I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
As I believe I’ve noted before, I know exactly which Marvel Comics publications I bought when I first committed myself fully to the House of Ideas and the superheroic endeavors they conveyed. To a degree this is due to my memory sharpening for such a momentous occurrence (as ridiculous and embarrassing as that assertion may be, it is true that I consider that instance in my life to be defining), but it’s also from the handy presence of a banner ad across the top of all the front covers that month, promising, “THIS MARVEL COMIC COULD BE WORTH $2500 TO YOU!” If nothing else, it gives me a convenient way to double check my recollection. Was Marvel Two-in-Annual #5 really one of the first comic books I bought? Yep!
I know for certain that the first superhero comic I purchased in this era was Fantastic Four #222, and I immediately fell hard for Marvel’s first family, especially Benjamin J. Grimm, also known as the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. If he was in a comic, I wanted it. And it just so happened that he was starring in a spin-off title at the time, the cumbersomely named Marvel Two-In-One. Before I even saw a single copy of the regularly monthly mag, I got my hands on a copy of that year’s Annual, Marvel’s double-sized special issues that came out in the summer, presumably because kids had more time to read and more spending money to buy things to read. It cost seventy-five cents, so the necessary investment was significant for me.
As with most stories found in the pages of Two-in-One, which routinely teamed the Thing was another hero from the Marvel universe, there were complicated contrivances to bring the two titans together. In this instance, it was the Hulk tapped to co-star, so writer Alan Kupperberg had the Thing’s fantastic teammates felled by exposure to gamma rays, which just so happened to be the expertise of Bruce Banner, the scientist who transformed into the green goliath when angered. Simultaneously, Banner’s cohorts were similarly afflicted by an unexpected blast of cosmic rays, the instigator of powers in the Fantastic Four.
This wasn’t just happenstance. Instead, it was a result of the mighty machinations of interstellar superbeing the Stranger. Needing the brute strength of the Thing and the Hulk at his disposal to take on Pluto, the ruler of Hades, the towering sorta-villain was essentially creating hostages that would help him forcibly recruit his foot soldiers. Naturally, the Thing wasn’t appreciative of the idea, if only because of some understandable skepticism about the godlike celestial figures he kept encountering.
The battle against the Overmind Ben references is from a multi-part Fantastic Four storyline that unfolded nearly ten years earlier. And yet it was also a storyline that I was then engaged in reading, thanks to its concurrent publication in the reprint title modestly monikered Marvel’s Greatest Comics. This is not an insignificant point. A major reason I became so devoted to Marvel was the interconnectedness of the stories. It thankfully lacked the level of impenetrable overlapping that too often infects their line today, but there was a strong sense that every title, every story, every last panel, was part of the bigger picture of the Marvel universe. It wasn’t necessary to read it all to understand it, but there was greater satisfaction to be found in knowing it all. In this instance, Marvel conspired to make sure I could feel I was getting the referenced part of the larger story that took place years earlier. It’s probably equally possible that it was a fortuitous coincidence. Either way, it was a publishing model that fostered addiction, and I thrillingly infected myself with the passionate need to consume all of it.
Also, they understand the importance of never bypassing a chance to have the Thing and the Hulk duke it out. That mattered, too.
The art, roughed in by Kupperberg and finished by Pablo Marcos, didn’t exactly dazzle, but it adhered nicely to the solid house style of the time. That in itself was helpful in easing my entry to superhero fare. Like the rigid uniformity of the visuals across the multitude of, say, Richie Rich comics that had previously claimed my pocket change, the approach delivered the implicit promise that any comic I decided to sample would be safe and sturdy. The Thing wasn’t going to be unrecognizable to me, no matter where I found him.
Like all of the comics I bought those first few months, I read this to near-tatters (I wasn’t yet a zombie-eyed adherent to idea of protecting the mint condition of the books at all costs, but I certainly got there). I don’t know that I necessarily loved the story all that much. There was an enduring satisfaction to it, though, as if happy nostalgia set in right away. It assisted in an inner change. For at least the next several years, the spinner rack or its equivalent in a variety of grocery stores and comic shops, would compel me toward it like sugar attracts ants. Hey, I could have had far worse habits as a kid.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli