2014: A Comics-Geek Odyssey, Part 1

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The Spider-Man show disappeared from TV shortly after I had discovered it, which was certainly frustrating—I may have (alright, so I probably did) throw a tantrum or two over it. It would be several years before it was revived; I believe it popped up again by 1979 or ‘80, around the same time the live-action Spider-Man show with Nicholas Hammond got started on CBS. Meanwhile, along with the toys I wrote about in my previous post, I could console myself with other syndicated TV superheroes like Batman (the Adam West version), Superman (George Reeves version), and the Lone Ranger (with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels). I also have this distinct memory of watching “The Caped Crusader Caper” episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, either when it originally aired or when it was rerun later that same season. And of course, I flipped over the Super Friends when they premiered.

Finally… FINALLY, my first exposure to an actual comic book came in, of all places, the local barbershop. In fact there are several comics I can remember specifically that I discovered there. They are…

barbershop

Marvel Team-Up #6 (January 1972)
Captain America #155 (November 1972)
Hulk #164 (June 1973)
Amazing Spider-Man
#124 (September 1973)
Marvel Spectacular #2
(September 1973)
Captain Marvel #27
(July 1973)
Warlock
#14 (August 1976)

I’m not sure of the configurations of your standard barbershops today, but way back when they used to have a stack of magazines around so that anyone waiting for a haircut would have something to read. Where I went, this stack usually included a comic or two. Now it’s tough to go by the cover dates (in parentheses, above), since the magazines at the barbershop could sit around for a long time before they were thrown out (or swiped). That issue of Team-Up, for example, I had to have stumbled upon it there a year, maybe even a year and a half, after the pub date. I’m also reasonably sure (not completely, but reasonably) that I found that issue of Captain Marvel there after my comics reading career was in full swing, say mid-’76-ish, despite the much earlier pub date.

That aside, I believe I still discovered these issues in something close to chronological order. Pretty sure Marvel Team-Up was first; followed by Cap, then Hulk, then Marvel Spectacular—all of them in either 1973 or by early ’74. Team-Up was in pretty good shape, with the cover still attached. Captain America had no cover and only half the story pages, while Hulk and Marvel Spectacular both lacked covers but had all the story pages intact. As you can see in the pic, I still haven’t replaced those coverless copies of Hulk or Marvel Spec, but have long since obtained a replacement copy of Captain America #155. That barbershop copy of Cap was so beat up I think my mother wound up throwing it out shortly after I brought it home. (Let me also take a moment to note that I never swiped my barbershop comics—my mother always asked if I could have them and the barber, Dominic, always graciously said yes.)

Marvel Team-Up #6 was a nice introduction to Spider-Man comics for a very young, pre-k nonreader like myself, as Spidey only appears as his superhero self, not as Peter Parker, in the issue. (The whole double identity thing likely would have confused me some at this stage—even with Mom and Dad reading & explaining it to me.) Webhead was teamed with the Thing as they went up against classic FF foes the Puppet Master & the Mad Thinker. I loved Spider-Man here, but the Thing was kind of scary—he was very hostile toward (and constantly threatening) the Puppet Master; and more than a little gruff with Spidey, at least early on. Also: There are some artists who can make the Thing look almost cuddly, but the artist here, Gil Kane, was not one of them. That was okay though, because I think his treatment worked for the character as written here. And Kane always did a great job rendering Spider-Man.

Captain America #155 brings back the issue of identity confusion in spades. In addition to only having the last half of the story, said story would have been terribly confusing for a little kid new to comics even if it was complete. The tale featured the crazy 1950s Cap coming back to fight the original Cap. Just understanding why there were two Captain Americas, let alone keeping track of which was which, was a tall order. One thing that stuck in my mind after my father finally explained it to me (via the Falcon in the issue’s text): The real Cap has midsection stripes that go all the way around his back, while fake Cap has no stripes on his back. Remember that if you ever have to pick between two Captain Americas, folks.

Hulk #164 featured Herb Trimpe at his peak, imo. His Hulk was thick and bulky and looked like he really could smash through anything or anyone. This story was an underwater adventure where the Hulk took on Captain Omen and his crew of men who were nearly as thick and bulky as he was. When they clashed, I could almost feel the ocean floor shake beneath them.

Marvel Spectacular #2 was a reprint of Thor # 129. I wasn’t all that into this comic at first. Thor’s costume didn’t look like a superhero costume, nor was the book very superhero-ish overall. There was also a back-up “Tales of Asgard” story that had nothing to do with the main story, which confused me at the time. Later, when I caught up to the concept of a fantasy genre setting, I would appreciate this comic a lot more. It features a host of characters from both Greek & Norse myth, with the spotlight on Thor and Hercules. The Marvel iteration of Herc would eventually become a favorite of mine.

Now here is where my memory gets hazy. I know I found Amazing Spider-Man #124 (featuring the first appearance of the Man-Wolf) at the barbershop, but I’m not exactly sure when. It may have been  during the same timeframe (‘73-‘74) as the previously mentioned titles, but it also could have been somewhat later. My memory is clouded by the fact that I later got the Spider-Man Book and Record Set released by Power Records that adapted this particular storyline (which originally ran across ASM #’s 124-125). I would have gotten the Book-and-Record Set version of the tale circa late ’75, when I was beginning to learn to read in earnest, I’m guessing.

I’m pretty sure that’s every comic I found at the barbershop pre-1975. Among the comics I found at the barbershop post-1975 was the aforementioned Captain Marvel (at least I’m pretty sure that was in ’75 or ’76; could be wrong though) and Warlock #14 (the August 1976 cover date obviously precludes it from being there pre-’75.) Later, my orthodontist had copies of Little Archie around his office that he’d often let me take home—but again, this was a few years later when I was fully into comics, so it’s not really germane to the discussion here. The objective of this series of posts is to lay out how I grew into a comics nut; not detail the habit after it was already in full bloom. I also wanted to point out the odd places a kid had to scrounge for his comics in those days, pre- specialty stores. It was a very different time.

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