INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
We’ve been playing with this interesting new widget.
It’s a Facebook thing, “See Your Memories,” which lets you look at stuff you have posted on a particular day in past years.
Now, as it happens, this week is, roughly, the anniversary of when I bought my first comic book ever off the newsstands. Flash #178. Forty-eight years ago.
I’ve written about it many times, I’m not going to get into it all again. One time, reflecting on that anniversary, I even wrote about the other books out that same month, wondering if any of them would have lit me up the way that particular comic book did and made me a fan for life.
But I thought it might be entertaining to do those same kind of Facebook flashbacks as they applied to my life with comics, and write about the February books on the stands in different years that really hit me. After all, for the most part, my real life wasn’t particularly memorable or pleasant. The memories from my childhood that are the most vivid are the ones of things I read, and without question the things I read that had the most impact on my life were comics.
These are random, just books that triggered a memory as I looked over what was out in February in this or that year. So join me in the Wayback Machine and let’s see what was going on in February, of, oh…
…1974, for example.
In 1974 I was barely twelve, in the seventh grade, and my favorite things in all the world were DC’s 100-page Super-Spectaculars. I added these two to my collection that February: Batman #256 and Shazam #12.
The Shazam was pretty good and I enjoyed it well enough. I had some reservations about the groovy 1970s look artist Bob Oksner was giving the new stories, though of course the Golden Age stuff was, well, gold.
But the real prize was Batman. The Batman book was one of those ‘theme’ collections, and it was a really great one– the origins of the different Batcave trophies. So at last I learned where the giant penny and the robot dinosaur came from. This also was, I believe, the first time I noticed the art of Irv Novick and Dick Giordano– they really turned in the hell of a job. The story by Denny O’Neil was pretty good, too; he was doing a thing where he was re-introducing the classic villains with a new twist, trying to make them dangerous enough for THE Batman. This time out, it was Catwoman, recast as an animal activist.
He didn’t succeed as well here as he had previously with the Joker and Two-Face, but I gave him credit for trying. I also enjoyed the weird little filler features… a history of Catwoman’s outfits…
…and this hilarious two-pager might be the most famous thing to come out of that particular issue.
I read them both to tatters. I replaced the Batman a few years back at a convention– bless you, Randy’s Readers!– but I’m still on the prowl for the Shazam.
In February of 1976, I was a Marvel maniac.
Eight months previously, the grocery store that was just a few blocks from my home had started to carry comics, and as a high school freshman I had found part-time jobs that gave me more disposable income. The combination was deadly. I was still intoxicated by being able to get whatever comics I wanted without worrying about finding the next part of a ‘continued’ story, and after the last half a year or so, I’d even sussed out what day the new comics hit the stand. So I was all over the Marvel books. And that was the hell of a year, too.
That February, you had Steve Gerber in his prime tearing it up on Defenders and Omega the Unknown.
You had Marv Wolfman and Steve Englehart’s gleefully nasty crossover between Tomb of Dracula and Doctor Strange, with Gene Colan and Tom Palmer turning in one of the most amazing art jobs ever on both chapters.
That’s still a high point of the Bronze Age for me… it hooked me on Tomb of Dracula and I stayed with that title all the way to the end, even the magazine revival in 1979. Of course, I was already in the tank for Englehart’s Dr. Strange. I loved it so much I’d decided to start getting his Avengers, as well. There was this new guy George Perez on the art, and he was rocking it over on Fantastic Four, too… the FF were just wrapping up the three-part saga of Luke Cage briefly replacing the Thing on the team after Ben had reverted to his human form.
Over in his own title, Luke was getting put through his paces by Don McGregor and Sal Buscema… and sweet Christmas, was it ever a good time. That was also the same month Roy Thomas introduced us to the Liberty Legion in an epic crossover event that sprawled from Invaders to Marvel Premiere and back again, and Jack Kirby was ramping up his wonderfully deranged Madbomb/Bicentennial saga in Captain America and the Falcon with “THE ROCKS ARE BURNING!”
Meanwhile, a time-lost Spider-Man met Killraven in the far future of… 2019. And Daredevil met famed ‘psychic’ Uri Geller in a story so silly that it drew outraged letters from both James Randi and Mark Evanier (who inquired acidly if writer Marv Wolfman also believed in other equally ridiculous myths, like for instance the talent of Jerry Lewis.)
I didn’t care. I loved it all. I was wallowing. I hadn’t entirely abandoned DC, either; this was when The Joker came out with its best issue, and the JSA revival (“Super Squad!” introducing the hellaciously buxom Power Girl) had caught my eye, as well.
This was leading towards the peak of my comics collecting a year or so later, when I was getting something like thirty books a month, mostly because I could afford it and Mom had given up on trying to stop me. Three years later I’d be off to college and abandoning comics in favor of girls and dope and booze, but for that year, in 1976, when I was able to subsidize my own comics habit and get pretty much any title I wanted… it was glorious.
These are all back here in the home library now, as it happens– in paperback, which is still astonishing to me. Not just these comics but a bunch more I missed on the first go-round like Howard the Duck, Jonah Hex, and even Skull the Slayer.
Every so often I just look at the shelves in this office and gloat a little. Take THAT, Mom.
Flash forward now to February of 1993, just for the hell of it.
In ’93 I was kind of regrouping.
My first marriage had blown up just five months before. Though the divorce was turning out to be messy and painful and ugly, I found solace in feeling my personality snap back into its normal shape after becoming more and more deformed and repressed in my desperate effort to try and hold a failing relationship together.
One of those reclaimed personality traits was buying comics. I dived back into my old routine of weekly visits to my retailer with a palpable sense of relief.
The early 1990s really did suck for superhero titles, and I wasn’t really keeping up, except for my compulsive need to hang in there with Batman. I was mostly getting Bat comics and in the runup to Knightfall, they were okay but not really setting my world on fire.
But superheroes weren’t the only thing going.
No, Vertigo was where I was at in February ’93. Couldn’t get enough of it. You had Sandman, Death: The High Cost of Living, Hellblazer, and the first issue of Sandman Mystery Theatre, which I knew was going to be one of my favorite things ever in the history of ever. (And it still is.)
I was even still getting Doom Patrol, though post-Morrison the magic was definitely gone. And Swamp Thing, where it all started, was on the list mostly out of habit, though Nancy Collins was trying heroically to undo the mess Doug Wheeler had made of things.
I wasn’t really getting any Marvel stuff at all, except for the new 2099 line which I was interested in mostly out of curiosity.
All those comics are long gone, traded out with paperbacks where possible, except for my original runs of Sandman, Sandman Mystery Theatre, and Spider-Man 2099. Those I hung on to. Though I probably will end up getting paperback versions of the Sandman stuff eventually as well.
And today? Well, I am getting hardly any single issues at all. This week there was only one book in the reserve box: the new Archie, which I enjoyed quite a bit. But mostly my comics dollar is going towards trade paperbacks I find discounted here and there, online or at local used bookstores. Most recently it’s the latest Showcase Presents Batman and Showcase Presents Blue Beetle, both of which are making me much happier than anything DC’s doing currently. What’s more, Amazon tells me that the delightful Justice Society revival series from Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck is getting a nice trade paperback edition in a few months, all ten issues between two covers.
I somehow missed that one back in 1993, and everything I’ve seen of it tells me it’s completely my thing; much more so than anything DC is doing with those characters now. So I’ll be glad to add that to the JSA books already here in the library when it comes out.
Anyway. That’s a few random Februarys for you. Full disclosure– I could never do this without the wonderful Newsstand feature at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics. Now that’s a widget I never get tired of playing with. As far as I’m concerned, looking up what comics were on the stands way back when, and remembering the magic of those first encounters, is way more entertaining than any Facebook memories I could dredge up.
See you next week.
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