Monday, August 18, 2014

X-Men #98 and the Birth of a Comic Book Geek

It was sometime just after the holidays. Early January, 1976. I would have been eight years old at the time. Eight and a half to be a bit more exact. I was at the grocery store with my mom, and came across this comic book on the comic spinner rack, near the registers. Yeah, I said comic spinner rack. How retro is that? And this was back in the day when they still sold comic books in the grocery store. Anyhoo, this was a comic book that I wanted. Sure, I had read comics prior to this, but most of those involved Uncle Scrooge or Richie Rich or Hot Stuff, the little devil. I was eight and a half now, and it was time to move on to superheroes. So, I begged my mom to buy this comic book for me, and me being kind of a spoiled brat (and the fact that it only cost a quarter back then), she bought me the dang thing. What my mother probably did not know at the time, was that she was starting something of an obsession. Yup.

So, as I'm sure you have probably already figured out from reading the title of this post, the comic book in question, was a little thing called X-Men #98. This was before the series was re-titled as Uncanny X-Men (which happened on the cover with issue #114, but did not become official until #142) but was shortly after the title was revamped with mostly all-new, all-different characters (Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94). I knew nothing about these X-Men at the time. This was just as the title was becoming a sensation of sorts. Long before the the over-saturation of these mutant superheroes, and the days of six or eight or even ten different X-titles. This was at a time when the X-Men were just coming to be what they would become. As for my eight and a half year old self? I had no idea what these X-Men were. But I would soon find out. I started reading the comic on the way home in the car. I just couldn't wait. As I rushed through the pages, I became more fascinated. Curiouser and curiouser, indeed. It was a Christmas issue, and all these so-called X-Men were out at Rockefeller Center to celebrate the holidays. I wasn't sure who was who at first, but I knew I wanted to be there with them. There was a man who could change into metal, an Irishman who could literally scream your head off, a white-haired black woman who could control the wind. There was a blue-furred demon-like guy who at first hid his visage behind some sort of facial inhibitor thingee. A man who shot ruby beams out of his eyes, his hot flame-haired girlfriend (yeah, even then I could tell a hot girl when I saw one - I just didn't know just what to do with such information yet), and their bald-headed, wheel chair bound leader. Oh, and then there was the short angry guy with the great pointy hair and the claws. He was my favourite.

Of course that short hairy guy with the attitude and claws was none other than Wolverine. He would go on to become one of the most recognizable, and most over-saturated characters in Marvel history, but back in 1976, little was known about this guy. He had only joined the X-Men a few issues prior to this, and before that he only had a scant few appearances. He was a virtual unknown and a budding superstar-in-the-making. One of my favourite parts of this issue, is when Wolverine, Banshee,  and Jean Grey are imprisoned by the bad guy. Thinking them powerless, Wolverine unsheathes his claws and frees himself and his comrades. Apparently, this is the first time we are shown that Wolverine's claws are not part of a costume, but actually part of him. Wow! I was there at almost the beginning...and I was loving it. Shortly after this, Wolverine slices up Jean Grey's dress, so she can maneuver better. I figured out later on in life (and in reading X-Men) that there was another, much better reason for Wolverine's doing such a thing. Hey come on, I was only eight. I already said I had no idea what to do with those feelings. But yeah, this comic book had me at hello, bub! There is even a cameo by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in here. At the time I didn't get the reference, but of course, I did later on. And this would be the start of a brand new obsession with my eight year old self. An obsession that still rages on.

I would move onto other titles after this. The Defenders, Power Man & Iron Fist, Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Man-Thing, Howard the Duck. Yeah, I was definitely a Marvel Kid, growing up. I would pick up the Avengers the following year (and even talk my mom into getting me a subscription) and they would become my other favourite. And mind you, this was again before all the over-saturation that today's market gives us. Don't get me wrong, I still read and collect comic books, and X-Men (Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men) and Avengers (Avengers, Uncanny Avengers) are still on my regular pull list, and the four regular titles I get in those two franchises are still quite intriguing (Jonathon Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis, and especially Rick Remender, are three of my fave writers these days) but there are so many titles today, and not all of them are written by such talented guys, it's kinda hard for a boy to keep up. I remember the old days as I grew up with The Uncanny X-Men. The team of Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde - a teenage mutant superhero who was actually my own age. Seriously, she was. Yeah, comic book characters never age like we boring so-called real life people do, but when Kitty first appeared in the pages of Uncanny X-Men she was just thirteen. Guess how old I was when this debut took place? Yup...thirteen. So now I'm growing up with a girl my own age. I suppose you could call it love at first sight. I suppose you could also call it a rather one-sided love at first sight, but hey, what's a budding teenage boy to do? Of course, thanks to the aforementioned slowed aging in comic books, I'm now 47 while Kitty is only in her mid twenties. Great, now I feel like a dirty old man.

So there you go, kids. My first experience with comic books, and the budding formation of a geek for life. Over the years, I have faded in and out of comic book collecting, but even when I go away, I always return. Once I think I'm out...they puuuuull me back in! Over these same years, many things have changed. The collector's bubble burst in the early 1990's, as the market was overstuffed with about a billion X-titles, but even through these over-saturated years, my love of all things mutant, has kept true. Magneto was right! Cyclops was right! Mutant Freedom!! Any of my fellow comic book geeks will know what I mean. Still though, even with the good stories still being told in the two main X-titles (the other satellite X-books are definitely more miss than hit these days) my X-thoughts always wander back to the days of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and the Starjammers, and the Brood, and Dazzler and her disco ways, and Storm and Callisto battling for the Morlocks, and the formation of the New Mutants, and later with the supposed death of the X-Men, and the coming of Apocalypse, and Archangel, and Gambit and so on. But even before all that, even before my darling Kitty Pryde, my mind goes back to that original 25 cent comic book (now valued at several hundred, depending on condition) and that short angry guy with the pointy hair and even pointier claws, ripping up that red head's party dress. After all, there is always something to be said for nostalgia. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


5 comments:

  1. I'm jealous. My first comic was Legion of Superheroes, and even that was the Substitutes. Published in a paperback format, it was probably a reprint. Didn't get me passionate about comics-I've probably been more passionate about them as an adult. I remember looking at comics on the comic rack.

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  2. I watched them on TV-I know...cop-out. tell me-was Jubilee ever in the comic books or just the TV show? I always felt she got the short end of the stick when it came to being a mutant

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  3. C - Don't be jealous. It's all good. ;)

    B - Jubilee was introduced in the comics. She saved Wolverine's life, and ever since has been like his adopted daughter. She lost her mutant powers after M-Day, but is now a vampire and still a member of the X-Men.

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  4. You were even a male pig way back at eight years old? Of course you were. Oh, I'm just kidding.

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