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My First Comic Books

All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMake March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered.  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.

To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.

Today’s piece is from  writer D. Jason Cooper:

In about June of 1966 I broke my arm. More correctly, the tarmac broke my arm when a kid let go of the swing that had been wrapped around the pole to signal it was reserved. It hit mine, and I fell about a story straight down splat. I do not have the flight, strength, or invulnerability of Superman, and I take that personally.

Not the kid who lost control of the swing. I never saw him again and maybe he thought he had to duck out of the picture. Meh. Maybe his parents covered it up, telling him to keep quiet and being afraid for him.

One bone broken, one dislocated, a damaged knee, and the mother of all concussions. The expression “can’t even spit” is from real life experience. Mine. I actually later asked a kid I knew if he had a big brother because my vision was that distorted.

The art teacher who was in charge of the playground at the time sent me walking home.

My father denied the arm was broken. My grandmother, who was a nurse during the war, insisted otherwise.

Eventually I got to hospital and was there for several days, no overnighter. To pass the time my parents gave me some comic books. They had a prejudice against comic books, and later lamented they’d kept me away from them until then.

I think of this as meaning there were years of comics I could have had but I missed them. But I got to comics in 1966 and I remember them rather well. I took to comic books fanatically and asked questions. I found out my father kept his comics in a shelf like the store displays of the time. It was from him I first heard of Bucky and just after that I saw a hallucination-induced flashback that showed him to me.

Good times at last.

Four dramatically unrealistic postures, here. Is Batman dancing? Why are the Flash’s hands drawn like he’s going, ‘oooooo’? Weather Wizard’s stride is ridiculously long. And Robin – the less said about him the better.

The first comic I ever read was Detective 353. The cover touted Batman taking on the Weather Wizard. When they said ‘out of the pages of the Flash’ they meant it. The cover shows the Weather Wizard bursting out the pages of a Flash comic and stepping onto the cover of Detective Comics. Smaller figures of the Flash, Batman, and Robin complete the picture.

I thought it was really strange that a fictional story would advertise it was fictional. I didn’t know about the fourth wall, yet. I didn’t know it could be broken. And until I mention this right now, I don’t think anybody noticed how the fourth wall can break either way. This is breaking the fourth wall in and it seems to have different rules than breaking the fourth wall out.

But I didn’t understand that, then.

I did understand Batman might have less power than his enemies, but he would out think them. He would never give up. When the Weather Wizard puts Batman in a block of ice he says the hollow center has enough air to last until the ice melts. If Batman tries to escape, he will run out of air because the effort will make him breathe harder.

Somehow in some unexplained way the Weather Wizard got hold of Batman’s utility belt.

Batman pulls off the heel of his boot and scraped at the ice and got out just before the air ran out.

I wondered then how you could have a boot heel you could pull out by hand? I tried on my shoe, as expected it didn’t work. I also wondered about the long nails in that heel. Why didn’t Batman have holes in his foot?

I didn’t wonder much about Robin.

From the very first panel I was not a fan of Infantino’s art, though I rarely paid much attention to the artist. But the fact is I didn’t get anything of a night-time crusader. Batman wore light gray and blue and for some reason the face of his mask had black. I didn’t get that. I still don’t.

So they have his greatest villain there and they could be fighting on the cover over who goes to the wedding, but we have an old comedy trope of interrupting the ceremony with objections now or forever hold their piece?
One thing that gave Marvel an edge was DC was doing lousy covers better than half the time.

Comics were made for kids, and in the internet age many would say comics talked down to kids. So to overcome this, many comic book makers have tried to include more mature issues to retain adults and lose children, and that’s worked perfectly.

What 8-year-olds want to read about

The second most interesting comic was the Flash 165, “One Too Many Flashes.” It was a great entry to the Flash, because he faced the Reverse Flash. Since costumes were new to me, the idea of two costumes of countercharged colors was stunning. Where Flash has red, Reverse Flash has yellow, where Flash has yellow, Reverse Flash has red, where Flash has white, Reverse Flash has black.

It’s a construction possible with the Flash and very few other heroes. I would soon wonder why there was no Reverse Kid Flash – still wondering that. Also, I like the Reverse Flash’s costume better.

Comic books offered me a chance to see a new world at the time I didn’t know science fiction existed. I simply watched what I called space ship programs on TV. Movies were animated Disney films, gone to in a family group. My parents never took me to science fiction movies. Books were uncommon but I I still managed to read, mostly nonfiction. Did get to read Dolphin Island (several times) because it was introduced in school, and anything that was a classic was OK.

Apart from TV, comic books were my fiction.

I also noticed there was a lot of world behind the story in Flash. Little labels showed who people were told me Wally West was Kid Flash and the criminal past of Albert Desmond. Things happened, things changed.

But what stood out more than that was that Professor Zoom took an electric razor and somehow modified it so it emitted radiation or a beam which changed his face into the likeness of Barry Allen’s. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of a way that might have worked, it was that I knew damn well there was no way to make it work at all.

Flash was not a comic I would take to. The things that interested me were things that did not apply to each issue. Batman is always Batman, the Flash then did not always face the Reverse Flash. His world was not always on display in full, that issue, dealing with marriage to Iris West, just had the one panel.

Did not care enough about the sea king to be concerned about his death and botched funeral. They couldn’t even get a plank that held his head and arm? Is anyone attending?
Before he died did he yell, ‘A sea horse, a sea horse, my underwater kingdom for a seahorse?’ There really is a kind of Richard III vibe here but without the quality writing, or plot that makes sense.

The comic I liked least was definitely Aquaman 30, The Death of Aquaman, with the Q in his name turned into a funeral wreath. The cover showed four pallbearers and promised, “You are there for the sea kings funeral.”

Four pallbearers, which is two short of normal and none of whom are the people he was supposed to be king of. There was Superman, Batman, Hawkman, and Metamorpho. In the background, Wonder Woman was comforting Mera. Like Superman and Metamorpho, she didn’t need breathing equipment.

I had no idea who Metamorpho was, I could guess what Hawkman was because the Buster Crabbe serial of Flash Gordon was on television about then. Superman I knew from the TV series, The Adventures of Superman. After this comic I would wonder why Superman on TV didn’t face super villains, or have superhero friends drop by. In the long run, I won. But as to Aquaman…

Meh. I barely remember the story and I, who gave a pass to an electric razor modified without tools to change the skull and face of someone, could not accept this much nonsense.

I didn’t take to Aqualad, either, because he didn’t seem to do anything. He could breathe underwater which is terrific in this world and really impressive. In the comics it was another kid without pants.

Seriously, retcons have lately tried to make something out of Aqualad. But in the beginning he was just a kid who could breathe underwater and seemed nothing more than a cut-down version of the hero he was sidekick to. That was what sidekicks were, cut-down versions.

It was only later they gave him increased strength.

And I’m still working out the meaning of the canon. It was in comic books that I first got a sense of background. It’s why I can look at Tomb of Dracula and accept that is where modern portrayals of Dracula tend to draw their inspiration. Not only do I not look down on comic books, but literature as a whole is a kind of canon to me. Likewise history: the real story is how one issue builds on previous ones and is built upon later. I learned that from comics.

Of my original comics, the death of Aquaman was the only one I threw out. I was not yet a collector, or even a hoarder.

Better drama and a tighter story, but it had to be because it had half the length.
Iron Man on the run, his armor running out of power, the heart possibly giving out, fighting Krang and then Namor – I’ve had one of those days, often.

I also got Tales of Suspense. I had to ask what suspense meant and it meant nothing like what the stories were like. I did not know of the horror and science fiction origin of some Marvel titles, and I had no idea there was such a thing as a limit on the number of titles Marvel could distribute.

But Tales of Suspense, which had virtually no suspense, did showcase Captain America and Iron Man, each in his own story. The half-a-comic length of story would seem short now, but they contained a surprising amount of story including characterization. But you didn’t get a full story, you just got an arc, set-up to cliffhanger with the middle bit an inward breath to have them face a problem.

Iron Man gets back from Asia, looks for someplace to recharge his armor so his chestplate will keep his heart beating. He is avoiding being arrested and dragged before the Senate who will demand the secret to the Iron Man armor.

Even then I knew the Senate would never get away with ‘let your competitors take an advantage away from you.’

Then he winds up in a fight with Krang but is saved by Lady Dorma. They’re blue, from Atlantis. I would look for more of that.

Captain America was facing hallucinations caused by the Red Skull. Captain America, perfectly easy to get. Red Skull, just as easy. This is a visceral opposition, you can see that right away. It’s more than alternate costumes, it’s America versus Nazism. With dead relatives it was a big thing in my family.

I would learn Captain America in the comics faces Nazis a lot more than in the movie. Actual non-Hydra Nazis in the movie are victims when they try to bring a villain to heel. Think about that, in the movie the Nazis are good guys, bad stuff is Hydra. In the comics he faces bad people including new bad people, AIM.

Now we’re cooking – only this wasn’t one of the first lot I read. But look at the cover, is there anything you don’t understand about the story?
This is what made Captain America memorable, that and Bucky dating Jenna Coleman.

One thing about Captain America is he faced organizations and that comes out in this story.

In the end, Iron Man was not a favorite but would become a regular read. Captain America would be enough of a favorite that I would form opinions how he should be done.

Is the Ant in sock feet? Why is Wondergirl holding back Kid Flash and Aquqalad? How would they get from that incomplete building to where the Ant now is? They can’t fly, she can. Why is it strictly Robin’s fight on the cover? It isn’t in the story.

Teen Titans 5, the Titans go to Camp Lacklock; a reform school with no walls or locks and all the young criminals sent here are suddenly ordinary, enthusiastic, kids who obey the rules, not drug-soaked punks who will walk out of anyplace that doesn’t hold them in.

Oh, wait, one does and he becomes the Ant. For terrifying supervillain names, he’s at the back of the line. One ant? That’s the best you can do?

So, we see the Teen Titans who take on a guy who has suction cups on his hands and boots that allow him to hold onto walls. I checked, I could never get suction cups that strong. Holding maybe 180 pounds on a wall with four finger-sized discs on one hand and a larger disc (we don’t see them) on one boot. Yes, he’s drawn being held by one hand and one boot.

Turns out Eddie the Ant is being blackmailed into committing crimes because, if he doesn’t, pictures will be released showing Eddie’s little brother as a member of a gang.

Being a member of a gang is not in itself a crime, but Eddie is really, really worried about his brother’s reputation.

In his fight with the Titans he beats them easily and without much violence. I mean, Wondergirl he stops by catching her magic lasso and twirling it which makes her spin. Even after he lets go of the rope she continues to spin in a little orbit around nothing, totally against the laws of physics. (They’re laws, not what you call ‘guidelines.’)

More important, it made me think Wondergirl was a battle lightweight. In this she fits in with the others. They can’t fight.

I also soon learned every young person would be perfect if older people would just get out of their way. This must have been a deep insight because it’s the same thing they used as the theme for the Mod Squad.

When the Teen Titans got into growing up they got better. Until then my interest was as patchy as the quality of the stories and characterization. It seemed unreal that Wondergirl would try a new hairstyle in front of the boys (only time she does that before her makeover), get insulted by Aqualad in a reference-to-the-ocean-but-still-be-stupid kind of way, dumps the bottle of the water cooler on him, and he just says his water breathing powers needed renewal anyways.

What? Chlorine and fluorine in the water are fine? Put a goldfish in tap water and it dies. And who mopped up the puddle? Things like these have to be dealt with in a story.

Still, comics were an avenue through life in a fairly terrible childhood. Thinking of my first ones makes me realize there are things I wanted to do in life that I haven’t done. So I’ve decided to become a supervillain. First off, I need a cool name…not “the Ant.”

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