Saturday, March 31, 2007

Expanding Horizons

I'm continuing the sorting business in the basement as free time allows. I've chosen a few of the longer running titles I've collected, and am currently sorting THOSE titles out from the rest of the masses, and consolidating those that remain. Right now I've got seperate boxes going for Justice League of America (and all its later incarnations and spin-off titles), Flash, Green Lantern, Firestorm, assorted Teen Titans titles and the All-Star Squadron.

It's helping me get a better sense of how much of everything there is, but also allowing me to get rid of some of the smaller boxes as things start falling into their appropriate categories. And of course many covers are familiar and ring distant memories of great stories (or in a few cases, real stinkers), while others seem brand new to me. What fun it will be to re-read them all (well, most of the them...) once they've fallen into consecutive order.

I also managed a quick trip to Hyannis yesterday to pick up a package of backing boards and a fresh supply of polybags, so I'll be able to begin rehabilitating those issues I come across which have suffered some in storage.

* * *

Tonight, I'll feature this issue, Flash #241, from May 1976. By then I was twelve and had gotten a pretty good introduction to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and my attentions turned to some of their peers. This was a great two-for-one issue, since it featured both Flash and Green Lantern for my thirty cents (YEESH!).

This issue features the story, "Steal, Flash, Steal" by Cary Bates, with art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin.

It's a fun little tale from the Barry Allen days. Mirror Master has created a trick mirror which hypnotizes Flash into believing he's a villian and the MM has decided to build public support for himself by posing as the hero who's trying to bring the theiving Flash to justice...

At home, Barry's wife Iris burns through shirts as she attempts to iron while watching the news, and enlists the caretaker of the Flash museum to go to Barry's aid...which he does, disguised as another of Flash's rogues, Heat Wave. Eventually, Barry figures out what's happening, when he realizes that he is never nervous when the police appear on the scene (being a police scientist himself), but the Mirror Master always gets fidgety. A simple tale, to be sure, but definitely an enjoyable one.

As I mentioned before, there's a Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) back-up solo story, also. It's typical outer space fare, really (story by Denny O'Neil, with excellent art by Mike Grell), about a minor mission of mystery GL is sent on by one of the Guardians, in which he witnesses the extinguishing of a distant sun and must rekindle its fire.

It's an odd little tale...made no less confusing by the fact that GL is accompanied on his journey by a little flower creature on his shoulder, called (appropriately) Itty. And when Hal has completed the task, he falls asleep in the vacuum of space, protected, we assume, by the power of his ring and then we're out of panels.

I wonder how well you can sleep, drifting out there in the cosmos...?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Superman: Hero of the Beach

My first issue of Superman didn't come until 1973(*), when at age nine I purchased #267. It was, interestingly enough, a story (by Elliot S. Maggin, with art by Cary Swan)of global climate change. In this case, it was brought about by the gargoyle creatures shown on the cover, who are absorbing all the world's heat to survive.

After breaking up an iceberg or two, we catch up with Clark, who's having a day at the beach with Lois and Steve Lombard, blow-hard sportscaster from WGBS TV. We see Clark endure a remake of the old Charles Atlas advertisement which was a staple in comics at the time (see the original below), before Superman learns through Steve's visiting nephew of the existence of the creatures under the North Pole.

Once Supes figures out their plight, he's only too happy to help, creating a device to help them capture sunlight which is being wasted in the vacuum of space...thereby saving the world and the so-called villians. This story gets extra points for being done in one issue...and as a bonus, there's a "Private Life of Clark Kent" back-up feature that's pretty amusing.

* There'd been plenty of Batman by then. Mom confirms he was the favorite back then, that I had my first Batman shirt at age 2, and was pretty young when they took the show off the air and I wrote the network a letter to let them know what a bad idea it was. Heh heh.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Introducing (and Reintroducing) Diana Prince

This issue was my first introduction to Wonder Woman: #105 of The Brave and the Bold, February 1973 (I was eight years old!) with story by Bob Haney and art by the great Jim Aparo. In the story, Bruce Wayne suspects he is being gaslighted by a family from Gotham's Latin Quarter and calls in his friend Diana Prince for a little undercover action. She poses as a chaperone from a fictional agency and promptly "warms" her way into the unsuspecting family (who really aren't hatching a plot against Wayne).

Again, I remember trying to figure her out. This was Wonder Woman? She speaks about running a boutique, "when business is good". (Really, was there a time in the early 70s when mod stylish clothing wasn't vanishing off the shelves?) But I guess that was as good an excuse as any to be off adventuring, rather than selling clothes. And what about this "Amazon guardian angel" who appears? What?!? More than a little confusing.

This was a strange time in the Wonder Woman history. She'd renounced her Amazon immortality and god-given strengths in her grief following Steve Trevor's death and ran around taking the advice of a guy called I Ching (I kid you not!) and often seeming to act like a helpless female. If only she'd known that Trevor would twice be brought back from the dead before the Crisis eventually brought about her total reboot.

To be clear, though, whatever Diana's shortcomings at the time, she still held her own in battle at Batman's side...and they get the real villians of the piece exposed and captured in short order. But this appearance really didn't do too much for me as far as establishing Diana as a major player in the universe. Thankfully, that wouldn't come too much later.

* * *

It's fun to look at that time period again now, since the Diana Prince identity, as well as a variation on the white pantsuits of that time, are being revisited in current issues of Wonder Woman. Today's DP is decidedly more self-assured (and thanks to Terry and Rachel Dodson, more beautiful than ever!), of course, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her.

There's been no lack of internet furor about Allan Heinberg's run on the new Wonder Woman. I read the most recent issue (#4) this past weekend, and I'd like to add my Two Cents. I gotta say, I really like what he's been doing. Yes, the time delays have been dreadful and frustrating (and seemingly disrespectful of a character who, unfortunately, has been shown a lot of disrespect over the years--fortunately she's strong, she can take it.), but there's plenty of good here.

Mr. Heinberg's got his hands full writing Diana at this point in her history. Prior to the Infinite Crisis, she was forced to kill Max Lord to stop him controlling Superman and that will, for a time, change many things about the character. Her conversation during IC with the original Wonder Woman surely gave her even more to think about. While it sounds like the dream assignment for a WW fan/writer, really, its got to be a little bit of a nightmare, too. Do you say something completely new and ignore the recent past? Do you use up your shot rehashing what has come before? I've spent more than a few hours of this last year trying to imagine what story I'd choose to tell under the circumstances.

I can't help but wonder if Allan was somehow hamstrung by the mysteries surrounding the events of 52 and Diana's eventual appearances there. I'd love nothing more than for the last chapter of his story "Who is Wonder Woman" to come out soon and reveal that the delay in story-telling here somehow relates to the whole business of time anomolies in that other title ('cause you just know all the clamouring internet horde would be all "oh, we knew that's what he was doing--we love him" ).

It's true, the Dodsons' art is absolutely mesmerizing me, but one thing's clear: Heinberg writes a strong Diana. He has a good sense of who she is and what she believes in, and also seems to know what she's struggling against these days. In the past she has often been quick to leap into battle, but these days, a little more thought is required first. Under his pen, she hasn't done a single thing out of character...except maybe refer to Hercules (one point here, Allan: it really should be Heracles)with the respect of the title "Lord."

I look forward to the concluding chapter of this run, even though it's not likely to come out 'til the fall, just to see our Diana kick the butts of all those villains who swarm her in the last panel. (Another thing I'll say for Allan, he writes a heck of a cliffhanger!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Drag Knight Detective

Ah, the Seventies...what a fun time for our dark knight detective. Witness Batman #266, from 1974. This is another of my early issues, unearthed last night. A special favorite of mine, as it's an issue long story by Denny O'Neil, with art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. Catwoman is the villain of the feature and there's a derailed prison train, to boot.

And it features Batman in drag.

Yes, sure, I know, Bruce is a master of disguise. Often he's donned costumes to blend into the human landscape. But in this memorable instance, he goes undercover as Mrs. Bertha Carrington Bridgewater, owner of jewels, in hopes of flushing out the recently-escaped Catwoman.

Not only does he take the appearance of a middle-aged Texas matron, but a colorful one at that and you can tell from the dialogue that he's really acting this one out. Just look at that caftan!

Even the theatrically-trained Alfred looks a little askance as Bruce peels off the jewel-studded tiara and wig. Of course even the most experienced drag queens are impressed at how quickly Bruce transitions from "ole Bertie Suggins" to his more familiar night clothes.

Poor Selina Kyle, she doesn't get to do much in the story, except model that classic outfit of hers as she stands around, clawing the air with a cat-o-nine-tails. It's clear that she was actually thinking about going straight at this point, and her heart doesn't seem to be in it. But then, I wouldn't be the first to suggest that she owes that limited mobility to the high-heeled boots.

She does get a good claw into the hand of a Sonny Bono clone, while she is still in prisoner attire (before apparently unpacking the Costume, Cat Throne and ocelots back at her lair--I'm picturing her storage unit now), so her reputation's safe.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Sorting Begins

After dinner tonight, I retired to the basement and began the process of sorting the collection by title, as dictated by the advent of the long boxes.

Predictably, those first three boxes have been properly filled already with any variety of titles featuring the big guns, The Big Three, The Trinity...those guys: Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. It just seemed right they should get (and easily fill) the first three long boxes.

[The young woman at the comic shop looked at me agog the other day, when three boxes didn't seem a satisfactory number for me. I had thought of coming home with a dozen, to be honest. "My collection fits all in one box," she said. Clearly to this girl, the words "Pre-Crisis" mean nothing.]

Fun to see some of these old covers, some other of my earliest purchases...their iconic images standing revealed in my memory like long lost friends found. Heh heh...whatta geek, huh?. But I'm kind of serious. Back in those pre-working days of my childhood, my DC collection numbered some twenty or so fondly and frequently re-read issues.

Of course the challenge is always the distraction of the collection itself. It meant the derailing of many an childhood afternoon's room cleaning project, and the danger remains. Wanting to stop and slide a particular issue from its plastic sleeve, to open the cover and fall into the story within. I'm glad to say I kept my focus this evening, and as you can see, I started getting those early titles sorted out into seperate boxes. As I rediscover how much of each particular title I have, I'll have a better sense of the storage needs and how I want to actually organize them.

There'll be a need for plenty more protective bags, and some backing boards will be a good idea for the rehabilitation of some issues which were rolled or bent a little during their adventures in storage.

Of course, in each box there are plenty of surprises...misfiled issues sometimes, or perhaps one bought out of sequence in back issue this issue of Wonder Woman (#224) from 1976. It was one of a handful of mags I held aside to bring upstairs and read when the session was through. I don't remember the story--I'm looking forward to reading it shortly. But I just love this cover.

The long history of Wonder Woman's published adventures is rife with any manner of minor inconsistancies: the swapping of Greek and Roman names for the gods of the Amazons, continuity disregarded, the strange riffs on female clothing of times past. But you gotta wonder what were they thinking here?

Oh, right. Because, everyone knows that the Amazons, a race of women who were so turned off by their subjugation at the hands of Heracles' men that they took leave of the World of Man...yah, they're the ones who're gonna be wearing golden testicle hats. Okay, hold on.

11:23 pm. I've read the issue. Those Amazons wearing the testicle helmets (they're a silver-blue inside...) were the ones who staged a coup against Hippolyta...but were, of course, roundly defeated by Wonder Woman in the end. It begins when they cause a US aircraft to be destroyed over the shores of Paradise Island and it's seen as act of war by many in the US. As a result, there's anti-Amazon rioting and Diana gets caught up in the midst of this mob scene, where she translates her Amazon credos in the slanguage of the times.

That's right, kids, "Rapping with your fists never accomplishes anything." Not until the next panel, anyway. WOK!

My First Issue

Well, here it is: Detective Comics #388, dated June 1969. The first comic book I ever owned. It really looks it, doesn't it? It's actually got a loose page near the center, and almost feels too fragile to read, which is a shame.

I'd forgotten there was a back-up Batgirl feature in the issue, but being only part one of a longer story, I guess I'd never really gotten it. To add confusion to my newbie (need I remind you, four-year old) perspective, in the story, Barbara has been hired by someone to dress up like Batgirl and runs afoul of a gang of jewel theives dressed like Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Flash. How long must I have puzzled over that?

Sorry it's not a scan. Don't have one of those set up currently, so had to be satisfied with a digital photo of the cover.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Collection

My comic book collection, while a source of pride, had become in recent years, just another great mound of boxes that needed to be lifted and relocated as we move from one rental to the next. It is only recently that I've renewed my interest in reading them all again...and that has brought into sharp focus the fact that it could hardly be less organized.

As you can see, all my issues have been housed in whatever assortment of boxes and cartons were available to me...and some remain in the boxes in which they were originally shipped to me. (The box that amuses me most, but which I never noticed before taking the above photo, is the one from T & A Leaf Lettuce. What must THOSE leafy mounds look like, eh?)

As for as organizational structure to the collection, there's slim quantity of that, too. Yes, all of my issues from 1985 (the year of the great Crisis on Infinite Earths) or before are all grouped by issue title, and are 95% mylar bagged.

Probably 80% of the rest of the issues are poly-bagged, as they came that way through purchase at Fantastic Planet or elsewhere. But the most recent issues I've purchased (1999 and beyond) were bought at assorted newsracks and spinning stands and do not have bags.

I have no doubt that my issues will be safer once fully bagged, but you can never tell. To the left is a photo of the aftermath of a recent burst pipe in our normally very dry basement. While most of the boxes were nowhere near the flood, there was one particular box which was directly below the break and took a fairly direct hit.

Inside the box, I found kind of a randomness to the damage. Some issues that were bagged were soaked, while others remained dry. And more inexplicable, some issues that weren't bagged at all were perfectly dry, while others were quite saturated. All in all, only these 22 or so seen hanging took the brunt of a box of about fifty or so. It could've been much worse...and while a few of those hanging have minor water damage like crinkly pages or covers, most look to have survived just fine.

Still, it only underscores the business of needing to get things properly organized and stored...and so the chronicle of that undertaking will comprise part of this blog. And so, it is with some happiness that I can report having purchased my first three long boxes today. They aren't water-proof, but they are pretty sturdy, and will keep the comics stored in an upright position which is best.

True enough, three boxes will only barely begin to scratch the surface on this project. I actually assumed that a place called Newbury Comics might have more than three of them in stock at a time...and was wrong about that. No worries, they're priced so I'll have to buy them here and there for a while, anyway. And three's as good a number to start with as any. As you can see, I've already put all my Wonder Woman's into one of the boxes, with room to spare.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Secret Origin

Hi everybody, Greg here. Comic book addict.

It sounds like such a silly thing, addicted to comic books. They've always been degraded in our society, kicked to the curb, thrown out during maternal room cleanings(not mine, tho: thanks, Mom!!), housed in boxes in musty garages and attics, spilling haphazardly off childhood shelves.

Why would anyone take seriously this four-color medium packed with brightly-clad fools and 15 page stories, on flimsy, newsprint paper? How Greg, you ask, did you get hooked? This, then, is my secret origin.

My first superhero comic book was an issue of Detective Comics, I believe, from 1969. I think it cost a dime. The comics had, like the rest of the country, come down with a case of moon-landing fever, and this issue hollared "Batman and Robin on the moon!", in a story featuring that most famous luna-tic, the Joker. It turns out to be a hoax (reflecting the thoughts of some of our nation's doubting Thomases, no doubt)the Joker had spirited the Duplica Dynamica [who says I'm not learning Portuguese...] to an old warehouse, outfitting it to look like the surface of the moon. But Joker had apparently flunked science class and Batman was able, of course, to sort out the physical errors present in their faux-lunar environment and defeat the Laughing Lord of Insanity. A simple story, thinned out with ads for bodybuilding, seamonkeys, how you could sell magazine subscriptions for big money and other comic titles currently for sale.

In 1969, I was four years old. Probably Dad bought the comic for me on the way home from work, maybe part of his and Mom's campaign to not make me feel like a stepchild in the wake of my sisters birth. (Who knows, maybe it was Mom who bought it. I'll have to ask. I wonder if they'd remember, even.) But "Batman" was also on television at the time...and I was probably already thrilling to the occasional episode of "Superman", "Green Hornet" and "The Lone Ranger." In any event, I was hooked on the superhero thing at a young age.

I don't actually recall receiving that issue...who remembers much about Life At Four, after all? That issue would probably be valued more highly in the re-sale market today, if it didn't bear assorted crayon marks...and like many of my earliest comic books (mostly Archies and Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse...)...bears the marks of a bit of pre-vacation organization on my young part, in which I marked the covers of many (probably all...) of my comics with the legend, "Greg--to Long Lake" in preparation for two (as it turned out, quite rainy) weeks in the Adirondack Mountains.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, there was a store around the corner from our house called Pops. It was an old soda fountain, which is surely gone today, or at least no longer recognizable for what it once was. Candy, magazines, cigars, the soda counter. There was plenty there that didn't interest me, but at the bottom of an old wooden rack of magazines...and also in an adjacent metal spinning rack...there were four-color covers a-plenty!

In the Seventies (as I neared double digits), I think it's safe to say things were still pretty innocent and Mom would let me go there from time to time, to buy a comic book. I remember an issue of The Brave and the Bold that caught my attention with its team-up of Batman and Wonder Woman, which I mentioned last (first) post. Batman I knew, but about her, I was baffled. There was no red, white and blue costume, no lasso of truth...

[I'd be much closer to adulthood before I understood that, by then, Diana had temporarily(thank the gods!)abandoned her Amazon powers and bright costume in favor of a white jumpsuit and Emma Peel moves...]

...but still, she was wonderful, and matched an unpowered Batman move for move. I'm guessing it was the TV series that shortly brought her into sharp focus for me.

Other comics followed, but eventually I was visiting Riverdale and Disneyland less and less in favor of Gotham City, Metropolis, Central City and the like. I remember purchasing some Bicentennial-era (that's 1976 for you youngins...) giant-sized issues featuring Superman, Batman and the Justice League, reprinting old issues of that group's adventures (Wonder Woman was back in costume here) and I learned more about the great assortment of heroes these comic book worlds had to offer. I traded some with friends, or at least spent afternoons reading their collections. Captain Marvel was doing his SHAZAM thing on Saturday morning TV, and around the same time Lynda Carter burst onto the scene (and nearly out of that star-spangled costume) as Wonder Woman. (Dah da, dah-da-da- daaaah...)

There was an apple tree in our backyard, long unpruned. Two branches, waterspout-y things, that the gardener in me knows now ought to have been cut off but never had been. Growing parallel, they had created a perfect cradling spot for a young boy to climb up and nestle into with a stack of comic books on a warm summer morning. I remember trips to see our cousins in Florida, playing superhero (a shout out to the Towel Man!) and reading still more comic books.

My Uncle Rik had a nice thick stack of comics, as well, and I read those over and over on subsequent visits to Grandma and Pa's house. There I found many Disney characters, more Archies, Heckle and Jeckle, lots of Golden Key titles (the memory fails on the finer details), more Batman tales (with Ras Al Ghul, if I recall correctly...) and the Sons (what the?) of Superman and Batman.

My Uncle Jose was a truck driver back then, and at some point he came into possession of stacks of old magazines and comics which had suffered the indignity of having their covers torn off and returned to the publisher for credit. We won't dwell on whether he acquired these before or after the publishers had seen them, but the upshot is that my Dad got a fresh supply of magazines and suddenly I had a thick new collection of comic books.

These were almost entirely Marvel Comics, not my brand of choice. But still, I read them with interest, learning about such characters as Howard the Duck, Thor, Captain America, Ghost Rider and the Man-Thing. The writing didn't seem as strait-forward as the DC hero tales, but my eager young mind clamped on them just the same, reading them over and over in search of understanding. It was amongst these that I found a historic Spiderman tale called "The Death of Gwen Stacy" that presented not only detailed, adult tragic storylines, but some pretty accurate representations of physics, I learned much later. (Recapping for the uninitiated, Gwen was Spidey's girlfriend, killed when the Green Goblin dropped her from the top of the George Washington bridge. And the real tragedy was that she was actually killed when Spidey stopped her rapid descent too quickly with a spray of web that snapped her neck. So sad.)

Fast forward a few more years to 1978 and junior high school. One afternoon, as I fled from afterschool bullies (who somehow sensed before I did that I was different and thereby worthy of pummeling) I ducked into the local library, conveniently located directly across the street from school. The library resided in a wonderful old house built by New Jersey's early Dutch settlers, very solid and wooden and wonderful; truly it felt a world apart behind those doors. After catching my breath, I did a catalog search for superheroes (I must have felt I needed one...) and then went in search of the one book on the subject available, a hardcover collection that reprinted the origin stories of not only the primary members of the Justice League of America, but also, for comparison, those origin tales of their World War II era dopplegangers in the Justice Society of America.

And I found that book in the hands of a girl I knew from marching band (Yes, we went to band camp...and no, we didn't see, nor heard about, anything unusual done with a flute, though our drummers were delightfully incorrigible...), a glockenspiel player named Lili. We quickly bonded over the stories in this book, as well as the "Wonder Woman" television show, discussing and comparing assorted heroes and their tales of beginning. Yes, the "Incredible Hulk" and "Spiderman" were also on the boob tube, but even though the guy playing Peter Parker was kinda cute, there was no match for the Amazing Amazon. Finally, in Lili, I found a kindred spirit, a fellow fan, who was really willing to spend hours on the subject. We went to the library after school on as many days as we could manage, comparing notes on our various readings and viewings, and in the process, grew a wonderful friendship.

Around the same time, our world was illuminated with a bright light, as we learned that the gleaming towers of New York City seven miles to the east had recently stood in as the shining spires of the city of Metropolis, in a movie that introduced Christopher Reeve to the world. Lili and I saw "Superman: The Movie" together, watching open-mouthed, or quietly exclaiming to one another, as the filmmakers showed us that a man could really fly!! And we will both confess with a grin that we were uncertain whether we should evacuate the Hackensack, NJ cinema where we were seeing the movie, when Lex Luthor announced that city as the target of the second nuclear missile he'd commandeered. Not to worry, Supes saved us, of course, but at the cost (briefly) of Lois Lane's life.

As the days quickly passed, we realized we were both greater fans of the Princess of Paradise Island than any others (though for Batman and Superman a special place is my heart was also reserved...). In our infinite teenage wisdom, we determined that none of the stories or television episodes (not to mention the dreadful movie of the same name, featuring [of all people] Kathy Lee Crosby, later Gifford...)quite portrayed the Amazon Princess in the manner she deserved.

We decided we'd write stories (new episodes for the series, really, with camera directions, etc. at first) in which, naturally, young characters based on our own selves were mentored into superhero roles at the sides of Wonder Woman and other JLAers. They were stories we would continue to write and share, off and on, for some twenty years. I'm happy to say our writing improved over the years, tho the derivitive nature of our words (being set in someone else's world) remained.

In 1979, my family made the decision to leave North Jersey for our favorite destination upstate and I moved, five hours away, to those gloriously isolated Adirondack Mountains. Although I made friends there, I felt a bit isolated socially, since I was A) the new kid in town, and 2) beginning to understand better, if secretly, that "gay" was a word that described me and apparently no one else I knew.

Lil and I found ways to stay in touch across the miles (thanks, Dad!) and to trade story bits back and forth over the distance. I was thrilled to find (now that I was old enough to be making a little money from odd jobs, and before long, summer employment) that I was able to find stores in that part of the world who still featured heavy-laden spinning comic book racks...and my collecting resumed. There was so much to if the cast of characters supporting the Amazing Amazon, the Man of Steel and the Darknight Detective weren't enough, I also began following the Justice League regularly, as well as many of the individual members' adventures in their own titles. There were the old mainstays, like Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Black Canary and the Martian Manhunter working with young upstarts like Firestorm and Zatanna.

I learned that the JLA was creatively-based on the earlier versions of heroes with the same name. Those heroes made the Justice Society of America, and they lived in a parallel dimension on the randomly-numbered Earth Two. On yet another--Earth Three--the JLA had been reinvisioned as a group of villians, the Crime Syndicate, who fought against that earth's only hero, Lex Luthor. I learned that Adam Strange was an earth archaelogist who rode a Zeta Beam between Earth and the planet Rann, the Joker kidnapped Catwoman and made her more villainous (weren't she and Bruce ever going to get together?), the Flash's wife, Iris, was killed by a super-speed nemesis from the future...and on it went. My letters to Lili advised her on the latest DC hero happenings (her parents were less cool about her reading comic books) and we wrote our stories accordingly.

Now I discovered subscriptions, and was freed of my concerns about missing issues on the whims of newstand vendors, as hero titles began arriving in our post office box on a regular basis. I added a few more titles here and there as they interested me. The All-Star Squadron featured the lesser known superheros of World War II and served, too, as a regular history lesson. The New Teen Titans returned as the mysterious Raven gathered members of the old sidekick team and led them into amazing adventures through a perfectly-rendered world by George Perez. The Justice Society, we learned, had been forced into retirement by McCarthy's Communist hearings. A real collection began to grow.

In 1983, I went off to college, quietly eager to explore the "secret identity" of my sexuality in a place where no one knew me. A disease eventually to be called AIDS appeared on the horizon that same year, however, and tempered my enthusiasm. Still, my life was changing...I made new friends, tried new things, danced and fell in love. Meanwhile in the comics (still waiting at home for me on weekends), regular appearances of a shadowy character called the Monitor began to suggest that the lives of our four-color friends would be changing, too.

By 1985 I was looking to finish a two-year degree sidetracked by my need to grow socially. That Monitor was gathering the heroes of all the earths for something called the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Everywhere DC Comics proclaimed that in this 12 issue maxi-series "worlds would live, worlds would die...and nothing would ever be the same again."

How right they were! Over the course of two years, the good folks at DC sent me dashing from one newstand to the next (I hadn't renewed my subscriptions) in assorted college towns to find the latest issues of Crisis, as waves of antimatter swept through the DC multiverse, wiping out whole parallel universes and many of the heroes who'd lived there. Some of them were saved, while heroes closer to us...The Flash, Supergirl, the Superman of Earth-2, the Crime Syndicate and a host of others...died. In a final indignity, it turned out that in the new timeline that followed the resolution of this Crisis...Wonder Woman had supposedly never existed. And for a year or more, she didn't.

It was a strange time in comics, but it did pave the way, convoluted or not, for some incredible stories and character regenerations. Batman was experiencing a rebirth of sorts through the dark imagings of his future in The Dark Knight Returns. I remember escaping into that story to help me cope with my grandfather's imminent passing and the muddled business of my coming out.

A faceless hero, the Question, fought crime and corruption in his own dark city. A shiny new interpretation of Superman soared onto the scene, re-examining the Last Son Of Kyrptons legend. Welcome to the 80s: what made Lex Luthor more dangerous than his new status as a high-stakes businessman? Booster Gold was from the future, and had come back in time to use his knowledge of the past to become a hero. The Justice League was re-formed, but as an international organization featuring heroes who weren't as familiar. Somewhere in there The Flash came to television. Some comics now sold for a dollar or more each...but the paper and art reproduction qualities had improved over the years, too.

Meanwhile, I explored my world and got to know myself better, at the same time writing stories that led my old fictional alter-ego through the Crisis and into a new, more out-of-the-closet existence in the comics universe. By then I was attending Plattsburgh State University and discovered a little comic shop downtown, the Fantastic Planet. There I met first Donna and then Paul, the owners...and for many years after, they were the purveyors of my chosen vice. They even started a mail-order service so that I'd be able to keep up with the latest comics when I was in Long Lake on breaks (and that continued well after I'd graduated and moved away).

As I found my way in the world, meeting still more new friends, exploring new places, and trying a few more new things, Wonder Woman burst back onto the scene, in a stylish re-imagining of her amazing story, in a world drawn and written by the equally-amazing George Perez. She didnt speak English at first(Greek, of course...), she wasn't Diana Prince (Princess Diana, naturally)...but she did wear the costume (or some variation on it) and she was an ambassador from her island of Themiscyra and bore the powers and abilities of the Gods of Olympus (no longer did writers thoughtlessly interchange the names of the Greek and Roman pantheon). She was, in a word, wonderful.

And so was life, really. My coming out was not the great trauma that I've since learned it can be for many. Sure life was rocky for a little while, but when all was said and done, my family still loved me, I was making more friends than ever...and I felt good about being an honest person in the world again.

The years passed. Degrees were achieved, jobs were attained, plays were directed and gardens were planted. Batman and Superman had no less than four solo features each, while Wonder Woman simply maintained her own title, continuing to re-explore the great mythos of her Legend. Batman hit the big screen for a few summers, his newer darker self now firmly re-established (at least until George Clooney and the rubber-nippled bat-suit came along). New heroes were born, as old ones re-emerged to renew their careers in crime-fighting and mentor the younger generation.

Over the years since, heroes have banded together to fend off alien invasions, aliens who set of bombs that created hundreds of other super-powered people. Superman died for a little while. Gotham City presaged post-Katrina New Orleans when it was sealed off after a cataclysmic earthquake and biological plague and labeled a No Man's Land by the government. Metropolis was devastated in epic battle after Superman's return, foreshadowing, it seems now, the unthinkable destruction of the World Trade Center towers.

I'm sorry to say that after moving to the Cape, my finances changed and as cover prices continued to rise, I had to abandon my four-color fix. It certainly hasn't been easy, and on more than one occasion I've grabbed up a few issues I've found here and there, just to be in touch.

And when that blue-skied day of 9/11 changed our world, the superheroes paid tribute in comics to the real heroes of the day. The everyday people, the firefighters, the police, first responders. On that day, we saw there could be heroes in any of us, if the need arose. How can we discount the idea that super hero comics can encourage us to be just what a dark moment calls for? I think its great that you can find tales here and there around the Internet of people trying out a life as an occasionally costumed hero. Our world certainly needs them.

Two years ago, DC Comics created another company-wide event called Infinite Crisis, a sequel in which they addressed some of the loose ends left over from that original "Crisis" twenty-two years ago. In the process, they've shaken up the legends once again, freshening them up for new readers and revitalizing them for the rest of us...and they've drawn me back into the fold(with a little help from a show called Smallville).

Except for the occasional issue of Wonder Woman, I've been really good at resisting the temptation not to waste gas driving around the Cape looking for individual issues. Mostly I'm content to scan that spinning rack at Stop N Shop. With cover prices starting around $2.99, I'd be crazy to let loose the addiction once again. And I do have a huge collection of back issues just waiting to be slipped from their mylar sleeves and re-read again!

But at this point, these people...Bruce, Diana, Clark and so many others...they're like family--or at least really good friends--to me now. It's not like I have a choice: I feel like I have to know whats going on in their lives. And so I surf the internet for news/fan sites that'll tell me what's shaking. (I'll try to include links to my favorites here, eventually). Thanks to all those folks out there who share so much--I do buy some of the stories published these days in less-expensive paperback form, and I rely on internet reviewers and fans to tip me off to the "must haves."

Libraries have changed, too. An recent internet search of the CLAMS (Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing--if you havent got a card, get one!) System revealed to me over 300 graphic novels available through our local libraries...a far cry from that one book Lili and I met over too many years ago!

Anyway, that's my story, and I thank you all for stopping by the blog. Who'm I kidding: thanks if you've actually made it to the bottom of this post!! I'm still figuring out just what this blog will consist of, but I know that I'm interested enough in talking and writing about comics that it'd be a pain to continue interrupting my garden blog to do so.

So, how'd you get started reading comic books?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wonder Woman

First, there is She.

Diana, of Themyscira, the Paradise island. Wonder Woman.

What is it about her? She's beautiful, good, smart, strong and fast. Really, what's not to like?

And this is high praise, coming from a guy who's first confusing exposure to the Amazing Amazon was her being just this agile dame in a pantsuit in an issue of The Brave and The Bold, teaming up with the Batman. I'm still trying to figure her out.

Anyway, it is Diana, the idea of her, that captures my fancy. To my mind, she stands at the heart of the trinity that also includes Batman and Superman. And so we begin with her.