Seven years ago, at the very dawn of this bloghome, I authored a very personal post centered on my father for Father’s Day. Now, in honor of this year’s upcoming Father’s Day, I thought I’d share another memory of my now-eighty-six-year-old father, this one a bit more directly related to comics.
It’s March 1979 and I’m sick—probably a simple cold or maybe a flu bug, I can’t recall precisely. Pop calls home to see how I’m doing and asks if there’s anything he can get for me on his way home from work. I requested comics, of course. “What kind of comics?” he wants to know. I tell him Spider-Man (naturally) and maybe a Mad magazine, if they’ve got one. He came home with Mad #207 (June 1979) and Marvel Tales #104 (June 1979).
I racked my brain and researched like crazy but could not recall any of the other comics he brought home that evening. I mean, one Mad and one Spider-Man comic would hardly seem worth the effort, right? He had to get me more than that, didn’t he? That Mad was 60ȼ and the comic was 40ȼ, precisely one dollar altogether. Then I thought about it some more and realized that yeah, this was something Pop would do. When I made requests of him as a child, he would often follow such requests to the letter like this, just to teach me a life lesson.
One time when I was either five or six, he was putting me to bed and asked if he could get me anything before I went to sleep. I asked for milk and cookies. “How many cookies?” he inquired. “I dunno,” I replied. “A couple.”
He went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of milk and two cookies. I must have either said “that’s all?” or maybe he simply read the disappointment on my face.
“You asked for a ‘couple’ of cookies,” he explained. “A couple means two.” Of course, when a five-year-old child asks for a “couple” of cookies, a “couple” really means “as many cookies as you’re willing to let me have.” Needless to say, I learned what a couple was, and would never forget it.
If I had only taken that lesson one step further, I would have known to make more than two specific requests when he offered stop at the newsstand and pick up some comics for me. I would have asked for the Mad, a Spider-Man, plus a few more specific titles. Or maybe just added an additional, general request for “more.”
But I’m not complaining. Some fathers out there never offer their kids any favors like this, so believe me, I was thrilled to get what I got.
“The Dark Wings of Death”
That issue of Marvel Tales was a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #127 (Dec. 1973), a story with a juicy cliffhanger that really hooked me at the time—so much so that I was on the lookout for Marvel Tales #105 (July 1979) afterward and managed to snag it when it came out a month later. After enjoying the first installment of this two parter, the resolution in MT #105 was rather… what’s the word? Weird? Disappointing? How about weirdly disappointing?
The villain here was the Vulture, a character I had only encountered in comics once before (at this point), in a storyline from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #4–5 (Mar.-Apr. 1977). I did have one earlier brush with him in my old colorforms set, however.
For most of MT #104 (ASM #127), there was no reason to believe this wasn’t the same Vulture—until we get to the end and he tears himself free of Spidey’s webbing with his teeth. At this point, Spidey also notices that his hands are different too, like talons, as he thinks to himself, “He’s become what he always pretended to be in the past– this time he really is– THE VULTURE!”
Another subplot in this issue was Mary Jane witnessing the Vulture commit a murder and being too afraid to report it to the police. It’s a trite plot point in television crime dramas today; maybe it was a bit more fresh at the time this story was first published in 1973, I dunno.
In any case, then we get to the weird and disappointing resolution in the next issue, wherein Pete makes some startling discoveries. First, the girl that the Vulture killed the previous issue was the roommate of this girl the Vulture went after later in the same issue. Moreso, take the glasses off the latter girl and she and the previous girl (the roommate and murder victim) could pass for twins. What an incredible coincidence, huh? Second, Pete also learns that the original Vulture is still in jail. So what’s the deal with this other Vulture?
Webhead eventually uncovers that the guy flying around as the Vulture is Dr. Shallot, a biology/genetics professor at his university that once taught a class on “organic mutation.” After somehow requisitioning the original Vulture’s costume from prison (how in the hell he could ever do this I can’t even imagine), Shallot stepped into a “mutation device” that made the costume (and its wings) part of his body, while also making him look like the classic Vulture, complete with the wrinkled face, bald head, bad teeth and even worse nose. Why would he do this? Why would anyone do this? Only God and Gerry Conway know.
Hoo fah, wotta mess. I mean… all of the Vuture’s powers are in his wings, so once you’ve got those, why do you need to step into a “mutation device”? And how does one use genetics to make a costume part of your physical body? Even as a child with no real scientific knowledge, I knew this made no sense. As an overly-educated adult, it somehow makes even less sense.
But again, at least that first part was a fun read for me at the time.
Part of what excited me about Marvel Tales was the gaps these stories filled in for me. Nowadays a kid could look up a complete history of any character or comic via the internet in a relative eyeblink, including long and very detailed synopses of individual issues, but back in ’79 it was a whole ‘nother story.
I’m guessing the oldest original issue of ASM I had owned this point was #83 (Apr. 1970), passed down to me from an older cousin (it featured the first appearance of the Schemer and had terrific Romita art; I treasure it to this day). Aside from this were just scattered reprint stories from several other issues of Tales, plus a few other reprints in treasuries. (I wouldn’t discover those Pocket Book reprints of the earliest Ditko stuff until late ’79, early ’80, if I remember right.)
Which begs the question: Why wasn’t I buying Marvel Tales religiously? I honestly don’t know. Had I been more logical in my approach to comics, I would have been sure to get every issue of Marvel Tales I could, but apparently the approach to comics taken by my juvenile self was at least 90% emotional and 10% (at most) rational. I just reacted to what I saw on the stands at any given time and chose what to buy based on my gut and how much I had to spend. Even the flagship Spidey title, Amazing, was not a guaranteed purchase for me at this time.
By the end of ’79, however, ASM would become a guaranteed purchase for me every month. After getting ASM #197 from my friend, Maurice, for my birthday, I would pick up #198 off the stands and never miss another issue for the next fifteen years or so. Strangely enough, the only other comic I started buying around this same time with equal zeal was Rom. I bought every issue of the spaceknight’s adventures without fail for the character’s entire run, including annuals and guest appearances.
Speaking of religious buying habits: my first Mad was issue #200 (July 1978) and I would get every issue new off the stands through #226 (Oct. 1981), at which point my purchases become spotty before ceasing altogether at some point around late ’83, early ’84. It wasn’t like I was a fanatic desperately searching for issues, determined to never miss one, but all the same, I somehow managed to get my hands on every issue for over three years without fail.
Now that I think about it, I believe that part of the reason for this (if not the primary reason) was that Mad was more readily available than standard comics, even back then. Comics were only sold at newsstands, the occasional drug store, and specialty stores, while Mad could be found on the magazine rack at any general store or supermarket (in addition to all of the aforementioned comic book outlets). The more I ponder it, I can recall several specific issues of Mad that I bought at the Pathmark just down the street.
The movie satirized in this issue was Animal House, in case this wasn’t already obvious by the cover. This all-time comedy classic had been released to theaters the previous July (1978) and probably wasn’t even on cable yet—and even if I’m wrong about this, my town wouldn’t get wired for cable until after I graduated high school anyway, so I certainly didn’t have the opportunity to see it before getting this issue of Mad. Re-reading it now, this satire includes pretty much all the comedic beats of the film, which is why I was able to fake having seen the actual movie when discussing it with the cool kids at Fielding Elementary. (As I recall, I think I finally did see it on cable at my cousin’s house by the end of that year; maybe early ’80.)
The movie satire is the highlight of the issue for me even today, but there was other fun stuff in there too. One gag from the “Money Talks” piece, featuring photos of coins having imaginary conversations, is particularly relevant for comics fans.
All the other standards were there too, of course. “Spy vs. Spy” by Prohias. Assorted silliness from Don Martin. Tiny cartoons in the margins from Sergio Aragonés. Jaffee’s fold-in. And the TV satire to close out the issue was of Project UFO (“Reject UFO”). I used to watch this show way back when, as I was interested in any show that dealt with spaceships or had the slightest whiff of sci-fi to it, but probably haven’t thought of it once in the last forty-plus years. My brain spins at the knowledge that the 70s were five decades ago.
Along similar lines, I marvel at how this comic and this magazine are the same physical objects my father picked up at the newsstand and brought home to me as an ailing child over forty-two years ago. I think back to that kid I was at the time and he feels like a stranger to me now. That kid couldn’t even imagine living this long; being this old. Like Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Hope everyone enjoys their Father’s Day weekend next week. If you’re fortunate enough to still have your father here with you (as I am), be sure to tell him you love him.