Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic. Everything I enjoyed as a kid seems to be exploding in pop culture these days. Star Wars is back, Captain America, Iron Man, Batman and Superman all dominate movie screens, and there’s even more on the way. Overall, it’s a good time to be a functional nerd.
With that in mind, I’ve been going back through some of my favorite video games and comic books, dusting them off and seeing if they still have the same impact. These are the things responsible for getting me into comics and gaming in the first place. Without them, well, I’d be a very different person and who knows what kind of column you’d be reading here on Kirkus.
One of the very first comic book characters I was aware of had to be Spider-Man. The ‘60s cartoon was in reruns when I was growing up, and I watched it whenever I could. Begging my parents to actually buy me a Spider-Man comic, I was thrilled to receive – the original Marvel comic’s adaptation of Star Wars.
Parents. What are you going to do?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Star Wars at the time, roughly 1977/1978. And no matter what my mother might tell you, I swear I did not watch the movie while cowering behind my hands due to an overwhelming fear of all things Darth Vader. Nope. Did not happen. But, when you’re into Spider-Man, you want a Spider-Man comic, not a Star Wars comic. I did read the comic obsessively. I’m not crazy. But it just wasn’t the same. I enjoyed the book for the most part. Although I noted that the characters on the page didn’t quite resemble the ones from the movie—which I later found out was due to licensing restrictions.
Looking at it now, Luke sort of reminds me of Thundarr the Barbarian; Princess Leia has the hair bun and white dress, but that’s where the similarities end; Han is heavily muscled like some television wrestler; and Chewbacca is sort of like a bushy Bigfoot, so, yeah – not quite themselves. Recently, Marvel released a digitally remastered edition of the adaptation called Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (Star Wars Remastered) in Kindle, comiXology, and hardcover formats. It does a nice job of updating the art and giving the collection (issues #1-6 of the original comic) a bit of a face-lift.
Following that, the next ‘big’ comic I remember owning—and being very excited about—was a 7- Eleven tie-in special. Yes, you read that right. Marvel produced a very special ‘collector’s edition’ comic book for the convenience store chain 7- Eleven, starring Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America. I read that book to death. And I wanted more, but wasn’t quite sure what that more might be.
In 1984, I was 12 years old, and a friend of mine came over to wish me a happy birthday. He presented me with the comic book that changed my life and made me a comic book fan to this day. That book? G.I. Joe #21: Silent Interlude. Written and drawn by the legendary (although I didn’t know it at the time) artist Larry Hama, this book was the coolest thing my adolescent mind had ever, ever seen. It had ninjas fighting ninjas. Mountain strongholds. More ninjas fighting ninjas. And, much to my surprise, not a single word in the whole book.
It blew my mind. I had no idea comics could be so cool.
IDW, who publishes the G.I. Joe comics these days—and who brought back Larry Hama to write and draw for them—released G.I. JOE: Silent Interlude 30th Anniversary Edition in glorious hardcover and, like Marvel above, remastered and recolored the book for a new audience.
That one book spurred me, a kid who was already a lover of reading—especially anything magical, fantastical or science fiction—into seeking out more comics. (Note for any parents or teachers out there – comics do spur kids to read more…) Up until this moment, I sort of took what I could get. But not anymore. Now I was on a mission. I wanted new comics and I wanted them now. My first stop was the grocery store where my mom drug me once a week, but they didn’t have much of a selection beyond a few Archie and Jughead books. Next-door was a drug store, and they had an ancient magazine rack that spun on squeaky hinges. The books weren’t updated very often, and I quickly gave up on finding anything hugely worthwhile there.
After this, I found my way into actual comic book stores. Such a thing had never occurred to me before – an entire store dedicated to this thing I had come to love – comic books! I actually have the animated television show Robotech to thank for that. One day while watching the show, a commercial came on for a comic book store and I couldn’t wait to check it out.
In those hallowed halls, I found more of what I was looking for. More G.I. Joe, which made me quite happy, but also things like DNAgents from Mark Evanier and Will Meugniot, and published by Eclipse Comics—my first exposure to a non-mainstream publisher. My second was Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles published by Mirage Studios. And I loved them both dearly. I also got into a lot of mainstream comics like the aforementioned Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers—a lot of Marvel comics titles, also their long ongoing Star Wars series and the Atari Force and Star Trek series’ from DC.
Eventually, I found and became hooked on something called Marvel Comics Presents: Wolverine, written by Chris Claremont with art from John Buscema. This was Wolverine without the X-Men, and I loved it. Wolverine is that character who doesn’t really fit; he’s gruff, angry, a loner, yet he still manages to be there when the X-Men need him. In this series, though, he goes off on his own. First to Madripoor while on the run from just about everyone because the X-Men are supposed to be dead. So Logan becomes ‘Patch,’ and sort of steps away from the Wolverine persona. For whatever reason, that shift in character really appealed to me back in the day (though many look back today and see it as very bad storytelling and a weird departure for the character). Eventually, the stories took on different forms, we saw the Weapon X stuff which revealed his origin story, and it even became a flip-book with Ghost Rider having a story ‘on the back side,’ so to speak.
Finding these in your local comic book store may or may not be tough these days. There have been a couple of collections, including Marvel Comics Presents: Wolverine, Vol. 1 back in 2005. If you can find it, I highly recommend it if for no other reason than I had fun reading those stories as a kid.
The last book I’ll talk about today is Green Lantern. I came into the run when Len Wein and Dave Gibbons were teamed up as writer and illustrator, and their stories captivated me. First, with Hal Jordan stepping down and John Stewart taking up the ring to become the Green Lantern for sector 2814, and all the way through Crisis when members of the Corps were assigned to live on and protect the Earth. Possibly one of the most science-fiction-leaning series of the day simply because the Green Lantern was responsible for more than just protecting the Earth, requiring them to travel through space, meet alien races, and I ate up every page. In John Stewart I discovered a new, modern, and complex hero who didn’t seem to care much about the long shadow of the man who had the ring before him. I also got to see the world and power of the Green Lantern through a different character’s eyes. Soon, I was following the adventures of lots of Green Lanterns, including a returned Hal Jordan, a wise-cracking Guy Gardner, the aliens Katma Tui, Kilowog, Ch’p, Salaak, and Arisia, to name just a few. Although it was, essentially, the end of the run for Hal and John (Kyle was about to make his first appearance), I absolutely loved those books. You can find them in three volumes, Green Lantern: Sector 2814 Vol 1, 2 and 3 for Kindle, comiXology, and in paperback.
Everything I mentioned here today fostered my love for reading, for science fiction, and fantasy that continues still to this day.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.