Which series would I devote my comics fandom to collecting, and why?
In last week’s trip down memory lane, I forgot to mention the thing which drew me to comics shops: back issues. For several years I got a lot out of the local shops, completing collections of some fairly young titles. However, in 1993 I attended my first real comics convention, what I knew as the Chicago Comic-Con. (I don’t think it had been taken over by Wizard at that point.) Of course I went to the panels and indulged my nerdity, but I also bought a lot of back issues. From that point, mine eyes had seen the glory that was an annual excuse to drop hundreds of dollars on 30-year-old comics. I saw an opportunity to indulge in some serious collecting, but I knew my avarice had to be tempered.
So it was, in the summer of 1993, that I resolved to collect complete runs of only a few long-running series, whether in single issues or bound books. Since I’m getting ready to return to San Diego, and the possibility of more back issues, here are those series, in no particular order ‘cept alphabetical.
1. Fantastic Four. I knew the basics of the FF through those full-color pocket-sized paperbacks Marvel put out in the mid-’70s. I read a few FFs in the ’70s as well. However, not until the Walt Simonson issues of 1990-91 did I really get into the Fantastic Four. I even got the first Marvel Masterworks volume. After Simonson left the book, I did too, and I wouldn’t come back until the winter of 1994, following the apparent deaths of Reed and Doom.
What made me decide, in the summer of ’93, to search out FF back issues and hope for future Masterworks to keep my costs down? Well, a couple of things: it was Marvel’s Greatest Comics #71, a reprint of FF #89, which was the conclusion of the “killer house” story where the Mole Man blinded everyone. The subplot of FF #89 involved a mysterious alien ship coming to Earth for nothing good, and to show its progress Kirby used a photo-collage. Like the “hinge panel” from FF #50, that collage stuck with me; and the more I learned about Jack Kirby the more I knew I needed to appreciate his most influential work. From there it was a desire to see what John Byrne and others had done with the FF, and thus I committed myself. With the Masterworks finishing up the Kirby issues earlier this year, and having gotten the “44 Years” DVD-ROM, I’m slacking off a little, but who knows — I might get a hankering for the Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz issues in San Diego.
2. Green Lantern. I read a lot of Green Lantern in the ’70s and ’80s. Most of it was Denny O’Neil, but this was post-Neal Adams: Mike Grell or Alex Saviuk pencilling. Later, I read some of the Marv Wolfman/Joe Staton issues, and got the Crisis tie-ins by Steve Englehart and Staton. While I didn’t stick around for the book’s transformation into Green Lantern Corps, I did enjoy the Priest/M.D. Bright stories in Action Comics Weekly, and that led me into the Gerard Jones/Pat Broderick revival of (again) 1990. By 1993 GL was a full-fledged DC franchise, with a quarterly anthology and solo books for John Stewart and Guy Gardner (both of which I also bought). I had also collected the heavy-paper reprints of the O’Neil/Adams issues, so by the time I decided to amass a complete set of GL, it was just a matter of filling in the gaps. Today, I’m happy to say, the gap is between the penultimate Archives volume (I still need the latest one) and that first O’Neil/Adams issue, #76. I think I’ve even gotten all of the Flash backup stories, although I think there’s a DC Special Series I lack.
But why Green Lantern? Not to be too superficial, but the costume has a lot to do with it. It’s very simple, but very striking: green onesie over black tights, green boots, and white gloves. It says both “organic” and “outer space.” The limitless versatility of the power ring is a big appeal, too: whatever a GL thinks of, s/he can conjure. With Superman, you have to coordinate the powers effectively. With Batman, you have to be smart. With the Flash, you have to view everything in slow motion. Being Green Lantern lets you run on instinct … and willpower, of course.
Plus, there was a Green Lantern for every shape, color, gender, composition, whatever. Green Lanterns were bugs, crystals, chipmunks, robots, fish, you name it — and they each wore the most powerful tool in the universe. How could I not want to get in on that?
3. Justice League Of America. This was the book I read most often growing up, and it was the one I gravitated towards when I saw all those back-issue boxes on the Rosemont floor. I bought the Earth-X issues, got the Earth-S issues I was missing, and dove back into the Satellite Era. For Young Tom, the Justice League represented epic superhero stories, because they had to be big enough to accommodate all those high-powered characters. Although writers such as Englehart and Gerry Conway tried to infuse the book with subplots and interpersonal friction, by and large the concept resisted such things, instead letting the cast’s traditional relationships become part of the overall dynamic. These were consummate professionals at the top of their collective game; and again, how could I turn that down?
As with GL, the Archives have helped a lot, but I’ve actually gotten far back enough with the floppies that I’m starting to overlap the latest Archives. Therefore, I only lack a few years in the 90s-100s.
There you have it. I’m also filling in the gaps on Batman and Detective from the ’70s and early ’80s, but haven’t decided how far back to go (O’Neil/Adams? “New Look?”). Maybe DC will pump out about two dozen more Chronicles volumes and I won’t have to decide….