Why Comics? I’m glad you asked…
The time has come to confess to an enduring love of comic books. Superhero comic books. Capes and cowls, tights and Kirby-crackle. Four color, nine panel cave paintings of wonder. I’ve always loved these things and used to have quite a collection of individual issues in bags with boards and boxed carefully away. Still have a lot. All right: a LOT.
Why comics? Adolescent power fantasies of a short kid? Probably. Worlds of escape for a sometimes ill kid? That too. And, also, simply put: comic books and the stories they told were serious business that demanded not only my attention but my study. I learned vocabulary directly by keeping a dictionary close to hand as I read and, indirectly, learned more than a thing or two about narrative, plot and characterization. If somebody got Richard Ryder’s character wrong then, Blue Blazes!, I noticed it.
All that being confessed, what follows are seven of my personal most important single issues and one piece of art. Why eight? Why not, true-believer?
1) Conan the Barbarian #24 (Marvel)—“The Song of Red Sonja” This was the first comic I ever got in my grubby hands and it had just about everything a boy could want. Swords, sorcery, blood and gore. Giant snakes and Conan fighting them. Red Sonja in something other than a chainmail bikini (gasp!). I’m pretty sure it was written by Roy Thomas (based on RE Howard, of course) and drawn in all of Barry Windsor-Smith’s drippy-line glory. In my memory it’s fantastic and that’s probably where I should leave it.
2) The Defenders #50 (Marvel) –“Scorpio Must Die!” The finale to the three or four part “War Against Scorpio” storyline, this is the first time I noticed the use of space in a comic. Written by David Kraft and drawn by Keith Giffin (channeling Jack Kirby), the comic features a page with the archetypal nine-panel layout ruptured by the action breaking out of one panel and spilling over into another. Couple that with arch-villains, secret bases, conflicted androids and a last page suicide (!) and my twelve year-old mind was blown.
3) Warlock #11 (Marvel)—“The Strange Death of Adam Warlock” Written and drawn by Jim Starlin, this issues sees our titular gold-skinned hero confronting not just his future self but his future self’s past, the physical manifestation of his kismet and many other things WAY beyond my (this time) eleven year old self. Pretty sure Starlin dropped a LOT of acid coming up with this storyline. As an added bonus, it’s got Thanos the Mad Titan in it whose profile we saw in the last few second of the Avengers movie this past summer.
4) Nova the Human Rocket #1 (Marvel)—What’s this? The fabulous first issue of a new hero in the tradition of Spider-Man? Blue blazes! Sign me up. Not a good comic or (until recently) even a decent hero. Loved the hell out of this cheesy comic nonetheless…
5) Giant-Size Man-Thing #1 (Marvel)—“How Will We Keep Warm When the Last Flame Dies?” I maintain you cannot have a list of Bronze Age super hero comics (which, apparently, this has become) without at least one big ol’ Man-Thing in there. And this is a good one. Writer Steve Gerber (of Howard the Duck fame) gets his usual sideways political commentary into a story featuring the Glob (Striking! Again!) and a crazy cultist who looks an awful lot like Richard Nixon. And Mike Ploog’s art fits the subject matter perfectly.
6) Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts #18 (Marvel) “The Dream is Dead!” Holy Cats! Did the good Doctor’s slinky, sorcerous assistant, Clea just have a time-travelling hook-up with Benjamin Franklin in the middle of my comic book? By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, I believe she did. Mind=blown (I went around with my mind blown a LOT from ages ten to twelve…)
7) Captain America #200 (Marvel) “By Dawn’s Early Light!” Cap’s 200th issue came out in 1976 during the Bicentennial celebration. Conceived, drawn, and written by Jack “King” Kirby this comic is bananas. In fact, Kirby’s whole Cap run is crazy, dealing as it does with a 5th Column hoping to overthrow the United States by firing off insanity-inducing “mad-bombs” of escalating sizes—from the tiny “Peanut” to the “Dumpling” to the gigantic “Big Daddy.” Was Kirby dropping acid with Jim Starlin when he came up with all this? Hard to say…
8) Lastly, because everything on this list has been from Marvel Comics (hey, I know what I like) I offer this gorgeous piece of art by Jack Kirby. Titled “The Glory Boat,” it’s from issue #6 of a comic called New Gods. I’ve never read the issue, have no idea what’s going on but, for some reason, the image has stuck with me down the years…I mean, look at it:
‘Nuff said, true believers!