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Friday at the Tipping Point

I got an interesting question the other day: “When did you go from being a reader to being a fan?”

It was interesting to me, anyway, because those are my most vivid memories. I remember very little of my day-to-day life from my childhood and teen years (probably for the best, to be honest.) But all of the memories that are entwined with books and comics and pop culture in general are as bright and sharp as though they happened yesterday.

I know exactly which books and comics I read that made me a fan of something, when each particular tipping point happened. I’ve written about quite a few of them in this space before… Solomon Kane, James Bond, Aquaman.

Just for fun, over the next couple of weeks, I thought we’d look at some of the other personal ‘tipping points’ I’ve had for various comics, characters, and even writers and artists. That moment when I suddenly realized that I really, really liked a book, or a particular series of books. Readers are invited to compare notes and share their own moments of realization in the comments section, as well.

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Daredevil: I had to really stop and think about this one; it feels like I’ve always been a fan of Daredevil, so it would have been pretty much from the point I first encountered him. That would have had to have been the wedding of Reed and Sue… “Bedlam at the Baxter Building!”

Most remember this story as the lead in Fantastic Four Annual #3, but I first saw it in this King-Size Special a couple of years later.

The wedding of Reed and Sue, when I first saw it at the tender age of nine, actually served as a gateway story for me to lots of other characters in the Marvel Universe. It was the first place I saw a bunch of the Marvel characters in their comics incarnation (though I’d already seen the Watcher and the Mole Man on the Saturday morning Fantastic Four cartoon, and I knew Thor and Dr. Strange and Captain America from other reprints in Marvel Tales and Marvel’s Greatest Comics.)

But Daredevil was new to me. He had a lot of cool stuff to do in that wedding story, and I was immediately intrigued.

But that wasn’t the tipping point, it wasn’t what made me a fan. No, that was this Daredevil reprint a month later.

Sigh. You could get just a whole lotta AWESOME for a quarter back then.

Daredevil King-Size Special #3 was strictly an impulse buy. I picked it up because it wasn’t “continued,” it had Spider-Man, and– probably what sealed the deal– because I recognized the Stan Lee-Johnny Romita combination from the Spider-Man reprints I’d been seeing in Marvel Tales. It reprinted Daredevil #16 and #17, a tale in which Spider-Man and Daredevil are manipulated into fighting one another, which may have been my first experience with the whole idea of heroes getting into a misunderstanding and resolving it with violence. I know, it reveals my age, but heroes fighting each other instead of a bad guy was a very weird thing to see in a comic book, once upon a time.

What was especially weird for me is that in this story, Spider-Man-- the hero I knew and liked-- was not only pretty much owned by Daredevil, but also came off as kind of a dick.

Of course, in part two they got it all sorted out in plenty of time to put away the REAL villain, the Masked Marauder. It was classic Marvel swashbuckling superheroics from Lee and Romita, which I’d already been digging with Spider-Man, and here it was applied to a new set of characters in Daredevil. The whole thing was a hoot and I was a fan of Daredevil from that point on.

The funny thing was, I learned years later that the story was originally some sort of trial balloon for Romita to take over the art on Spider-Man after Steve Ditko left, but for me it worked in reverse — I was already a fan of the Lee-Romita version of Spider-Man, so this reprint special (it came out in August of 1971) served as my personal trial balloon with Daredevil. Not too long after that I was buying the monthly comic. I’ve been a regular Daredevil reader ever since… with only a couple of exceptions, pretty much from the Marv Wolfman/Bob Brown days on up.

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Isaac Asimov: This one was definitely through the back door.

It started with that one glorious season of Saturday morning television in 1968. Among the many amazing offerings that year was the animated Filmation version of Fantastic Voyage.

If this cartoon ever gets a non-bootleg DVD release I am SO ALL OVER IT.

The opening narration was all you needed to know: “Headquarters: CMDF, Combined Miniature Defense Force. Project: Fantastic Voyage. Process: Miniaturization. Authority: Top Secret, highest clearance. Team: Jonathan Kidd, Commander. Guru, master of mysterious powers. Erica Lane; doctor, biologist. Busby Birdwell; scientist, inventor, builder of the Voyager. Mission: In their miniaturized form, combat the unseen, unsuspected enemies of freedom. Time Limit: 12 hours.”

That’s about all I remember of it, too, except that it was badass. I looked for comics based on the show, but there were only a couple– tepid things from Gold Key.

These were okay, I guess, but Gold Key licensed adventure comics somehow never captured the adrenaline-fueled excitement of the animated cartoon inspirations. I never got any kind of comparable charge out of their Space Ghost or Herculoids comics either.

The show was canceled, the comic was canceled, and I moved on with my life. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it until I entered junior high school. Exploring the library in my new school, I was shocked to discover, on a paperback spinner rack near the door, that my beloved 1968 cartoon had in fact been based on an actual book.

I was later to discover that the library had the hardcover, too.

Well, yes, there was a movie, too– but there was no home video in 1973. You have to remember that back then, once movies left the theater, they were GONE. Except for maybe a late-show rerun someday, this novelization was as close as I’d ever get to seeing the film, and I snatched it up. A few minutes later, that paperback edition of Fantastic Voyage became the first book I checked out of the junior high library, on my first day of school, and I read it through twice in the next twenty-four hours.

To this day I think it’s one of Asimov’s finest novels. He disdained it, because it was a mere novelization; but I assure you that there’s a hell of a lot of real writing going on in there. It is a truly original work, superior to the film in every possible way.

In the novel the crew of the miniaturized submarine Proteus, Grant, Cora, Duval and Michaels, are all real people, with real personalities; the whodunit aspect of the plot is brilliantly fleshed out with actual clues; the romance between Grant and Cora is plausible and carefully built… and most amazing of all, in between all the heavy lifting Asimov is doing with matters of literary merit, the science is there. All the biology is accurate, all the physics is accurate. Everything is beautifully reasoned out and extrapolated, including the changes one would have to cope with in the way miniaturized eyes process light, and the effects of Brownian motion on the Proteus. Asimov even fixed the howler of a mistake in the film’s ending, by making sure the wreckage of the Proteus is safely outside of Benes when the sub and crew enlarges again.

It was another five years before I saw the actual film, as a rerun on the Saturday Afternoon Movie– and I was bitterly disappointed.

The visuals are pretty awesome and I do LIKE the movie... but I can never watch it without inwardly lamenting for all the cool stuff from Asimov's novel that's not in it.

Where was all the witty banter between Grant and Cora? Where was my mystery with all the carefully planted clues? Why did they leave the sub wreckage inside the body of Benes?

Nevertheless, despite the letdown from the movie itself, I adored that novelization– still do– and by then I had sought out many other books by Asimov, both fiction and non-fiction. Years later, Asimov revisited the idea with a book he swore up and down was better, but I think that was pride talking; he really hated that the first novel was not his own original conception. Several years after that, Kevin Anderson wrote an interesting and pretty fair Fantastic Voyage novel as well, but neither one was close to the magic found in that first Asimov novelization.

You know, I read and enjoyed both of these but neither one approaches the brilliance of what Asimov did with the original one.

Purely as a novel, in terms of suspense and character development and just sheer cleverness, I think the first Fantastic Voyage ranks with the best of Asimov’s fiction and it’s what made me a fan.

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Dracula: That one was comics, again… but, oddly enough, not the Marvel comics.

In that same junior high library where I found Fantastic Voyage, there were also a number of “Classic Comics” paperback adaptations from Pendulum Press. One of them was Dracula.

For a 'classic comics' version, this was pretty damn good.

This was a relatively faithful adaptation of the Stoker novel, scripted by Naunerle Farr with some very nice art by Nestor Redondo.

It's a pity that the pages were printed at such a tiny size; the books weren't even as large as a standard comic.

There were no credits so it would be years before I put it together that this was the same guy that had been doing the art on some DC books I liked. But even for the sort of textbooky Classics Comics adaptation this was, I could see the story was hardcore.

For a seventh-grade schoolbook this is pretty rockin'.

Not too long after that, taking on chores like mowing lawns and such, I became a man of means, with my own income. It all pretty much went for books and comics, and one of the first books I bought was this oddity from Drake Publishing.

I really loved this. Unabridged text and packed with movie stills.

The Illustrated Dracula was exactly what it said it was. A big coffee-table edition of Stoker’s novel, unabridged, with illustrations (all Bela Lugosi stills from the Universal film version) on almost every page. And I sort of knew the story already from the comics version, so I got into it pretty easily.

Once I’d read the novel I was much more interested in the film versions of Dracula that the local station would sometimes run on its Saturday night “Sinister Cinema,” and I eventually found my way to the Marvel Comics Tomb of Dracula as well. But for me it was Pendulum Press and Nestor Redondo that got there first.

(Marvel did eventually reprint the Pendulum press version, actually, in their “Marvel Classics Comics” #9.)

The color was nice and anyway, it pleased me to see that Marvel had the good taste to reprint it.

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The X-Men: This is another one I can trace back to the Fantastic Four and “Bedlam at the Baxter Building.”

The original X-Men had a lot of star turns in this story, as well.

Nine-year-old me thought the X-Men were pretty cool in that story. But I was only interested… I didn’t care enough to go find any actual X-Men comics.

It wasn’t until 1975, when I was binging on all the Marvel books at the local Sentry Market, that I happened across the ALL-NEW X-Men.

This was way back when you could pick up an X-book and get a clear idea of who everyone was and what they were about. Long ago and far away, for sure.

It was #98. Part one of the Sentinels-in-space story. I picked it up because I could actually afford to try out new comics, I had fond memories of the X-Men kicking ass at Reed and Sue’s wedding, and– this was key– with the addition of a comics rack to our local neighborhood grocery, I was willing to take a chance on something “continued.”

It was a good bet. Claremont’s story was good. But what really sold it to me was Dave Cockrum’s art, especially the way he’d redesigned the way Cyclops and Marvel Girl’s powers manifested visually.

Maybe you just had to be there. But I LOVED this art, especially the way Jean got all psychedelic when she was doing her telekinetic thing.

So, for all the credit Chris Claremont gets for his work on the X-Men– and it’s deserved– in the early days, it was the Dave Cockrum art that got me interested and kept me there. It made everything seem really modern and cool, and it lifted Claremont’s story up quite a bit.

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So there you have it… my personal fan-realization moments for Daredevil, the books of Isaac Asimov, Dracula, and the X-Men. If you are also devoted to those items to some degree, feel free to share your own similar moments below– I’m really curious how you got to be fans of that stuff.

And next week we’ll be back with another list of cool stuff and the moments I realized those things were actually THAT COOL. See you then.

13 Comments

Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage was the first “adult” science fiction novel I ever read. I came to it by a different route than you did, Greg. The Gold Key adaptation of the movie by Wally Wood led me to the network premiere of the movie and then to the novel. The cartoon, which I also have fond memories of, came after all that. By the way, its companion cartoon, Filmation’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, led me not only to Jules Verne but, through a sympathetic librarian’s recommendation, to H. G. Wells.

Even though I most likely encountered him on TV first, my first Batman comic was what really triggered my love of the character. Batman #303, where he’s hit over the head and he starts thinking that Bruce Wayne is the crimefighter and that Batman is the daytime secret identity. A goofy, Silver Agey premise, but it made me into a comic book fan for life.

I became a Harlan Ellison fan through The City on the Edge of Forever episode of Star Trek.

Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron gave me an appreciation for Golden Age comic characters and the 1940s in general.

With X-Men, it’s the cover where Wolverine is crucified (#251). I had read some of the issues prior to that one because a friend lent them to me, but that was the first one I bought, and Silvestri’s awesome cover played a large part.

With Batman, it was Detective #594. I had read “A Death in the Family” but wasn’t really into the character yet (even though I liked the TV show and the Super Friends), but issue #594, with the dude taking ecstasy and killing people, was where I was hooked. It’s not a great story, but Breyfogle’s art is excellent.

With Spider-Man, it was Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. I liked the 1960s show, but when he teamed up with Iceman and Firestar, I was just the right age (11 or so) and I became a huge fan of the character.

I could go on, because you can really expand this to bands or even actors and directors, but I won’t. But that’s just the comics-related stuff!

I could go on, because you can really expand this to bands or even actors and directors, but I won’t. But that’s just the comics-related stuff!

Oh, yeah, it got away from me pretty quickly. That’s why I decided to spread it out over a couple of weeks.

(Well, that and the fact that the Emerald City show is careening toward our household like a runaway train. This seemed like an idea that would work for a series of columns, and I could pick at it in short bursts between all the convention prep. )

I’ve been planning on sending you an email about some neat stuff I’ve picked up lately at a local library’s books for sale/free rack, as I figured you’d appreciate most of the stuff because I picked up a lot of the stuff due to your columns (if that tortured syntax makes sense….).

Anyway, I recently snagged that Dracula book from Pendulum, so I guess you would indeed appreciate it. The Three Musketeers one features Alex Nino art, and I think I’ve read the Moby Dick one, but can’t remember who’s on art. (I’m also thinking I had grabbed that Marvel color reprint sometime recently too….)

Let’s see, I think with DD, I really liked a fill in issue (apparently during Inferno) drawn by Ditko, featuring the Owl and BABY BOOM! Thinking on it, it’s sort of Spirit-esque in that DD isn’t really necessary to the story.

Asimov I got really into around Junior High as well, maybe a little earlier or later, but I sank my teeth into a lot of his stuff. I thought he’d written something somewhere about how it’d be impossible to breath if you were shrunk like that, but maybe I’m thinking of something else. I had, and maybe even still have, the Fantastic Voyage pb (well, it might have been my dad’s.) One book that Asimov edited that I loved and would love to get my hands on again is Microcosmic Tales, a pb full of short short SF tales, and they’re all pretty good. A lot of Twilight Zone like twists, but I was just enthralled by it back in the day.

Is that one guy in the Fantastic Voyage cartoon related to Phil Ken Sebben? Ha HA!

XMen I think I got into in the early 90s with the cartoon, maybe even more than the comics. I think I may be more familiar with the Phoenix saga through the cartoon than the comics, even.

I’ll wait for future installments to babble more.

Ha! “Sinister Cinema” – I’d almost forgotten all about that until you mentioned it.
Anyway, comics: X-men 120, somewhere toward the end of fourth grade. That was when I was not only bit with the X-men bug, hard, but also when I became an ardent fan of super-hero comics. Before that, I was a little fan, but I kind of randomly picked up super-hero comics – mainly sticking to done-in-one stories because of spotty spinner rack distribution – but also funny animal (mainly Disney ducks) and Archie comics. And then that issue of X-men, right in the midst of the Claremont/Byrne/Austin run, blew my mind: the gorgeous art, the intriguing story, and sub-plots and characterization that were so tantalizing. I HAD to have every issue of X-men after that, I my interest in other super-hero comics as well became all-consuming – at about the same time, I bought Iron Man #121, just as the Michelinie/Layton run was picking up steam, and soon after, I picked up Daredevil #158, which just happened to be Frank Miller’s first issue as artist, and I was hooked there as well. I also started seeking out and buying back issues – i.e. I became hard-core.
And the comics bug led to me to other areas as well: my love for Marvel’s Tarzan comics, and to a lesser extent the Conan comics, got me interested in reading the original books, and that was a stepping stone to other pulp fiction, and then science fiction – the latter has remained a life-long love, even more consistent than my comics reading…

In 1991 or 1992 I was in a bookstore browsing the magazine rack, they carried a selection of comics as well. A copy of The Savage Sword of Conan caught my eye and I took it down to flip through it. I fell in love that instant and the happy grip has never wavered. I have always loved comics since I could read, this was the first time that something utterly captured me.
In my pre-teen years in the 1960′s I saw a cover of a Batman book that electrified me, it showed Batman and in the background was a weeping statue, the tag line was “Can statues cry?” I was already a fevered fan of the Adam West show, seeing the comic cover was a revelation.

There is just so much in this piece that parallels some of my own early fan discoveries, most especially discovering Asimov through the same roundabout manner as the cartoon version of Fantastic Voyage.

But what I wanted to comment on was actually X-Men #98, a book that in my own opinion was where the new X-Men went from exciting new series to just plain over the top brilliant. The excellent character bits in the beginning are followed by some brilliantly illustrated fight scenes, the reveal that Logan’s claws are part of him and the return of the Sentinels. Claremont is in top form, but as good as his writing is, it’s almost secondary to Dave Cockrum’s stunning art.

What’s really hard to capture in a scan or in a reprint is just how richly colored these original pages were and how well that color worked for the original printing making it one of the prettiest issues of a comic I ever saw.

Inferentialkid

March 17, 2012 at 8:11 am

There is something of an unlikely coincidence, given that (if I’m doing the math correctly) I’m about 15 years younger than Greg, but I also became hooked on X-Men after reading an issue from the mid-70s Claremont/Cockrum run. Although X-Men #100 and its story “Greater Love Hath No X-Men!” (more titles these days should end with exclamation points) was originally published about a year before I was born, it was reprinted as *Classic X-Men* #8 in 1986 when twelve-year old me picked it up from a drugstore spinner rack. There’s some other parallels with Greg’s story as well: I had also recently begun a comic-buying binge after coming into extra income derived from mowing lawns and such and was similarly very much taken by Cockrum’s “psychedelic” drawings of Marvel Girl in her power-using mode (that particular visual plays an important role in this particular issue). In any case, I immediately became a dedicated reader of *X-Men Classics,* which led me to start reading the contemporary Claremont/Romita and Claremont/Silvestri runs on *Uncanny X-Men* and the early issues of *X-Factor.*

I got hooked on Daredevil (another character/title I still read today, over 20 years later) a couple years later and from reading first-run issues. I was drawn in by John Romita, Jr.’s art but soon came to really appreciate Ann Nocenti’s writing as well. The arc that started soon after that wherein Daredevil leaves New York for a series of trials revolving around Mephisto and his son Blackeheart remains one of my favorite runs of all time and really cemented my interest in the character.

As far as X-Men goes I became exposed to them via the toys. It was the animated series that made me love the characters.

Daredevil, like most superheroes, was someone I was a ware of but not truly familiar with the source material. I’d always liked him because of his costume and thought he was really cool when I saw him on the Spidey cartoon in the 90s. When I got older I was a little in and out of comics so I didn’t read them monthly, earnestly until around late 08/09. I had read the end of Diggle’s run right before Shadowland and thought the event looked promising. I read Shadowland #1 and decided that DD just wasn’t for me. And I avoided both Diggle’s name and the character as if either would instantly give me AIDS. I was just about to pass on Waid’s #1 but got it on a whim. And, man, was that EVER one of my best decisions ever! I instantly was won over.

The first comics I ever read were, and in retrospect I have no real idea how this came about, the Batman: No Man’s Land trades. Something about those caution-tape spines just dared me to make my parents buy them. And of course they blew my twelve-year-old, raised-on-the-Animated-Series mind. After that, weirdly enough, I went straight to reading old Stan Lee Essential volumes, which I thought were awesome, not thinking much on the forty-year change in tone. A couple years later I checked a copy of Dark Knight Returns out of the library, and that was what made me a lifer.

Yeesh. I wish I had the memory to actually contribute to this discussion. My past is hazy and I ain’t even that old. Although…

I remember specifically getting super in to the X-Men right around the time of the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover. I recognized most of the characters, so I must have read some previous issues, but I have no idea which. So there you have it. Vague recollections.

I forgot in my earlier post to note that Dave Cockrum did not originate the psychedelic look for Marvel Girl’s power. The look first appeared during the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run. Credit where credit is due ‘n’ all that.

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