700, or Superheroes & Me

Posted: July 22, 2010 by mediabio in Comics
Tags: , , , ,

So I went to Newsbreak the other day to get the current issue of Mojo, which has a kick-ass interview with Bruce Springsteen, and saw they had issue #700 of both Superman and Batman. Being the nerd I am, I grabbed them. When I got home, I was astounded by the way the covers of these special issues captured the essences of these iconic characters. Superman‘s cover is bright, whimsical, and super. Batman‘s is dark, mean, and scary.

I couldn’t find the covers with the titles and credits on them, but here’s the cover art.

When I was a kid, my father used to bring comic books home from the local convenience store when he’d stop for milk and/or bread. The comics ranged from Superman and Batman to Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. And there were others, so many others, but those were the mainstays. I remember my father bringing home the 400th issue of Superman. I later got the Batman‘s 400th as a back-issue when I was a teenager. Both of those had paintings for the covers that were symbolic of the characters. Both had different stories by different writers and artists. Both had introductions by well-known writers (Superman had Ray Bradbury, Batman had Stephen King).

I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Supes’s book over time. Batman’s is with my Batman collection.

Batman #500 came out when I was still collecting the Batman comics in the 1990s, though it’s probably towards the end of my collection (the whole Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend storyline). I collected Batman books from about 1990 through 1996/1997. But with more and more monthly issues and one-shots coming out every month, and my novel reading pile grew and grew, I stopped my collecting. I totally missed Superman #500 (though I have it as part of a collection in The Return of Superman).

When my father brought home Superman issue #400 (which is dated Oct. 1984), I was seven. I didn’t understand the issue. It was a sort of buffet of Superman tales told by different artists. Now at the time, I hardly actually read the comics, but rather followed the pictures, and (this will freak some of you comic geeks out) I would add my own art to the pages. That’s right, I drew in my comic books (I always gave Batman eyes). I didn’t understand why the art looked so different from page to page. Even when I did read the issue, I still didn’t get it. Of course, I didn’t realize that Superman had been around nearly fifty years. It wasn’t until 1988 that the hoopla over his fiftieth birthday made the news (and that I was old enough to get it).

Comic books and superheroes were a big part of my early childhood. As I said, the heroes that regularly made the trip from the rack of Store 24 to my hands were usually Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk. A big part of that was because of TV.

As a small child (we’re talking from my earliest memories–which begin around the age of 18 months, I think, but may be earlier), there were superheroes on TV. Superfriends played on Saturday mornings and on weekday afternoons. There was the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno The Incredible Hulk on both network TV and syndication. Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man in some made-for-tv movies. Reruns of Adam West and Burt Ward on the 1960s Batman. George Reeves played Superman in reruns, not to mention the annual tradition of one of the networks showing 1978’s Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve. This last was super special (see how I did that?) because it meant staying up late! The movie would begin at 8 PM and, because of commercials, would go all the way to 11.

One has a padded suit, the other a padded crotch.

I would watch the adventures of these heroes on television, look at their adventures in the comic books, and would give them new adventures with their action figures or by role-playing. I was born in 1977, folks. There were Underoos!

These characters laid the ground for what would be a lifetime of imagination and adventure (if only in the mind). Without those shows, those comic books, and those action figures, I probably wouldn’t have cared about Star Wars (a topic I’ll cover someday), which led me to a bunch of other things. The seeds were sprinkled here, with these characters.

I liked Spider-Man, he was cool. I was fascinated (and a little scared) of the Hulk (though he would lead me to a fascination with Jeckyll-Hyde/shapeshifters/werewolves). However, I loved Superman and Batman. Those were the characters I always gravitated to. What kid doesn’t wish he could fly or be invulnerable? What kid doesn’t want to have all the toys at his disposal right in a pouch on his belt?

When I was eleven, the media frenzy that surrounded Tim Burton’s Batman swirled in and caught me up in it. This same frenzy came at a time in the late 1980s when comic books were changing. In April 1989, I knew nothing about Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One. I knew of Robin’s death because of the news stories (I actually saw an issue in a rack at the grocery store, too. I’ve kicked myself since that I didn’t ask Mom to get it for me), but Store 24 had stopped selling comic books and I hadn’t received one in a loonng time. By June 1989, I knew about Frank Miller and his take on Batman. And as time passed, I knew more and more about comic books.

This is actually one of the first images I remember from 1989’s Batman.

It was hard to avoid. Comics were everywhere. And it was pretty obvious who I was gravitating toward: Batman.

The early-to-mid-1990s were a crazy time to become a comic book fan. The groundbreaking storytelling by Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the blurring of comic book art and Art art, and the sense that the time had come for comic books to take its rightful spot as an American Artform were all over. Oh, and someone said they were collectible.

See, I was never into baseball cards. Hell, I was never into baseball–or football, or basketball, or whateverball–so I was often the odd one. Now I was cool for a moment. I knew people who’d never read a comic in their life who suddenly wanted all the variant covers for X-Men #1. Yeah, I played a little. I had a few of those variants (I have no idea where they are), but for me, comics weren’t about the someday money, they were about the story. The art. Good versus evil. This personality versus that personality. For me, the DC comics were the ones I enjoyed. Marvel, for all its flash and coolness, didn’t do much for me.

Superman and Batman. Batman and Superman. World’s Finest. These two guys were the first to teach me right from wrong. They showed me it was okay to dream. They both gave me something to strive for. I know I’ll never be able to fly, and I am all-too vulnerable, but I can understand Superman’s desire to feel like one of us, to feel as though he belongs. I know I’ll never have a Batmobile or a utility belt with all those cool gadgets, I’ll never be a world-class fighter/gymnast/detective, but I can strive to become the best person I am capable of being. And if I lose myself in another persona for a bit…well, aren’t we all more than one person sometimes?

The covers of Superman #700 and Batman #700 are pitch-perfect for their characters. The stories behind the covers? Well, I loved Superman’s (I may even follow J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on the book), I wasn’t a fan of Batman’s. Who knows? Maybe as I’m getting older I’m feeling the need for the more idealistic superhero. The best thing to come out of those two books, though, was the seven-year-old Billy’s joy in reading them.

That, folks, is what it’s all about.

The author as superheroes, circa 1981/82. I’m still not sure how those yellow/green tights worked in my head for Batman,but you work with whatcha got. The real question, in my mind, is, “Whatever became of that horse lamp?”

  1. Toby says:

    Can I call you Batman? Because, Batman, if you call me, you can call me Kal.

    Na na naaa na. (Channel Paul Simon and reread that in case you missed it).

    Well, Bill, you know me and comics, more or less. I’ve been told the first comic I ever “experienced” was when I was 3 years old, an older cousin read me a Batman issue. I don’t remember offhand which one it was, but at some point, in my older collecting years, he gave it to me. It is currently bagged with a rigid backboard in big comic box (one of dozens) under the bed in the guest room.

    Fast forward many years and my dad had a great idea to get me interested in reading more: da da da daaaa-buy me some comics (since I liked watching the same super hero shows and had a major interest in drawing). I think one of the first comics I picked up was Transformers #7, the one with three of the Dinobots on the cover (loved the original cartoon). From there, I think I bought some G.I.Joe issues, and eventually picked up my first X-Men comic (after seeing and becoming immediately fascinated with the X-men, particularly Wolverine, on a special episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends). Right around the same time, my dad and my younger brother decided this seemed like a cool hobby, so it quickly became a family affair. We no longer grabbed comics from the spinning racks at grocery stores, but made the trek out to New England Comics and whatever small local stores that popped up (back in the good ol’ days when that actually happened).

    I loved N.E.Comics and miss going there, but one of my favorite local stores was the next town over from us called Harry Dog’s (the store, not the town). I think I particularly liked it because the owner was an aspiring comic book artist, like me only older. He had his drawing table set up right in the middle of the store at the end of a table of back issue boxes, and it was always cool to walk in and see what he was working on. I was sad when he went out of business.

    (I could go on for days about memories and experiences with comics you know).

    I have lots of fond memories of particular story arcs in X-Men and Wolverine, story and art were uber important to me, but I got pretty caught up in the collectors thing even though I knew I’d never part with my collection (despite it’s value). I have at least 2 copies of every variant of X-Men #1, and multiple copies of any issue that had something special going on or some holographic, foil, embossed gimick going on.

    Part of the collectors appeal and fun for me, at least, was it meant my dad taking us to conventions to track down back issues. I only went to a handful, but they were awesome. I know at the time we were all embarking on our collecting adventures, money was tight. Dad was starting up his own architectural firm with 2 friends, things got pretty lean though my parents did a hell of a job disguising that from us. I remember 99% of the money we spent came from soda can returns. Dad would collect them from his co-workers, I can’t count the number of times I said in my embarrassed-of-my-parent-teenage-voice “daaaaad” because we’d be out in public, he’d see some cans in the trash and he’d grab them. The things that man would do for his kids…

    Anywhat, I could continue to ramble on, stream-of-consciousness style for a few days about all this, but it’s almost 1am and I do have my black belt test in 2 days, so I need some sleep.

    I think this blog will be fun.

    • Toby says:

      I suppose I should fast forward my memories a few more years to note that at some point, we started ordering all our comics through Westfield Comics. Every few weeks a big, beautiful box full of comics would arrive at our doorstep. When I went off to college, I fell behind in my reading, but my dad religiously kept buying my comics for me. I think he finally stopped some time after I graduated. Part of me wishes I had never stopped reading and collecting, because getting back into it now is daunting, especially because I know I’d be compelled to track down every issue between when I stopped and now, as well as trying to flesh out the waaaaay old issues of X-Men (the original run that started in 1963, I have many of them, but not all of them of course. I think #1 is still worth multiple thousands of dollars, and I just ain’t swingin’ that).

      As I’ve gotten older, I think my tastes have geared more towards the graphic novel format. That’s the format I’ve always dreamed about creating/working in as well. Plus, that’s how all the Japanese comics I like are formatted, and that’s mostly what I’ve been spending money on, when I actually spent money on it.

      My favorite American comics would have to be The Uncanny X-Men circa when I was reading/collecting them (so about issue 100ish through 300 something or other. I collected past that, but that was that college time frame). If we’re talking Japanese, definitely Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind, Otomo’s Akira and Tezuka’s Buddha and Phoenix.

      So there. NOW I’m going to bed.

      • mediabio says:

        Now the more recent stuff…

        Like you, I’ve also gravitated more to the graphic novel format. But a great memory was when you and I went to the comic shop, bought three comics each, put Courtney down for a nap, and then read our comics and exchanged each other’s comics for the other to read. It was something that could never happen in my childhood that I hold onto dearly, bro.

    • mediabio says:

      One of the things I neglected to mention (and may come up at another, perhaps a post about comic books in general) was during those years from 1990-about 1994, my father would take me, every Saturday morning, to a local comic shop called T’s (the one I brought you to once, Toby) to get some comics. He would either sit in his GMC Jimmy or go to the greasy spoon next door for coffee. For me, that’s a marker of a good father and, for me, a reason why I haven’t hit that marker.

  2. gary says:

    I love that your dad brought you comics home regularly! I bet you he read them first, huh?

    I have a very very happy memory of seeing “Superman” at the movie theater–twice–in 1978 (I was 7). So awesome.

    My big brothers read the DC comics, while I was into Harvey comics. I never got into the superhero comics…they seemed too serious for me. The only ones I ever looked at were Superboy. More whimsical.

    You will probably be very angry at me when I tell you I fell asleep during the last Batman movie. In my defense, it was the midnight premiere day opening, and I am old.

    • mediabio says:

      My father didn’t read comics. He bought them because he knew I liked the characters from TV. I tried to search my memory of either of my parents reading the comics to me but just don’t remember. I think Mom read the Marvel adaptation of Return of the Jedi before we saw the movie.

      Seeing Superman at seven in the theater in ’78 MUST have been great. The realistic effects that Star Wars brought to the table were still relatively new and it must have caused a sense of wonder on the big screen. It certainly did for this kid on the small screen.

      No anger for falling asleep during the last Batman movie. One of my favorite writers despised it and called it boring. I totally disagree, but whatever. My track record for liking things isn’t all that great, as I’m sure we’ll all see.

      • gary says:

        Have you read “The Kryptonite Kid” by Joseph Torchia? It’s a cute novel.

      • mediabio says:

        No, Gary. I’ll look into it. About five years ago there was a novel called It’s Superman! (I forget who wrote it) that I have here in my to-be-read pile. While it was approved by DC Comics, it wasn’t a product of DC, that I know of, like some of their other novelizations.

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