Homeroom? A new concept. In the band room? Something I never had before. The obscene gesture I saw a classmate give to a girl in those first few minutes of that very first day? A sure signal that sixth grade was a transition in many ways. Not only was it now Middle School, it also marked my transition into public school, having a new house, in a new county, and ultimately entering into as new of a world as you could get.
And yet this new world held remarkably old cliches. Science class, for example. The teacher was an aging old man whose ineffective teaching made it easy to not pay attention, whose face made it easy to chariacture when doodling in class, and whose textbooks were large enough to hide comics inside when you were supposed to be reading about stamens and pistols.
It was my classmates who noticed my interest and ability in drawing and gave me those comics to look at. Or rather, they weren’t really comics as much as mini-encyclopedias of the comics characters. I’m talking of course about the Official Handbook of the Marvel Unvierse Deluxe Edition #3, the first comic I really remember reading. No, not just reading, but really … devouring. The part that struck me the most was the character Cyclops:
“Scott Summers was the older of the two sons of Major Christopher Summers, a test pilot in the U. S. Air Force. When Scott was a child, Major Summers flew himself, his wife Katherine, and his sons Scott and Alex back from a vacation in his vintage private plane. The plane was attacked and set ablaze by a scout ship from the alien Shi'ar Empire. Katherine pushed Scott and Alex out the plane door with the only available parachute. The parachute was unable to slow their fall sufficiently to prevent Scott from suffering a head injury on landing.”
A bit dry, sure, but even those simple words conjured amazing images to my head for this tragic character— your own father pushing you out of an airplane? Having to protect your little brother with a limited parachute? Being separated from your only family immediately after suffering brain damage? All these Marvel characters suffered some great tragedy but met it all with courage and dignity to become larger-than-life SUPERheroes… this was a mythology to capture my imagination!
This was early in the year 1986. Middle school was already turning from a strange new world into something familiar and (while often still very crummy) ws becoming at least surviveable. I continued to borrow my friends’ comics, mostly old Captain Americas, Transformers, and Secret Wars. Thankfully, there were even a bunch of old well-worn comics in the library. That’s how I got to read a scattering of Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Mans, Incredible Hulks, and others.
Also during this time, another friend of mine was getting into comics, too, and he encouraged me to buy the same titles he was getting. I don’t recall exactly if he used the word “invest” or not, but I have to admit, that was his intention, and he took it seriously. He was a miniature entrepeneur, as his attitude towards most comics pre-dated the “speculation boom” that caused the comics industry to experience a economic bubble-and-bust of its own years later. But in the meantime, though, we picked up several things that are considered time-honored classics: Batman: The Dark Knight (Frank Miller), Superman: Man of Steel (John Byrne), and Superman #423 (Alan Moore).
But aside from a few odd issues here and there, it was September 1986 when I started collecting series in earnest. And nothing seemed so exciting to me as the Marvel comics universe. This all becomes obvious when you look at the first issues that start very significant runs in my collection—they are all Marvel and they all are pubished September 1986. (Or actually July, as comics during this time were post-dated on the cover to indicate when they should be pulled from the shelf and returned to the publisher. But for sake of simplicity, I’ll just be saying September from here on out.
Now that I look back on it, I must have borrowed far more comics than I ever purchased. I can recall many, many specific covers that are both immediately familiar but also know that they were never in my collection. There are even more that were picked up and sampled but never became a habit. As the years went on, however, I picked up more and more titles on an on-going basis, starting sometimes well into the series’ run--
1987 April = Alpha Flight #45
X-Men vs the Avengers #1
Mephisto vs. #1
1987 February Marvel Age 47
1987 February Avengers #276
Fantastic Four vs the X-Men #1
1987 January X-Men #213
1987 March X-Factor #14
1987 April Fallen Angels #1
1987 July Silver Surfer #1
In my other blog, Marvel Flipside, I will be going onto reviewing Septembers in 5-year snapshots starting with 1990. Not sure if that will translate over into this blog, but it takes some time to get all this done, and that might mean not posting here for a couple of days... we'll see!
Fault or feature—I am a "here and now" kind of guy. I rarely reflect on my previoius life experiences, although I am proud of all my accomplishments and have few, if any, regrets. So, feature? I am simply happy with where I am and excited to be a part of what the world is doing around me. I eagerly await new life experiences and innovative technology and social change the way someone in a Friday night line anticipates the opening movie release. Also, I hate 80s music.
But then again, fault. I tend to not revere previous connections, even good friendships. I can often forget or gloss over memories, as they sort of blur together. I have to be reminded of the stories such memories can become, and sometimes get the details wrong. And like that 80s music thing I mention, anything that feels dated to me can be easily dismissable.
So it is somewhat funny that Robot 6, this comic blog, sparked an interest in me to do the same—to “try and remember a slew of Septembers”—but it turned out quite differently. I just wanted to do a bit of commentary on comic books and instead found myself intrigued by the context of my own biography. I had thought Pee Wee Comics in Canoga Park, CA, was just opening when I was buying my first comic books. But the dates say that Pee Wee opened in 1984 and the comics were published in 1986. I suppose the association of the two facts got mushed together, and my discovery of a comic book shop became equated with my experiencing the opening of a comic book shop. Weird.
And I had thought that reading my first comics all happened at about the same time, including my less-than-enthusiastic first readings. After all, my very first comic book I can recall was an X-Men comic featuring the villainy of the sorcerer Kulan Gath. Looking up the cover, it turns out it was issue #190--
And who can forget such a disturbing cover? The withered forms in the foreground, the looming and ominous villain in the background. I was about 10 or 11 at the time, and the image was vivid and searing. The comic, however, was unfortunately incomprehensible; it was in the middle of a three-issue story arc, featuring characters who were transformed into alternate versions of themselves, and had everyone speaking in clipped but profound phrases (a hallmark of the author Chris Claremont.) I actually remember forgoing any comics after that. Who would want to enter a reading experience like that regularly, let alone become a fan of it?
But 1986 was coming soon, and with it, sixth grade and a host of new experiences and changing tastes.
Oh, wait. I mean just like Spidey, I'm losing time to write witty blogs because there's too much going on this week. I'll try to put something up on Friday but otherwise I'll see you in the future... on Monday!
From Spidey Super Stories #17 (1976) by Jim Salicrup and Winslow Mortimer
But everyone does in Tokyo.... unless it's raining.
One thing you have to get used to in Japan is the driving. No, not as an actual driver behind the wheel, as I don't really think I will ever be able to afford a car nor the gas nor the parking nor the et cetera, let alone the process of getting a drivers' license.
No, instead, I'm talking about being a pedestrian while the driving happens all around you. There is an unfortunate stereotype (as if any stereotype can be considered fortunate) that Asian drivers are very slow, and I honestly have no idea where this got started. Certainly it wasn't anyone who ever visited Asia. And while Tokyo isn't anywhere near as death-defying as Beijing, I have yet to get used to the craziness often around me.
Part of the problem is that the streets are so narrow as to accommodate maybe one car at a time, but they are, in fact, two-way streets. Add a pedestrian to the mix, because there would be literally no other way out of the maze of densely packed homes, and it is pretty crowded indeed.
Compounding the problem is that whenever there is rain (as there has been the past couple of days), it does nothing to slow the cars. In fact, the problem is worse because fewer people will walk or ride bicycles, adding to the number of cars. These narrow streets remind me of alleyways in most American suburbs, where I would expect people to drive maybe 5 to 10 miles an hour. Instead, cars routine drive 35 to 45 miles per hour, regardless of IF and HOW FAR AWAY they are to any pedestrians they cross.
Today, a lowered, tinted-windowed and wide-mufflered Fast and Furious fan rumbled by me with nearly a foot, if that, distance between us, because there was cross traffic and he could not wait the split second for the other car to pass and thus give me a wide berth.
Time for my best Robert De Niro: "Hey! I'm walkin' here!"
Sometimes it's funny to see where my last name can end up. In this case, in an old comic book, based on the Spider-Man segments from PBS' The Electric Company.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the supervillain known as... The Wall!
No one can stop him.
Not even Spidey.
To quote from Spidey Super Stories #8 (1975) by Tom Whedon/Jean Thomas with art by Winslow Mortimer:
"The Wall was once a happy high school student...
... with an after-school job.
Then the walls came tumbling down!
That blast turned the happy boy...
into the Wicked Wall!"
He then proceeded to "wreck Spider-Man's day off" by brazening trespassing onto the field of Shea Stadium where Spidey was watching the Mets game, complete with a little pennant and a cap. Dutifully swooping in to save the players from being knocked over by a guy who looks like a wall, both Spidey and the Wall were kicked out by the true evil of the day -- the Umpire!
"Too bad, Spider-Man."
Tokyo AND teaching high school . . .
still no sign of Godzilla, though.