14th Sep2010

Origin Zeo

by Will

So, when last we met, I recounted the tale of how I discovered my love for comics. Rather, it wasn’t love at that point, but was more of a passing curiosity. That all changed when Muddear and I went back to Alabama in 1992. At that point, Cephus and his Winnebago were M.I.A., so we ended up taking an Amtrak sleeper for the trip. I can’t read in a car, but I can somehow read in a train. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up about 24 hours.

Not much had changed about me in 3 years, so I still needed to be bribed to make the trip. I no longer had the scooter, so I was really worried as to how I was going to entertain myself while down there. Let me paint a picture for you: we live in the COUNTRY. We didn’t have an indoor toilet until about 1994. There was no cable, and we lived on the side of the highway. Unless you planned ahead, your days would consist of listening to big rigs, watching The Beverly Hillbillies through screen snow and swatting wasps. So, as you can understand, I NEEDED stuff to take with me!

The night before the trip, my mom and aunts took me to Waldenbooks to stock up on supplies. Now, I should also mention that I had a SERIOUS love for the Hardy Boys at this point, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s say that I was reading those as voraciously as I currently read comics. So, I intended to pick up some more Hardy Boys volumes, but realized that I had read all of the books that particular store had to offer. I probably threw a fit, because I’m an only child, plus it sounds like something I would do. At that moment, however, I noticed the spinner rack near the register. I was determined to get something, and since I was doing them a favor by going to Alabama with Muddear (or so my little, disillusioned 11 year old mind thought), they could break the rules a bit. I saw a comic on the stands that caught my eye immediately: Superman, but guest starring Robin. Not just that, it was Robin and Superman fighting VAMPIRES!!! In today’s industry, that comic would solve all of DC’s problems – the true definition of a gateway comic.

So, let’s focus on what we were dealing with here: comic book (bad), Superman (good), Robin (inconclusive), vampires (BAD). These were the factors in play in the middle of that mall bookstore. I appealed to Aunt Mary, ’cause she’s the kindly one of the bunch, even though she’s also the one who would be most opposed to the vampire aspect. I explained that Superman and Robin were FIGHTING the vampires. They were trying to vanquish evil, not become a part of it. Somehow, my Shopping Mall Perry Mason routine won out, and I got the book. Yep, I got the book, but I couldn’t really flaunt the cover, which depicted a vampire chick about to bite Superman’s neck (yeah, I was also the kid who couldn’t have toy guns). I also grabbed some copies of Detective Comics, mainly due to the fact that the covers were innocuous, and “Detective” didn’t sound like something that the aunts could argue about. After all, I’d been reading Hardy Boys, and I didn’t yet realize that Batman also starred in Detective.

So, I got my comics, and hid them away for the night, fearing my family would change their minds and try to throw them away prior to my departure (similar events had occurred – again, for another time). I swear, the minute our train pulled out of Union Station, I was reading those comics. It was exciting, kinda like when you read your first Playboy – plus, the boobs are roughly the same size in both. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the Superman & Robin vs. Vampires adventure that I learned a harsh truth about comic books: the stories don’t all end by the end of the book! Up to this point, all the “real” books I had read had completed their narrative by the final page. I’m sorry, but The Cay and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry didn’t end on cliffhangers! How was I supposed to find out how this ended?! I mean, it was hard enough just getting this issue! How would I even go about finding the next part? Did they only sell comics in certain stores? These were the questions going through my head.

A few days after we got to Alabama, we went to Kroger for groceries. While in the store, I saw a spinner rack full of comics. I was still somewhat burned by the fact that my last comic experience had been…incomplete, but I found myself checking out the books. That’s when something caught my eye; an issue of Action Comics, with Robin and Superman on the cover, still fighting vampires! Was this the same book? How many Superman books were there? When did this come out? Looking at the title page, I thought I had found the next part of the story! Oh happy day! At this point in my life, I had my own allowance, in addition to the money Muddear had been given for me. I grabbed the Superman book, as well as some more Batman comics and went home to finish my story. Years later, I realized I had read them out of order, and this “miraculous” find was actually Part 1. Why were comics so confusing?!

Over the course of that trip, Kroger visits became more regular, as I was trying to find any reason I could for us to go into town. “Muddear, we need bubble bath.” Or “Muddear, I want Spaghetti-O’s without the hot dogs in them.” I was starting to learn that comics came out on a weekly basis. Sure, there wasn’t an issue of Superman each week, but there did seem to be a weekly comic starring Superman, regardless of the title on the cover. I also started stocking up on more Batman comics, as well as G.I. Joe. I had always loved the Joe cartoon, but didn’t know there were comics of that, as well. The comics were grittier than the cartoon, and characters actually seemed to die.

I also found myself branching out, gaining interest in different characters. Superman wore thin quickly, but Spider-Man piqued my interest. He was a down-on-his-luck loser, yet he was married to a hot redhead who was always in his corner. The real kicker, however, was the fact that this summer was actually the 30th anniversary of the character’s first appearance. This meant that there were several comics that featured hologram covers. I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed this, but I LOVE holograms. Sure, it’s a dated “technology”, but I wish holograms were on EVERYTHING! Sure, those books were a bit more expensive, but I was getting an extra-sized comic AND a beautiful hologram cover. In my mind, comics just kept getting better and better!

Needless to say, that summer was FILLED with comics, as I couldn’t get enough of them! Still, my reading was pretty much isolated to DC characters, and Spider-Man. On the train ride home, one of the porters noticed that I was reading comics, and he started a conversation with me. I remember thinking, “Adults read these things?” I’ll never forget that, as it was the first time that I realized that there was a sense of community about all of this. He told me that I should read Marvel comics. I said, “Nah, I’m good with DC.” I remember being excited about the thought of new comics, but feared what my mom would say when I got home. Would she allow me to continue with this hobby? Where would I find comics other than the ones at Waldenbooks? Marvel published books other than Spider-Man? These are the mysteries surrounding my homecoming, and we’ll touch on that next time.

Part One
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five