I’m a comic book fan from waayyy back. I can trace my interest in funnybooks directly back to four big oversized comic books my parents bought for me back in the day. This was a couple years before I could read, so I used to make up the story and dialogue as I followed along with the pictures, running to grab an adult when something particularly interesting to me came up and I just HAD to know what was going on.
Marvel Treasury Edition #18 featured Werewolf By Night, whose standalone series is the only complete run I’ve ever hunted down and purchased. There was also an Iron Fist story about a guy who was born old and aged backwards, the X-Men (out of costume, so I had no idea who they were) and Morbius the Living Vampire, and a Ghost Rider story with a bad guy cyclist called The Orb, who wore a big blue eyeball motorcycle helmet for a very good reason. He had ditched his bike during a race and crossed the finish line ON HIS FACE. Leaving me with this indelible image (I think I might’ve been four)…
Gah! No wonder my interests went the way they did. I covered my eyes through the climactic unmasking in Return of The Jedi because I imagined Vader would look much like The Orb….but Anakin had nothing on him.
Marvel Treasury Edition #25 – Spider-Man vs. The Hulk at The Winter Olympics. I remember The Mole Man created a machine to lift the Olympic village out of reach. Peter Parker was there covering the games. I don’t remember why the Hulk was there. I think the Mole Man’s guys competed against the Olympians for some reason, and I don’t remember if they were actual real life Olympians. All I remember about this is there was a lady with a bubble head space helmet which got cracked and made her rapidly age. The Mole Man carried her off and The Hulk pounded the village back to ground level with his fists.
Marvel Treasury Edition #26: The Rampaging Hulk. My impressions of this one as a kid are hard to put to words as an adult. I remember being fascinated and repelled by MODOK, the leader of AIM. The guy is just a huge head and face with relatively spindly mechanical arms. Freakish. There was also The Harpy, who was a hot chick (apparently Betty Ross) that seemed to have the same problem as The Hulk, except she turned into a green skinned half bird woman, which again, freaked me out (and yet was also titillating, because her clothes tore off).
The thing I remember clearest though was the little story in the back which featured Hercules getting into a barfight with a trucker looking guy with nails that came out of his fists. I think the fight started over Hercules hording all the chicks in the place. At the end, their tremendous fight cleared out the bar. I had no idea who Wolverine was till years and years later. This story confused the heck out of me as a kid because I thought the trucker guy was a bad guy and couldn’t figure out why they got along in the end.
It also introduced me to the term ‘skirts’ as a word for women.
Finally, there was the magnum opus of my collection, which I wish to God I could find. Thankfully DC put this one out again recently in a nifty hardcover edition which my lovely wife got me for Christmas.
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.
It’s as awesome as it sounds and not nearly as bad. The Neil Adams art is great, the story line killer. An alien fleet appears in orbit and demands to fight Earth’s greatest champion over the fate of the planet. Superman steps up to the challenge, but Muhammad Ali argues that as a native earthling, HE’S Earth’s greatest champion.
They decide to settle it with an exhibition bout, battling it out under a simulated red sun. Ali OWNS Supes, apparently putting him in traction.
Ali goes toe to toe with the massive alien boxer, but sensing the alien commander’s duplicitous nature, Ali and Superman had previously formed a plan. Bundini Brown (Ali’s real life cornerman) is in reality Superman in disguise. He goes off to cripple the alien fleet while Ali takes a pounding in the ring. What happens next is best left to the actual panels…I think by the time I got a hold of this one I could read a little bit, so imagine a six or seven year old little white kid speaking Ali’s dialogue in his best Mr. T voice.
Meanwhile, don’t think Superman has been slouching all this time either….
And the real kicker at the end, which was a stipulation Muhammad Ali demanded before he allowed DC to use his likeness…
Haw! Yeah, Ali figures out in a single issue what it took decades for Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to learn. That’s why he’s the greatest, I guess.
Anyway, in retrospect, these four comics likely informed my own storytelling for years to come. I’ve always been attracted to old fashioned stories transplanted or retold with weird concepts.
Jack Russell’s (AKA Werewolf By Night – yeah, like the terrier) appearance in #18 probably went a long way towards fostering my love for werewolves, which I expounded on in my pirate horror novella Red Sails.
Bizarre, oddly sympathetic villains like The Mole Man, MODOK, and The Orb have always appealed to me. My first encounter with martial arts was probably the Iron Fist story in #18.
My professional Star Wars story was a boxing tale, and part of the Chevin cornerman’s name, Eedund Cus, was just Dundee (ie Ali cornerman Angelo Dundee) backwards. My appreciation for Muhammad Ali no doubt sprang from reading his exploits with Superman at a young age.
Of course, my tastes changed over the years. In the 80’s, like most kids, I was reading The Punisher (but enjoying DC’s illicit modern day continuation of The Shadow with Howard Chaykin, Bill Scienkiewicz and Kyle Baker more) X-Men, and Wolverine, with an early stint through Marvel’s fantastic GI Joe and Transformers comics. That was probably the peak of my collecting days, when I built up my boxes, finding little gem titles I continue to return to every so often like Milk and Cheese, Groo The Wanderer, Hellboy, and Marshall Law. Then came The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and all the heavy stuff that followed. I don’t pick up monthlies anymore, relying mainly on word of mouth and wikipedia to keep up with what’s going on there. I still go to Comic Con every year, pick up the occasional funnybook or trade paperback.
But I look back on these (and probably a giant sized Shazam/Captain Marvel edition I can’t even begin to remember enough to seek out) early, slightly goofy but genuinely great books as the beginning of my comics education. I lost them all a long time ago. Read them so many times the covers disappeared followed by the title splash pages, and finally the whole shebang.
Think I know what I’ll shop for at Comic Con this year.