In our last episode, Tim went on a tangent from describing buying G.I. Joe comics and this week the tangent expands!
The title of this series of articles refers to G.I. Joe issue #90, and how scanning just a few pages kicked off a sequence of events that turned me from a G.I. Joe fan who liked reading into a comic book collector/reader for life. And how one issue of G.I. Joe became the next one, and then the older ones, and all the newest ones, and then The ‘Nam.
But something had to bridge my brother and I into the Marvel Universe proper, since Joe and The ‘Nam were both in their own universes. Kevin and I didn’t know anything about super-heroes, which is what most of Marvel and DC Comics publish. To put this in context, it’s important to remember than in the 1980s, super-heroes had no cultural footprint. My 2nd grade sticker album had a Colossus sticker (from a junk store or a birthday party favor), but I had no idea who he was. The Superman films crashed and burned with the embarrassing Quest For Peace. The Incredible Hulk was relegated to a few made-for-TV movies that were more dramatic than super-heroic. The 1966 Batman TV series showed up in reruns some summers, but it had little effect on us. Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was over, and we hadn’t ever watched it anyway. I didn’t pay attention to the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip, but if I did I would have noticed how little happens. This is still a decade and a half before Marvel’s live-action films, starting with Blade and X-Men, shook up Hollywood. It’s still years before Fox’s Spider-Man cartoon, Fox’s Batman: The Animated Series, and any live-action Batman sequels.
So rather than super-heroes plural, we only had a sense of Batman. Certainly the Batmania of 1989 was enough for our pop culture appetite, but in terms of comic books, there was no entry point. Whatever was needed to get us into DC Comics hadn’t happened yet. But in the pages of G.I. Joe and The ‘Nam were checklists and ads for other Marvel books. And the Marvel logo on the top left corner was familiar, so if we were to try out something super-heroic, it would likely be Marvel. So as 6th grade was winding down, a full year after we started G.I. Joe, Kevin led the way into the Marvel Universe, tugged by the giant gun and overwhelming coolness of this:
And what a perfect entre. The Punisher isn’t a super-hero, but he interacts with them. As a Vietnam vet, Frank Castle was the bridge to the other two comics we read – one about Vietnam and the other with occasional flashbacks to it. And again, we were boys who liked guns. The Punisher may get slammed or ignored for being a one-note vigilante book, but that’s an unfair judgment. Even the stories lacking pathos are exciting action tales, and a handful of stories from the 1980s – notably Grant and Zeck’s “Circle of Blood” and the odd Mike Baron yarn – are smart and compelling. And to my surprise, Garth Ennis’ 2004-2008 run on the character comprises some of the most satisfying comics I’ve ever read. (But they’re bloody and grim, and not for everyone.)
A month after Punisher War Journal #19, we picked up (the regular) Punisher with issue #35, which happened to be the start of a 6-part, biweekly-shipping story arc. Two months later, we took the super-hero plunge with Uncanny X-Men #268. (Which doesn’t modestly flaunt super-powers since the three spotlight characters in this one issue don’t fly or shoot eye beams.) Another two months later it was Daredevil, with issue 286. Again, another grounded hero. While Matt Murdock does have enhanced senses, he doesn’t fly and he doesn’t shoot eye beams, and his costume is as restrained as super-hero tights go. And even if he had been over the top, we were primed by now. Somewhere in there was Wolverine #24 as well, a character a friend in school had talked up. (And written a paper about.)
I don’t want to overdo it on this street-level, depowered bit. Super-heroes with fantastic powers could well have grabbed us earlier, and we would likely have accepted it. Sci-fi and fantasy were a-okay in ours books. I loved Transformers and Tron, Kevin was getting into Dungeons and Dragons, and we both liked the animated G.I. Joe: The Movie, even with its 40,000 year-old Himalayan snake man who wants to conquer Earth. Make that re-conquer Earth. But the path is worth noting, that we didn’t jump into super-heroes immediately. It probably says more about culture than us. Had we been born five years later we’d probably have been watching Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers instead of reading the black and white Turtles book and ignoring Power Rangers.
During that first year, while purchasing only 6 monthly comic book series our collection went from one comic book to more than fifty. You’ve already read about that first mail order shipment, but what was different about the next one? Tune in next week to find out!