I’ve been thinking about posting this topic for a while now. I started actively collecting comic books in 1973 when I acquired two consecutive issues of Incredible Hulk while on a family vacation. But my mom had been buying the occasional comic book for me since I was (near as I can figure) about three years old, humor mostly.¹ I do remember having several Harvey comics when I was very young: Casper, Spooky, Wendy, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Richie Rich. I had a Disney comic or two.² I know I had at least one Pink Panther comic book in the early ‘70s.
But I don’t number any of these among my “first” comics, however. What I’m interested in are the first comics I still have in my collection and would still be willing to read, and indeed, from time to time, still do. Although I later filled many gaps and, by 1973 began buying and trading for backissues, I still remember the comic books I owned first. I know I got them all when they were new on the stands, so, to that end, tomorrow I will begin chronicalling the first 15 (or so) comics that set me on my path for life.
¹I never owned an Archie comic, although I read them at the dentist’s office.
²I recently confirmed that a story I remember quite well about the old “string tied to a wallet” prank was a reprint of a Carl Barks story when it turned up in an edition of The Carl Barks Library.
I have been using Mike's Amazing World's Newsstand feature for commenting on various threads. I hadn't thought of using it for this thread but will do that and try to pin down my earliest comics.
Justice League of America #103 was the Halloween issue, not a Christmas one. I guess Mom found it still on the stands. To this day, in my mind, I list the JLA starting with those six on the cover. Plus it began my fascination with the Phantom Stranger.
Batman #247 was an actual Xmas issue. There were some great scenes with the Dark Knight taking on a nasty character named Chimp Manners. It would have made a pretty good TV movie!
Marvel Team Up #7 was picked up probably because I saw reruns on the 1967 cartoon show. And my mom always liked Thor!
Superman #261, despite the kinky cover, showcased the instability of Star Sapphire and Lois Lane's ability to impersonate super-villains.
These books made me appreciate the talents of people like Len Wein, Denny O'Neil, Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, Dick Giordano, Irv Novick, Ross Andru, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy and Gil Kane!
Not a bad way to make a good impression on a young mind!
My DC collecting began after my Marvel collecting by about two years. Here is my first Bat-book and my first JLA, from 1970:
Batman #224 seems to have been some sort of experiment or accident, although I don't remember anything about it. It's a standalone; all my other DC collections began two months later, the same month as the Justice League of America shown above (#84). In fact, I didn't even buy the next issue of Batman -- I didn't start collecting it regularly until issue #226. Maybe the cover just grabbed me.
I've mentioned before that Detecive Comics #445 was my first comic. Looking at the Mikes' Amazing site confirms it for me. I've owned comics that pre-date 'Tec 445 but I know I aqcuired them all as back issues.
So my first experience reading Batman was Len Wein's "Bat Murderer" story. I was already aware of Batman via re-runs of the TV series (which I took very seriously at age 5), but the Batman in this comic was a completely different animal. In this issue, he breaks into a prison, puts on a cop uniform, watches R'as Al Ghul shoot himself, fights off several cops, and then is pictured in the final panel holding a gun.
The issue is rounded out by several “classic” detective oriented stories featuring various characters. I'm sure I had no idea that the other stories were reprints and I remember enjoying them all, but it was the Batman story that really stuck with me.
Those 100 pagers were pretty hard for a kid to keep intact and my copy of this ended up with all kinds of tape along the spine and various other attempts to hold it together. As a result, I still have it since it's pretty much unsellable.
#4. DETECTIVE COMICS #381 – NOV 68
Look at that cover, first of all. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. One conclusion I have already drawn from this project is that my mom’s choices were dictated by great cover art. The story start with a pun in the title: “One Drown—One More to Go!” SCENE: “A dark murky night on the Gotham City waterfront.” The first page is divided into a tier of three long panels. In the first, a man wearing a purple trench coat and hat is shown from behind, dragging Robin across a wooden pier to a waiting rowboat. Robin is draped in heavy chains bound to a cinderblock. There is a lighthouse across the bay in the distance.
2nd panel: The man roughly throws Robin into the rowboat. 3rd panel: The Man rows far out into the bay. There is a rhythm to the dialogue the man speaks in each of the three panels.
“I hope you appreciate what I’m doing for you, Robin!
“In you go!
“This is far enough…”
Turn the page. Full page panel (a “splash” in more ways than one). Beneath the trench coat and hat we see for the first time that the man is Batman! He says, “Down you go, Robin! From now on… I work solo!” as Robin disappears beneath the water. What!? There must be some mistake! Why is Batman drowning his partner? That’s it, I’m hooked! The cover of my copy is in tatters and in two pieces, but I still have it, both front and back.
This issue contains a simple story, well told in 16 pages. Batman uses lots of equipment throughout, include the bat-copter, infrared contact lenses (to read Morse code sent from the lighthouse I mentioned earlier), a two-way belt radio, the bat-rope with a suction cup and a mini-rebreather. The lighthouse is run by an old friend of Batman’s, a retired seaman named Captain Spume. He looks a little like Santa Clause, but is wearing green pants, a red and black striped t-shirt, a white skipper’s hat with a black bill, and is smoking a long-stemmed pipe. He has a pet seal named “Albatross,” and when we first meet him he is playing a game of chess via radio. He tosses a captured knight in the air for Albatros to catch on his nose (a trick which later brings about the villain’s downfall).
The story is by Frank Robbins and the art by Bob Brown and Joe Giella. It consists of many oddly angled panels, which tends to have the effect of throwing the events a bit off-kilter. (Many of the stories I will be posting in the days to come use this technique. I wonder why it’s not used anymore…?) Are all Batman stories of this era this good? Why, oh why, haven’t these stories been reprinted? Maybe the “omnibus” series will reach this point soon.
The back-up feature is an Elongated Man mystery by Garner Fox and Sid Greene. (Yes, I encountered the Elongated Man before the Flash, Green Lantern, etc.) It was a story of a “ghost house” (not a haunted house, but a ghost house), complete with Ralph Dibny’s twitchy nose and some visual; imagery that has stuck with me all these years. Ads in this issue included those for Justice League of America #67 and The Creeper #4, books I would someday (albeit not someday soon) own.
Wow, this is great! Usually I'm the cranky old guy talking about stuff people barely remember, but you started buying Batman TWO YEARS before I did!
Na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN!
The oddly shaped panels were a thing for awhile. I remember that Gene Colan was an early artist to do this in Marvel's Silver Age. Steranko and Adams also.
I probably won't have time to do an entry until I get back from New Orleans, but when I do...let's just say that May & June 1977 were HUGE months for me.
#5. AQUAMAN #42 – DEC 68
Again, I must say: Look at that cover!
I was only four years old when my mom bought this, the third chapter of a multi-parter, but: “Far from the Kingdom of Atlantis… continuing his search for Mera, his captured queen… Aquaman nears the colony of the savage Maarzons.” BAM! That’s all I needed to know to get started. A recap of the first two parts was presented on page three (which included a “Phantom-like” ring, a detail you can bet I noticed). Black Manta was described as “a sworn enemy.” Got it. Aquaman’s piscatorial telepathy was shown as a series of enlarging circles emanating from his forehead. That was cool.
The ads for Justice League of America #67 and World’s Finest #180 captured my attention. The JLA one featured stories of Green Arrow, the Atom and Hawkman joining the team. I had no idea who those characters were, but I knew I wanted to read those stories! World’s Finest showed Superman holing the unconscious body of Batman above his head from atop an unfinished skyscraper. What was going on!? I had to know! Little did I know that one day, many years later, I would those very issues, but that’s another tale for another time.
The issue ended with Aquaman ranting: “But where?? She could be anywhere! Where do I go?? Where shall I search next??” Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was the first of many “Earth-J” stories. Although I would not coin that term for two more decades, I was forced to make up my own endings for continued stories. After I discovered the concept of multiple Earths, I came to call the universe in which these endings resided Earth-J.
#6. SUPERMAN #213 – JAN 69
If there are two themes running through these posts they are 1) “Look at that great cover!” and 2) “Why haven’t these stories been collected?” The cover above is by the great Neal Adams, although I wouldn’t come to realize that for many years. Brief digression here: I happen to think Jack Abel is Herb Trimpe’s best inker ever, and as I was reading Abel’s biographical material in the latest edition of Marvel Masterworks Hulk, I noticed it said he had a long run inking Curt Swan’s Superman in the ‘60s. News to me! Superman #213 is uncredited, and it didn’t occur to me until last night for the first time, but that’s got to be Swan inked by Abel, right? And the writer is… Leo Dorfman (I’m guessing)?
This is another one I’ve read to pieces. The cover is detached but not yet in two.
Symbolic Splash Page: Lex Luthor raving over Superman’s green corpse.
Set Up: “Superman places a priceless prize in a huge vault and seals it with a lifetime lock… one that can’t be cracked as long as he lives! so that renegade scientist, the Man of Steel’s arch-enemy, Lex Luthor, knows he can olny break in by killing his foe… and now the vault’s entrance becomes… The Most Dangerous Door in the World!”
The story begins with superman reading his will on TV. He leaves abruptly, obviously upset. Luthor, watching from his lair, is intrigued but not biting. Cut to the Planet staff (Perry, Clark and Jimmy) discussing Luthor. Next, Superman attempts to split a diamond (the size of a basketball!) on live TV, but his hand slips and he destroys it. Don’t worry, this turns out to be a hoax and the diamond fake. The whole thing was staged for Luthor’s benefit. After that, Superman grants a series of interviews collectively titled “I Remember Luthor,” detailing all of Luthor’s failures. Luthor finally bites.
Using an underground drill vehicle and Braniac’s shrink ray, Luthor steal the vault, encased in concrete, from below. When the theft is discovered, Superman doesn’t seem too concerned. A few days later, three giant robots converge on Metropolis Park. As soon as Superman arrives, the Robots shed their foil covering to reveal they are made of Kryptonite. They form a box with superman trapped inside. His body, which can be seen by the bystanders, turns green from Kryptonite poisoning. Then his body disappears, teleported away by Luthor. Once Luthor has confirmed his death, he teleports Superman’s body back to a park bench, where Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl are waiting.
Supergirl sprays and antidote the the “death-stimulation drug” in his face, and Superman, still green, awakens. Everything is going as planned. It’s “up to Luthor” now. “Superman” sits up and takes off a wig to reveal he is really Braniac 5 in disguise!
Back at Luthor’s lair, he assaults the vault with jets of flame, then freezes it to absolute zero, then shales it with large mechanical claws. Finally it opens to reveal… Superman himself! Luthor faints from stress. Superman, you see, had been imprisoned in the vault by Mordru, and, being vulnerable to magic, was unable to free himself. Using super-ventriloquism, he set up this plan with Supergirl, Braniac 5 and the others. Also providing assistance were Sun Man, the white witch and Element Man. I’m sure I missed some subtlety whe I was five, but this story has everything: Jimmy Olsen, Perry White (no Lois, though), Lex Luthor, Supergirl, Brainiac 5 and other adult members of the LSH.
This issue also has a reprint, “Orphans of Space”, about the effects of Red Kryptonite. I don’t think I fully realized the story was a reprint at the time; I just recognized the art was different. This issue’s letter page is an example of what I have come to call “The Rule of Two”. Mostly I don’t know the writers of letters to Silver Age LOC columns, but if a letter col contains a letter from one future pro, it will often contain two. In this case, those letters are written by Mark Evanier and Martin Pasko. Evanier referred to issue #210 as “one of the greatest issues I have ever read,” and Pasko joked giving the editor a chance to make a pun.
NEXT: My first Marvel.
The story was credited to Cary Bates, Swan and Abel when it was reprinted in an 80s digest. I've never read Mordru's Silver Age appearances, so I only got why Mordru used a vault recently.
Thanks, Luke. You're the board's statistician. Can you tell me the run of issues on which Swan and Abel were paired?