"MY MIND IS BLOWN BY FOUR BROWN PAPER BAGS FULL OF COMICS"
I started buying my own comics in 1969 at a little place called
"Enrights" in North Andover Massachusetts. They were 15 cents each, and
I bought Marvel and DC superhero books.
Earlier that year I'd been introduced to the medium by Reg Aubrey, quite
possibly the greatest babysitter in the history of babysitting. He had a
room full of scientific junk including that thing you see in every
sci-fi movie of the period with the round green screen and the glowing
green dot that moves across it in a jagged line and goes 'beep'. He was
a teenager. He was the only son of the only black family in my lily
white hometown. His dad was six feet tall, had white hair and one leg.
And Reg read comics. I couldn't be black. My Dad took good care of his
leg. The only electronic junk I had was our discarded black and white TV
that took five minutes to get a picture after you turned it on, and
received three stations. Comics was the only thing he did I could do.
He gave me several brown paper grocery bags full of comics going back to
about '62, the year of my birth, and they BLEW MY MIND so
completely it is still blown and I have continued to read superhero
comics my whole life even through the seventies when, like everything
else, they were unforgivably bad.
When I tell you what was in those bags, some of you are going to cry
like the little pansy ass fanboys you almost certainly are since you've
read this far. You'll think of the enormous worth of these magazines had
I slipped them into mylar bags with acid free backing boards without
ever having read them (that damages the spine, dontchaknow) and stored
them in a temperature controlled locker. That is not what comics are
for. They are to be read, over and over, until the staples are coming
out and the corners are stained with the sweat of your little boy
fingers. They are for getting chocolate on and leaving in your tree
house and piling up in the bottom of your closet until your mom throws
them out when you're overnight at your best friends house. They were
never meant to be fetishized like the finger bones of Catholic saints.
That shit is for stamp collectors, who are called philatelists, which
sounds dirty, as well it should. If I still had them, I could go read
them, and the mythic status they hold for me now would whistle out
making a vaguely farty sound like the air hisses out of the balloons at
my kids birthday parties because I suck at tying knots in balloons.
THE GALACTUS TRILOGY
Fantastic Four 49-51 came out in 1966.
It may be the first instance of a comic book story lasting more than a
single issue. It was certainly the first such instance I'm aware of.
CUT TO: some anonymous, fat, lonely, son of a bitch with coke
bottle glasses reflecting the monitor he's slouched in front of like a
big bag of Fritos. A really big bag. The kind of bag you can only get at
one of those food warehouses where you have to buy a membership. A
thought bubble next to his head reads: "Oh ho! Obviously Mister Burbank
is not aware that the ongoing storyline was first pioneered in 1948 by
Si Grumpus during his short lived but noteworthy run on The Crimson
Chigger for Tip Top Publications." That may well be true, but shut up,
fatty. I'm married. Try that on for size.
All the Marvel books were already using a sort of Soap Opera approach in
that each issue led into the next, and hell, I don't know, maybe the
Galactus Trilogy isn't the first multi part story. It was for me, and
the sensation of finishing that first issue and thinking "OH MY GOD,
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?" was something I'd felt at the end of chapters in
books, but never with a comic. But that was not what BLEW MY MIND!
It was a very cosmic Trilogy. It introduce Uatu, The Watcher...
...a giant, baby-looking
bald guy who lived on the moon and who was just about as enigmatic as
hell. It introduced The Silver Surfer...
...who was all silver and
flew around on a silver surfboard, creating dramatic tension by
juxtaposing incredible, soul-searching, angst with goofy-ass, all
silver, flying surf board riding. And most of all, it introduced
Galactus, Devourer of Worlds...
...a purple suited, helmet
wearing, giant even gianter than Uatu the Watcher! Galactus was beyond
good and evil! Galactus took no more notice of the Fantastic four than
you or I would pesky mosquitoes! And Galactus was going to EAT OUR
WORLD! By devouring it's energy, not, you know, carving up chunks and
eating them. That would be as stupid as a silver guy in a silver speedo
flying around on a silver flying surfboard. But none of that BLEW MY
There's this scene about two thirds of the way in. The FF have not been
able to do squat to even get Galactus to pay attention to them, let
alone stop making his earth eating machine. Reed Richards, Mister
fantastic, has been up for two days straight trying to invent some shit
because apart from being able to stretch like a rubber band (which it
took us no time to realize was a sex thing, and why he was called Mr.
Fantastic) he was also this big science brainiac. So he's up all night
inventing. And there's this splash panel, and there's Reed and HE
LOOKS LIKE CRAP! He looks like your dad the morning after a bender
before he's had a shower! REED RICHARDS WAS ALL SCUZZED OUT AND HE
NEEDED A SHAVE!! Did Superman ever need a shave? He did not. Did
Batman ever say "Excuse me old chum, but I need a Batshower."? No. But
when Reed Richards was up all night he looked like it! If he needed to
shave, what else did he need to do? Did he brush his teeth, After a big
bout of stretching did he STINK of FANTASTIC SWEAT, did he
GO TO THE FANTASTIC BATHROOM?! SWEET JESUS, REED RICHARDS WAS REAL!!
Which of course was just what Marvel had been trying to do. (And if any
of you fanboys have a picture of Reed needing a shave or can find one
on-line and send me the URL, I'll be your best friend. Well. Lets just
say I'll be grateful and leave it at that.) They were trying to make
their Heroes real people with lives that you could, to some small degree
relate to. Spiderman got his ass handed to him by the Lizard because he
had the FLU and that BLEW MY MIND! Captain America couldn't make
friends because he was too emotionally scarred by the death of his Teen
partner, Bucky and that BLEW MY MIND! Cyclops could never admit
he had the burnin' teen hotties for Marvel Girl because he COULDN'T
CONTROL the force beams that SHOT OUT OF HIS EYES and he was
ashamed and afraid he might hurt her and it BLEW MY MIND! But
none of it freaked out my seven year old head more than Mister Fantastic
looking like a friggin' bum. I stared at that picture for hours, I tried
to explain it to my parents "Dad, look at this, Mr. Fantastic needs to
SHAVE! Do you have any idea what that MEANS?!' You kids today with your
piercings, your X-Box, your bathtub methamphetamine labs, you have no
damn clue what I'm talking about. For you Wolverine and Nick Fury always
need Queer eye type Grooming tips. Gambit sometimes goes weeks without
washing his filthy Cajun hair. But Reed Richards was the first superhero
on whom superheroing took a toll. Did Stan Lee write "Reed stretches
forward holding bizarre tech. Component. He looks like a pile of roasted
crap." Did jack Kirby think "Well, when I stay up all night long drawing
comics, the wife says my face looks like a used up welcome matt. Maybe
Reed oughta look that way." Who knows?
You know what they did in comics before this to give you something to
latch on to? They gave the heroes kid sidekicks. First the dark,
brooding Batman got some snot nosed circus tumbler, and then Cap got
Bucky who somehow kept up with him through most of World War Two before
getting blown to bits, and then almost everybody had a kid tagging
along. The idea was, the reader could pretend they were the teen
sidekick. Ask your Grampaw if it worked. First of all, nobody wants to
be Robin. Second, nobody believes Robin can keep up. Robin is a
liability in tights and everybody knows it. Third, You only played Robin
if your brother was playing Batman and he was threatening to make you
play Batgirl. Fourth, there is something deeply unsavory about the
relationship of the Hero and the sidekick. Reed Richards unshaven mug
was a quantum leap forward. It made comics seem real without making you
worry about protecting your Bat Cave.
MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER BAG, DENNY O'NEIL REINVENTS PERSONALITY FOR DC
DC briefly had personality in the so-called 'Golden Age'. Bob Kane
invented it for them in the form of a Gun totin', film noir Batman with
funky ass purple gloves. Then DC de-invented it by commanding Kane to
create Robin, the Boy Catamite. (Catamite. A term for the youthful lover
of an older man derived from the Latin name Catamus, a latinized form of
the Greek "Ganymede.") Now don't get me wrong, I like tumbling, eleven
year old, crime fighters in green spangly bathing suits and bare legs
just as much as the next guy, but not if the next guy is Kindly Old
Father O'Liberace. Hell, if they'd gone with pederasty as an actual
personality element for the Batman, I'd have been right behind them.
(get it? Right 'behind' them? That's a sodomy joke.) No such luck, he
was a Caped Closet Case and no costumed DC hero showed any signs of
having an individual personality again until...
Justice League of America #66.
Green Arrow… disagreed! And it BLEW MY MIND! I know, I know, you
don't get it, because for you Green arrow is the bearded Liberatarian
what can't keep it in his pants guy who's so good at archery no one with
an assault weapon and a half way decent sight has plugged him since he
came back from the dead. Hell, for all I know, you're so young you don't
even know he did come back from the dead, which by the way happens to
superheroes so often Jesus doesn't feel special anymore.
See, here's how Green Arrow started out. He was this really rich guy and
he wanted to fight crime. So, since he was good at archery, he got
himself an Arrow car, an Arrow Plane, an Arrow cave, and an eleven year
old side kick. Hmmm, that sounds so familiar, where have I heard all
that before? Wait, I know, it's Bruce Wayne minus his parents getting
killed in front of him, which makes Green Arrow sort of Batman only with
NO MOTIVATION AT ALL! Don't believe me? Look at this crap.
I think we can all agree, Green Arrow was very, very sad. And here's the
amazing thing, he stayed that way for twenty years and people were okay
with it. Why? Shamefully low readership standards. But then Marvel, the
new kid on the block, upped the stakes with Reed Richards and his huge,
stretchy, unshaved Kisser.
Prior to Justice League #66, the magazine was a personality free zone.
If you were blind and someone was reading the comic to you (shut up, I'm
moving toward a point here) the only way to tell who was who would be
what the Heroes said when they were surprised. Wonderwoman said "Great
Hera" cause she was a Greek Chick and Hera was a Greek Godess. Aquaman
said (I'm not making this up) "Sufferin' starfish!" on account of he
lived underwater and hated to see starfish suffer. Martian Manhunter
said "By the Red sands of Mars!" because he was from mars. Superman said
"Great Caesar's Ghost!" Why? Nobody has a single solitary clue. But if
you took an exacto knife, sliced out a 'sufferin starfish!' and glued it
over a 'great Caesar' Ghost!' it would not make an iota of difference.
Any word bubble could be coming out of any hero's mouth because there
was no more difference in personality between Batman and the Flash than
there was between one Stepford Wife and another.
And so when Denny O'neil has Green Arrow stand up and vocally
DISAGREE with Superman, it BLEW MY MIND! Less than a year
later, Neal Adams gave GA a Goatee and some cool new duds to go along
with his developing personality...
And then O'neil finished erasing the clone like Batman/Green Arrow
similarities by getting rid of GA's Fortune, cave, car plane, and
sidekick (more on him later). The only thing they left him with, as an
homage to the Dark Knight's latent homosexuality, was his true name,
Oliver Queen, which is a Gay Porn pseudonym in anyone's book.
Green arrow continued to keep it real by teaming up with Green Lantern,
'cause, you know, he was Green too, and Kermit the Frog had yet to be
invented. Little was made of the fact that Green Arrow broke up Green
lantern and Flash, his prior Super buddy, who had a whole Green/Red
Christmassy thing going on. It's possible Flash actually dumped Green
Lantern first, for the Elongated Man, because he could… you know…
Oneil and Adams brought the relevance for thirteen issues, giving us
racism, overpopulation, whacked out Manson Style religious cults and my
personal favorite, a slum lord Villain who was a dead ringer for Spiro
(If you don't know who Spiro Agnew was, that's an education in itself.
The bare facts are, he was Vice President under Richard Nixon, and he
resigned even before Nixon did, because he was such a huge asshole.
Nowadays Presidents and vice Presidents don't have to resign when it's
discovered they are huge assholes. They get re-elected instead.)
(P.S., having to tell you who Spiro Agnew was makes me want to cry, but
you're a comic book fan so the chances of you knowing shit from Shinola
are just about squat.)
(P.P.S. 'Shinola' was a shoe polish. See, folks used to wear leather
shoes, and they'd get scuffed up and… ah, screw it. God damn
Oneil and Adams put the Cherry on the personality cake in their final
two issues by taking Green Arrows forgotten Robin Substitute Speedy, and
making him a Smack addict.
Not this Speedy…
The title of the story arc, and I wish to god I was making this up, was
'Snowbirds Don't Fly." That went over so well that DC abandoned the idea
of Superheroes having personality for another decade.
But it wasn't Speedy riding the white horse that Blew My Mind. It wasn't
GA's hipster beard or the time he convinced Green Lantern to take off
his ring so they could punch the living crap out of each other. It
wasn't even the way Neal Adams drew GA's girlfriend Black Canary in
leather and fishnets. Okay, that did blow my mind, but in a whole
different way that belongs in another article that discusses things like
Zatanna and whatever material they made the Catwoman and Batgirl
costumes out of on the Batman TV show, and is frankly none of your damn
business. It was Green Arrow standing up to Superman that BLEW MY
MIND almost as much as Mr. Fantastic's five o'clock shadow. It was
those three grocery bags full of comics that if my mother hadn't thrown
away and if I'd kept in pristine, near mint, completely gay condition I
could now sell so my daughters could go to college when they grew up.
Except I'd never sell them and my daughters would tell their boyfriends
and therapists about how their crazy ass dad was sitting on a fucking
gold mine they'd never get their hands on 'till he died! Yes, died!
Alone and broken in a YMCA with nothing but a stack of well protected
comic books to love him!
Now get the hell away from me. I have something in my eye.
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