Like any youth who seeks to escape the harsh realities of life by cocooning themselves in a world of fantasy, comics were a big part of my childhood. As a pre-teen, the highlight of my week was usually a Friday dinner with my mom at McDonald's followed by a trip to the local used bookstore, Froggies, which had a vast collection of second hand comics, three for a dollar. Via that routine I immersed myself in the world of superheroes, particularly the denizens of the Marvel Universe and slowly amassed a collection of comics numbering in the thousands. And even after I'd "grown up" I stayed with the hobby, collecting various underground and "mature" comic book titles like “Hate,” “Eightball,” “The Killing Joke” and “The Watchmen.” But while a lot of comic fans switch to adult titles and then turn their back on their childhood superheroes I have fond memories of both. Can't crimson clad comic avengers live hand in hand with angst-ridden, neurotic uber-hipsters? It is my firm belief that they can, and they do in the boxes of comic books I still have in my closet (right behind the shrunken heads of various prostitutes.) Thus I'd like to use this article to introduce you to a few of my favorites:
The '70s Spider-Man/Jackal run
When I first started collecting comics as a pie-eyed (and pie eating!) youth in the 80's I became particularly absorbed with a comic series called Marvel Premier which had taken to reprinting classic Spider-Man stories from years below. Part of this run included some great soap opera-ish stories written by Gerry Conway and drawn by the underrated Ross Andru, featuring a villain called the Jackal. Years before, the love of Peter Parker's life, Gwen Stacy, had been killed in a battle with a super villain. So when a Gwen Stacy clone shows up, obviously the reader's curiosity is piqued. Over the course of a 12 issue run it was revealed that one of Peter's college professors, Miles Warren had taken tissue samples from his class, including samples from both Peter Parker and the fetching Miss Stacy (whom, of course, the professor secretly loved.) Her death had led to Warren’s madness and his assumption of the guise of the Jackal, a cackling, green clad super villain. The storyline also included the introduction of a quasi-hero who would go onto great success, The Punisher, who is goaded by the Jackal into trying to assassinate Spider-Man. The final denouement was a killer as Spider-man faces off with his own clone while the Jackal crowed from the sidelines. There was even a great epilogue story as Peter struggled to verify whether or not he was the real Spider-Man, or the clone.
Fat Freddy's Cat
The Teen Titans/Terra run
But the series really kicked into high gear with a multi issue story arch that involved the Titan's arch nemesis, the Terminator, planting a spy in their midst. This super-powered Mata Hari was Terra, an earth-moving blonde teenager who was, on the side, the Terminator's lover. Wolfman played the story off brilliantly, carrying it over several years until a climactic four-issue final where Terra’s deceptions were revealed and she and the Terminator did battle with the Teen Titans. The excitement with which I anticipated the final issue was equal to that created while waiting for a new Star Wars film - it was that good!
Lout Rampage (The Eightball Collection)
I contemplated not adding Alan Moore's spectacular 12 part comic book series, "The Watchmen" to this list of comics that made me shit my pants because it's been well discussed in the realm of egghead literary types who tend to dismiss most comic books as juvenile distractions. But even though The Watchman has earned accolades from a class of people I despise, there's no getting around it a great piece of work. In the late '80s DC Comics purchased the rights to the characters that had been owned by the little read Charlton comic book company. The original concept for The Watchmen comic series was to take these characters and insert them into a uber-realistic alternate reality where Nixon was still President and the United States reined supreme because the government had co-opted the services of it's most powerful superheroes. For various reasons, the Charlton characters were dropped and all new characters were created. Among them were the Comedian, a cynical, murderous mercenary, Dr. Manhattan, a living weapon of mass destruction who was no longer bound by the laws of time and space, and Rorschach, a street-wise vigilante who saw raw brutality as the only way to stop the criminal element. Moore weaved all these characters into a complex spider web of a story that holds up to repeated readings.
Wendy Whitebread: Undercover Slut
I still recall the day in the early 1990s when my good friend Neslo handed over a copy of the infamous, hardcore porn comic book "Wendy Whitebread, Undercover Slut" for my perusal. As I viewed its semen stained* and lovingly rendered pages I realized I was looking at a comic book like no other. Within its covers, artist/author Anton Drek told the story of prudish Wendy Whitebread, an up and coming police officer assigned the task of posing as a prostitute for the Vice Squad. The Squad's prime mission is taking down down the infernal "Mr. Misogyny," an uncatchable lout intent on graphically denigrating the various women he "comes across." (As Wendy keenly observes in one of the comic's many bits of comic dialogue, "Goodness. Mr. Misogyny doesn't think very highly of women!") Wendy leads her team of the clothing-deficient "Untouchables" to track down their arch-villain while having sex with a whole lot of other guys along the way. And no one was more shocked than I to discover (SPOILER ALERT) that Mr. Misogyny is actually Wendy's true love, Officer Paul Pureheart.
Neslo actually offered to gift me his copy of WW but for reasons that escape me I turned him down and it was years later that I got my own copy from the comic store I lived above in Seattle. (I still remember the look of searing disdain given to me by the female, 60-ish cashier when I purchased it.) And it was around that time Anton Drek was revealed to be Don Simpson, creator of the popular "Megaton Man" independent comic. (Though WW is noted as the most popular periodical he ever wrote.) "Wendy Whitebread, Undercover Slut" has since become a cult fav and I treasure my well read copy as much as life itself.
* Er, that's cartoon semen I'm talking about, not the result of Neslo's late night activities.
The Dark Knight Returns
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