Sunday, October 2, 2016

My Love Affair with Comic Books – Part 1

Funny how the mind works. I can’t remember what I wore to work last week—but I can very clearly tell you all about my earliest comic book reads.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Comic book characters have always been a part of my life.

Even before I learned how to read I was already immersed in the magic of superheroes thanks to television. Waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch the classic George Reeves Adventures of Superman show was a weekly ritual.

One of the things I loved and still love about the show is that not only was Superman cool—but so was Clark Kent.

The Batman show starring Adam West, Burt Ward, and Yvonne Craig was another huge influence on me.

Of course, as a child I was blissfully unaware of the show’s intentional campiness. It was only as an adult during a recent re-viewing of the series on BluRay that I truly learned to appreciate the show’s genius—particularly the performances from the main cast and supporting players.

The other early influences from my pre-elementary school days were the jazzy Spider-Man and Fantastic Four cartoons. (And yes, I’m talking about the FF show which starred the Human Torch—this was way pre-Herbie.)

These shows were my gateway into the world of comics. Their combined impact on me can not be overstated.

By the time my family moved to Orlando and I started first grade I was hooked on the genre for life.

Soon after, the Super Friends cartoon and live action versions of Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk (thanks to the earnest portrayal of these iconic characters by Lynda Carter, Bill Bixby, and Lou Ferrigno) helped fuel my love of superheroes.

And let’s not forget Shazam and Isis, another Saturday morning staple.

My first exposure to Captain America and some of the other Marvel characters came in the form of the Marvel Superheroes show with the catchy but cheesy theme songs which showcased artwork from the actual comics.

“When Captain America throws his mighty shield,
All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield…”

Though I have only the vaguest of recollections of that show beyond the opening titles, it made enough of an impression on me that my parents bought me a Captain America Mego action figure.

My team of Mego heroes consisted of Batman, Superman, Robin, Green Arrow, Captain America, Batgirl, Supergirl, Aquaman, Falcon, Tarzan, and Spider-Man. Catwoman, Penguin, and the Joker were my villains. Naturally, there were numerous crossovers with Mego Star Trek and Mego Planet of the Apes. Spock’s head and Robin’s body and trunks made it possible for Sub-Mariner to make occasional appearances. I recall Kirk’s head and Green Arrow’s body and outfit being used to bring Green Lantern to life as well.

But I digress…

In terms of actual comic books, my first was a Spanish paperback collection of classic Superman stories from the Wayne Boring era.

My love of Superman (and Wonder Woman for that matter) is second only to my love of Batman, so it should come as no surprise that my second exposure to comics came in the form of the excellent Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s. I prized that book like some sort of sacred tome. It remains a prized item in my collection.

I devoured those books and have fond memories of many repeated readings. Same with several DC Treasuries that came out around that time.

The special all-villains Batman Treasury sports one of my all-time favorite covers by Jim Aparo. Inside, the book was filled with vintage appearances by some of Batman’s most nefarious foes, including Scarecrow’s origin and a collected newspaper strip featuring Two Face. My fave, though, was the chilling Joker tale that opened the book—“The Cross Country Crimes.”

The Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Batman Treasury that featured the introduction of Ra’s Al Ghul and his exoticallly beautiful but deadly daughter Talia totally blew me away.

This was a Batman I’d only seen hints of before. Little did I realize at the time the importance of O’Neil/Adams’ seminal run on the Bat books. I may have been under 10 years old at the time, but I still knew badass cool when I saw it. Needless to say, I was hooked!

The Super Friends Treasury introduced me to the Justice League of America.
It featured two book-length thrillers in classic JLA action by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky.

Alex Toth provided the iconic front and back covers along with some pages bridging the two stories. There was also a secrets-behind-the-making-of-the-Super-Friends featurette.

The two stories reprinted in the Treasury are from JLA #s 36 and 61. They remain two of my favorite JLA tales from that era.

“Operation Jail the Justice League” hinged on the charming conceit of having the various Justice Leaguers pose as Green Arrow to solve a mystery.

In one of the funnier moments, Wonder Woman realizes she may have to rethink her strategy.

In “The Case of the Disabled Justice League” the JLA members are forced to overcome various handicaps.

I love how the Leaguers’ main concern is to show the disabled kids they’d been visiting how to depend on themselves to overcome their own physical handicaps.
A cool story with a great message.

Around that time is when my sporadic comic book purchases began.

But that’s a story for another day.

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