that design! It’s completely ridiculous and comic book-y, but you can’t stop looking at it and admiring it!

“Batmite’s New York Adventure” by Bob Rozakis, Michael Golden, Bob Smith, and Anthony Tollin is the oddest story included in the volume. It really shouldn’t be in there, but it probably influenced my love of metafictional comics. “A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman Away” is a trifling comic by Len Wein, Walter Simonson, Giordano, and Petra Scotese, but it’s an utterly gorgeous one, and a comic I think I think about nearly every day. That’s no exaggeration, as in it, Wein teaches the audience the roots names of the days of the week through Calender Man’s week-long crime spree!

The volume closes out with two of Alan Brennert’s then-handful of comics (now closer to two handfuls), “To Kill a Legend” with Giordano and Adrienne Roy and “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” with Joe Staton, George Freeman, and Lovern Kindzierski. These comics served as my introduction to DC’s multiverse. In the first story, the Phantom Stranger presents the Batman of Earth-1 with the chance to prevent the death of the Waynes on an alternate Earth (possibly Earth Prime). As with most of Brennert’s stories, it does a great job of distilling characters with long life-spans down into just a few pages, as while Batman obsesses over small differences making stopping Joe Chill not as easy he thought it would be, while Robin questions the rightness of depriving a world seemingly without superheroes of its Batman. “Autobiography” is the “last” story of the Earth-2 Batman, as he teams up with Catwoman to find out why everyone he loves has vanished. The answer touches on the fear of abandonment that’s driven the character since the day he lost his parents and ends with him finally entering into a relationship with Catwoman. These are great stories to end the book on, as “Legend” has obvious callbacks to other stories included in the volume while “Autobiography” provides a happy ending. In a way, this is all the Batman you’d ever need and I got it from my parents at eight years old.

Tim Durkee: I have received many comic books as Christmas gifts over the years. The ones I remember specifically were packed with other toys. Kenner released the Super Powers line of toys. They were the DC heroes and villains. I still feel the figures themselves were some of the better ones produced then and even now. Each figure came with its own mini-comic. That year Santa brought me Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern. There was nothing about the stories in the books that was memorable. Just the fact they came with some really cool toys is why I will always remember those as the Christmas Comics I will always remember.


Mike Sterling: This was a hard question to answer, forcing me to go way back to my long-ago pre-comics retail days. For the last, oh, nearly thirty years or so as I’ve worked in, and now own, a comic shop, pretty much any comic book I wanted I generally bought for myself. And even farther back than that, as someone who regularly visited the local comic shop, I was getting my mitts on just about any comic I was interested in. And, as I’m sure you know, it’s really hard to buy comics for someone as a gift unless 1) you have access to that person’s want list, or 2) the giftee’s told you the specific comic desired.
Prior to that, sometime in the late 1970s, I was already slowly amassing a bit of a comic collection, but I wasn’t quite the Big Time Collector just yet. However, I was always on the lookout for anything comic book related, searching for any new sources to feed this burgeoning interest of mine. This was usually restricted to bicycle tours around all the local convenience stores, seeing what comics would appear on which racks, and seeking out new 7-11s and Stop-n-Go shops at greater and greater distances from my home. Plus, when I would go with my parents on shopping trips, I would zero in on any book or magazine racks that I could find.

It was on one such trip to a department store, one that I’d already known from previous visits did not carry reading material of any kind, that I discovered quite the surprise. I believe it was around Christmastime, as what I found was part of a display of gift ideas. Among the other knickknacks and boring items intended for adults, was a copy of Superman: From the ‘30s to the '70s. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a book before. Maybe I’d come across the Origins of Marvel Comics and Sons of Origins at the library, but my particular funnybook leanings at the time were toward DC’s output, and a big hardcover book of Superman stories, pulled from throughout the character’s long five-decade history? Why, that was amazing. I remember pleading with my mom to buy this book for me, despite the fact that the dust jacket was torn and the book had obviously been kicked around a bit. The condition didn’t matter as much as the content; here were a ton of Superman comics that were all new to me, and I couldn’t leave behind such a unique find! This was the only copy of this book that I’d ever found, and surely if we left it behind, I would never see it again! Well, needless to say, my mom opted not to spend her money on this beat-up book, which I’m sure bummed me out at the time.  However, Christmas wasn’t that far away, and sure enough, my desire for that item was definitely passed along to Santa Claus, for beneath the tree that 25th was a pristine copy of  Superman: From the '30s to the '70s.

It’s an odd book, with a smattering of color pages in otherwise mostly black and white interiors, often going from color to b&w in the middle of a story. I remember thinking that was a bit weird at the time, but I didn’t care. This was a large, permanent edition of classic Superman stories and I was glad to have it. Not that I wasn’t open to getting comics in any format, but being able to have comics in something other than the periodical magazine format was a real eye-opener. The very idea that comics didn’t have to be cheap disposable entertainment, that they could have a life beyond their particular month on the shelves, that they could have historical context…maybe that wasn’t an idea exclusive to the Superman: From the '30s to the '70s book, but it was that publication that solidified it for me.

Years later, I was visiting a bookstore in a local mall when I happened to spot a copy of the revised edition of the book, Superman: From the '30s to the '80s, sitting by itself on a small table in one of the aisles. I wondered then how many kids begged their parents to buy them that book. I hope someone did.