Thursday, February 21, 2008


I mentioned in my previous post about my first encounters with comic books as a child. My big influence was the Batman TV show, which led me to ask for Batman comics even though I couldn’t read them. As I learned to read, I was better able to appreciate them and, by the spring of 1972, I was turning into a serious reader. So on a warm spring evening while I was out shopping with my father and older brother, I came across a comic spinner rack that changed my whole life.

It’s funny the things your brain chooses to remember. This would have otherwise been a fairly ordinary moment hardly worth registering, but I remember it as clearly as any wedding or funeral or holiday. It was a Friday evening, but still light out due to the longer spring days. I tagged along with my dad and brother Craig on a trip to the Eastpoint Shopping Center (a few months later they put a roof over the whole complex and turned it into one of those newfangled malls). Dad and Craig did a lot of things together and I would feel left out, so every once in awhile I had to assert myself and insist on going with them. Then I would be disappointed because they would talk about stuff that I was too young to understand and I would still feel left out. By the time we stopped into a drug store, I wandered off to check out the toys and stumbled across their comic spinner rack. I was immediately struck by the cover of Batman #242. The caped crusader was looking grimmer than ever, looming over the grave of Bruce Wayne (?!!), the glow of the eternal flame by the gravestone lighting Batman’s countenance from below for dramatic effect. Bruce Wayne dead but Batman alive? How could this be? I had to get this comic.

No sooner did I grab the Batman than I also spotted Justice League of America #99. I had never seen a JLA comic before, but I was familiar with the super heroes from the Saturday morning cartoon shows. This book had all the heroes together in one comic, including my fave Batman. Flipping through the pages, I also saw that they had reprinted old stories of the Atom and some guy named Sandman. This Atom looked different from the one I knew, and this Sandman guy was completely strange. Also, the artwork had a certain crudeness to it that I found appealing. At this point, I was reading the daily comic strips and I fancied doing my own comic strip when I grew up. My own attempts at drawing a comic strip were nowhere near as accomplished as the artwork I saw in these new comics, but the rough simplicity of these Golden Age stories gave me hope. I wanted this book too.

I was about to track down my dad when I noticed a third comic that I couldn’t resist. The Brave and the Bold #102 featured good ol’ Batman again along with some group called the Teen Titans. All I knew was that Robin was part of the group. Robin and Batman in a comic story together! I hadn't seen that in my brief comic reading life, so I had to see what this was all about. But now I was holding three comic books in my hand. I had never asked for more than one comic book at a time in my life. Also, these comics were 25 cents each rather than 20 cents like some of the others. As I nervously worked out my sales pitch, Dad and Craig appeared.

“I can’t make up my mind between these three books,” I whined. “I know they’re 25 cents each, but they have extra pages in them. And they have some old stories like from when you were a kid.”

“Well, let’s get them all then,” Dad stated, as if this was a no-brainer.

Thus was the difference in perspective between an adult and a child. To me, spending 75 cents on comics was an extravagance. To my dad, 75 cents was two or three packs of cigarettes which he would burn through in a day. Looking back, my dad never denied me any reading material, even if it was a hardcover that might have cost four or five dollars back then. He wanted me to read, which was a noble and understandable motivation. I didn’t see reading as something that was helpful to my development at the time; I equated it with play, and I knew how hard it was to coax my parents into buying me certain toys. Toys and books were the same in my mind, requiring equal amounts of persuasion. If only I had understood the difference in our perspectives then, maybe I could’ve talked him into getting me more comics.

Anyway, he bought me the comics and I spent the whole weekend pouring over them. There’s something about spring that fills your spirit with renewed energy and joy, and somehow I associated that burst of euphoria with the reading of those comics. Batman #242 kicked off what would become the now famous multi-part story with Ras Al-Ghul and the League of Assassins, which was reprinted in its entirety as a giant-sized treasury book. I was completely hooked with this opening chapter. The JLA story was less memorable for me, but it still got me interested in reading JLA for a couple of years. But that The Brave and the Bold with the Teen Titans really got me excited.

The young sidekicks of DC’s heavy hitters (Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Speedy, and Wonder Girl) worked together as a team like my TV favorites, The Mod Squad. This particular story had something to do with the Titans fighting Batman and his uptight, establishment grown-ups over some urban renewal project. Just like the kinds of hip, relevant stories they did on The Mod Squad. This was cool stuff to me. I was really digging comics.

I went back to school after that weekend filled with a new enthusiasm for reading. This is where the serendipity came in. Often as the school year would draw to a close and the weather would get warmer, teachers would start to get a little more permissive. In this case, my second grade teacher Ms. Morningstar told us that we could bring in comic books to class that we could share with our fellow classmates during recess periods. Hot dog! We would be allowed to read comics in class! Still more tomorrow….

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