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An Anniversary Speculation

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had kind of an interesting anniversary.

Specifically, it was the third week of February, which marked the forty-sixth anniversary of my… well, let’s say my involvement with comic books. That week was when I handed a quarter to a drugstore clerk, in exchange for my very first comic book ever. Flash #178, back in 1968.

I’ve already written about that comic in this space several times (most recently, here) and I’m not going to go through it all again. I know why it caught my eye– it was because I was a big fan of the animated Superman/Aquaman Hour on Saturday morning and my favorite part of that show was the intermission where they’d show cartoons starring other DC characters– the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, the Justice League, and the Teen Titans, variously.

Those cartoons are all on DVD now and I can watch them any time I like; they’re pretty bad, honestly. But I can still feel an echo of the rush of wonder that seven-year-old me felt back then, watching them.

But thinking back to that time, I wondered… what if a different comic had caught my eye? Would that have had the same effect? Would I still be here, forty-six years later? Reading comics, writing about comics, and even working at a school teaching kids how to make their own?

Well, what else was on sale, back in February of 1968? What was on TV, what else was I thinking about back then? What other comics might have been triggers for something that almost instantly became a lifetime obsession for me?

The big TV shows for me, other than the Adam West Batman, were Tarzan, Daktari, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,and The Wild Wild West. They all had comic-book series.

In fact, most every popular TV show had some kind of comic book adaptation appear during the sixties, usually from Dell (later Gold Key.) A few of them, like Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone, outlasted the shows they were based on. Most of these comics sputtered to cancellation before they made it to double digits, though.

But of the TV-related comics on sale in ’68 that would have gotten youthful me’s attention– I wouldn’t have bothered with The Flying Nun or Gentle Ben or Lost in Space– only two were on the stands that week. Tarzan and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Even without the lure of the nearby superhero comics I’d probably still have blown by them, though, because Gold Key put it all into the cover paintings. The covers were always masterpieces, but the interior art of those adaptations tended to look a bit staid and schoolbooky compared to the other stuff out there. They were invariably less than what I got on television. The monsters on the TV version of Voyage scared the shit out of me. The ones in the comic looked kinda dull.

And the Tarzan… well, I eventually learned to love the Burroughs version, but that was in junior high school. At age seven, I would have just been befuddled by Tarzan and the Ant Men.

The funny thing is, I did eventually catch up. I have both of those comics here today. In fact, both the Russ Manning Tarzan and the Gold Key Voyage from that era are available in nice hardcover collections. Tarzan from Dark Horse and Voyage from Hermes Press.

Dark Horse hasn’t gotten to Tarzan and the Ant Men yet, but I imagine it’s coming. “Volume one” implies that eventually we’ll get a volume two.

In 1968, though, I was all about the superheroes, especially the ones on Saturday morning TV. Apart from the Superman-Aquaman Hour, there was all the amazing Alex Toth Hanna-Barbera stuff. Space Ghost. The Herculoids. Shazzan. Young Samson. Mightor.

And those characters did get to star in comics, as well. From Gold Key again, of course.

But there were none on the stand that day. Hanna-Barbera’s Super TV Heroes #1 came out in January, and it was long gone by then. It was a quarterly, so #2 didn’t roll out until April.

Eventually I did check those comics out. But it was love of the cartoons that carried me through them– the comics themselves were not that great. If an issue of the Hanna-Barbera book had been there waiting on the spinner rack on that particular day, I don’t think that title would have hooked me as hard as the Flash book did, either. Super TV Heroes was from Gold Key and it just didn’t have the surging adrenaline rush the TV shows had. (If Toth himself had worked on it, it might have, but he was nowhere to be found. This art is by Sparky Moore.)

Story continues below

Anyway, you miss a lot when you don’t have that groovy jazz soundtrack playing underneath the action.

No, the thing that set me on fire was that the comic book superheroes in that Flash Giant were more than I was getting on TV, not less. That meant it would have had to be something from DC or Marvel. And in early 1968, they were both on a roll.

Chances are I flipped through a lot of those. But what I landed on had one more determining factor– the price. I had a quarter. I wanted the best bang for the buck, even at age seven. Two regular 22-page comics for 12 cents each was okay, but the 80-page Giants were only a penny more and that was almost double the page count. No-brainer.

So whatever I picked would have been a Giant. And apart from the Flash, there were only two others out that month.

Marvel Tales #14 and Marvel Super Heroes #14.

Either one of them probably would have done the trick. Marvel Tales had Spider-Man, the Torch and Thor; I knew the first two from the cartoons on ABC, and I was sold on Thor when I encountered him in another Marvel Tales a few months later (in a rematch with Mr. Hyde, as it happened.) Marvel Super-Heroes had Spider-Man in the lead and then a bunch of Golden Age reprints in the back– Bill Everett on the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch by Burgos and Ayers, and a couple of old fifties horror tales to fill it out. Either one would have sealed the deal as well as the Flash book did; the Marvel Tales might have even swung me over to Marvel from DC. As it was, when I did eventually find it, Marvel Tales was a favorite of mine as long as it existed in its ‘Giant’ format. It was one of the very few comics to win me over despite the fact that something in it always had the hated “To Be Continued” at the end, which in most any other comic book was a deal-breaker for me at age seven.

So I guess it didn’t really matter. I’d still have ended up here four and a half decades later, no matter which 25-cent comic I picked that day. Some things are just fated, I guess.

See you next week.


Quite the nostalgia kick to see those Birdman pages – when I was about 7 myself I got an annual (a big hardback book – I live in the UK) which reprinted that exact story along with others from that series. I think I picked it up at a yard sale just because it looked interesting, I had no idea who the characters were because the TV show was never shown over here. The book was in black and white, so I’d never seen the pages in colour before………

I also notice that when they receive the call, the Galaxy Trio’s spaceship is “a million light years away” yet it arrives “shortly”. How fast can it travel?!?!?!??!?!

Hmm, my own anniversary is somewhere in the spring of 1975 (whenever Marvel Tales #59 was on the racks), I’ll have to do some checking to find the exact month. And I just realized, next year will mark a nice, round (*gasp*) 40th anniversary.

Looking at the choices you had, I have to say I agree that it was inevitable that you ended up with something from DC or Marvel. Just looking at those covers makes it all clear. Not even those elaborately painted Gold Key covers come close to the style and pure excitement virtually radiating from those Marvel covers.
It was pretty much the same for me in the mid-1970s: the covers on Marvel and DC titles almost seemed to have blinking lights on them, overshadowing all of the other stuff, except for occasional worthy efforts by some Charlton books (Atlas was just winding down when I started reading…).

I was a huge Transformers fan growing up and didn’t have video games. Had the situation been reversed, I probably would be a die-hard fan of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog instead of IDW’s Transformers ongoings.

As it is, I didn’t really start reading comics until my freshman year of college; that’s a good thing, since if I tried to get into comics in 1993-7, I would’ve been scared off for life by all the horrible Image books, Heroes Reborn and Emerald Twilight.

Damn is your memory good! I have no idea what my first comic was, let alone all of the other books on the shelf! I don’t even know where I got it. I’ve narrowed it down to one of the comics in the Maximum Carnage series or some free comic I got in a toy back in the day. Another early one I remember was a Powerman don’t smoke comic. So, yeah, I have no idea.

Damn is your memory good! I have no idea what my first comic was, let alone all of the other books on the shelf!

My memory of childhood COMIC BOOKS is extremely vivid, yes. Especially of this particular comic because it took the top of my head off. And the TV shows I was hooked on, the cartoons I used to love, the first book I had that was my very own… all of those things, they meant much more to me then the actual real things in my life like people and school, because people and school were the things I was desperate to get away from. Reading, especially, was the place I went to hide out from the schoolyard bullies during the day, and from my horrible family at night. It’s called ‘escapist’ literature for a reason.

So that Flash comic, and what it felt like reading it– that’s seared into my memory. But everything else I had to look up, I’m not that good. I was goofing off at using the wonderful Newsstand page at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics. Looking at that site always brings a rush of memories, it’s an addictive thing to play around with.

Yep, Mike’s Newsstand page – that’s what I was thinking of. Just went there and found out Marvel Tales #59 came out in March 1975, so this month actually marks the 39th anniversary of my infection with the comics bug…

your memory is really good to remember your first comic. for mine was either captain carrot and zoo crew or ragman. plus can’t beleive birdman did team up with the galaxy trio in his comic book. for the only team up of the alex tooth characters i recall way back then was space ghost and the herculoids.after a crystal creature

Yeah, I’m with Bullseye11. I haven’t a clue when I started reading comics. I know I was reading pretty young and my parents would regularly buy me comics when we hit the book store. Most of my early fascinations started before my memory really does. I was a HUGE Star Wars fan but I’ve been told I was 1 when I first saw it. I guess the only thing that comes close to this was when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tv show started. THAT I remember.

I love Mike’s. Just as was entering high school, I traded my comics obsession for a record obsession. To those ends, I sold a huge chunk of my comics to a kid down the street. About a month ago, I used Mike’s Newsstand to piece the collection back together. I was able to score all my missing issues for around a buck apiece…not bad!

Weirdly, I haven’t thought too much about what my first comic was until now… it was almost certainly a Marvel UK issue of Star Wars (probably during the period it was called The Empire Strikes Back). I have clear memories of reading ‘Sweetheart Contract’ and ‘Coffin in the Clouds’ at my grandpa’s house. I wonder how many people got into comics through licensed properties?

Gavin: Most of us, probably. Cartoons and TV shows gave us the exposure, and then we want what we saw from TV when we see the comics. My parents got the Gold Key / Whitman Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mighty Mouse, Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker comics when they came out for me as an infant / toddler (I was reading at the second grade level by age 3). I can remember getting my first DC book – ADVENTURE COMICS #443 which featured an Aquaman story, around the time I was age 4 (February 1976 is the cover date, I think, but I can’t remember the discrepancy between cover date and actual date shipped any more). Started getting Batmans, Supermans about that time as well. While I probably got some Spider-Man before this, the first Marvel book I can remember is AVENGERS #160 (June 1977), and then I got Marvel’s STAR WARS from like #9-36, 38, and then sporadically when a cover grabbed my attentions. I sometimes got AVENGERS, FANTASTIC FOUR when the covers grabbed me (usually they were the Byrne or Perez issues between 1977-1981)… but by 1982, I was pretty much done with comics (“I’m ten years old, I’m getting too old for comics!”).

If it hadn’t been for a kid play acting out stuff from Uncanny X-Men a few short years later and re-introducing me into the hobby, I probably would never have caught the bug. There are days when I curse that kid, and other days I’m grateful.

For me, it was before the dawn of time. BRAVE & THE BOLD #28, featuring the debut of the JLA. Not only the first comic I ever bought by myself but the only one for which I paid a dime. A dime I was supposed to use to buy candy at the corner grocery store. I was five and a half…

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